Excel Leadership Network focuses on spotting high level leaders, setting them up for success, and supporting them in ministry. Admittedly, our methods look a little different than most other organizations. Why do clusters? Why go to ball games and give planters some snack money? Why require a three-and-a-half day Discovery Center for any leader who wants to connect with us? Why have breakfasts and lunches and dinners together? Why push coaching and connecting?
Essentially, why do we do what we do?
Our methods contain a secret ingredient, which can be found in Acts 9. Our network's vision and philosophy comes from Acts 13—setting apart leaders for their work. But Acts 13 was born out of Acts 8-9. There was a great persecution that prompted church planting. Acts 9 starts this way:
"Saul kept on threatening to kill the Lord’s followers. He even went to the high priest and asked for letters to the Jewish leaders in Damascus. He did this because he wanted to arrest and take to Jerusalem any man or woman who had accepted the Lord’s Way." Acts 9:1-2 (CEV)
This is a story about someone who was at the very beginning of his spiritual journey. I think “resisting” is typically stage one, but Saul wasn’t even to a resisting stage yet - he was at the “killing Christians” stage! But in the next verses he moved from killing believers to preaching boldly that Jesus is the Savior. What caused him to transform? It’s the same secret ingredient that explains the why behind what we do.
"When Saul had almost reached Damascus, a bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice that said, “Saul! Saul! Why are you so cruel to me?” “Who are you?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus,” the Lord answered. “I am the one you are so cruel to. Now get up and go into the city, where you will be told what to do.” The men with Saul stood there speechless. They had heard the voice, but they had not seen anyone. Saul got up from the ground, and when he opened his eyes, he could not see a thing. Someone then led him by the hand to Damascus, and for three days he was blind and did not eat or drink." Acts 9:3-9 (CEV)
At first glance, it seems that the key catalyst to spiritual growth is a Damascus-road event, right? The thing that got Paul to the next level on his journey was this incredible blinding incident. Right? Sure, we try to provide environments that allow great experiences in our network, but that’s not the secret I’m talking about. Saul’s catalyst was more than the bright light event.
Was his encounter with the truth? Jesus hit Saul with the truth.
Truth is critical, but it wasn’t the catalyst. The Excel Leadership Network majors on truth. We teach the Bible. But the Bible says that even the demons know the truth. Our secret isn’t about curriculum.
"A follower named Ananias lived in Damascus, and the Lord spoke to him in a vision. Ananias answered, “Lord, here I am.” Acts 9:10 (CEV)
There’s talk of a vision, so was that it? Was that the catalyst?
Visions are good, but not necessarily normative. Not everyone gets a special vision, so the catalyst is more than the vision piece.
"The Lord said to him (Ananias), “Get up and go to the house of Judas on Straight Street. When you get there, you will find a man named Saul from the city of Tarsus. Saul is praying, and he has seen a vision. He saw a man named Ananias coming to him and putting his hands on him, so that he could see again.” Ananias replied, “Lord, a lot of people have told me about the terrible things this man has done to your followers in Jerusalem. Now the chief priests have given him the power to come here and arrest anyone who worships in your name.” Acts 9:11-14 (CEV)
Ananias pushes back. He says, “Lord, that’s a nice plan, but how about this: how about I not go and get myself jailed or killed! Can’t I simply make a small donation or stop eating pork?”
Imagine that, imagine there’s a guy who is out killing believers, and throwing every Christian he can find into jail. What would you say if God told you to go talk to him about Jesus?
Probably, “Thank you, no. I’m good.”
I suspect that something similar has happened to a lot of us. Maybe we have felt that God wanted us to go talk to someone about Jesus, but we’ve thought, “Seriously? He’s my boss. She’s my neighbor. It’s my best friend. This could end badly. “How about if I don’t go talk to them, God?”
"The Lord said to Ananias, 'Go! I have chosen him to tell foreigners, kings, and the people of Israel about me. I will show him how much he must suffer for worshiping in my name.'
Ananias left and went into the house where Saul was staying." Acts 9:15-17 (CEV)
That took incredible courage. Ananias put his freedom and his life in God’s hands.
"Ananias placed his hands on him and said, “Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me. He is the same one who appeared to you along the road. He wants you to be able to see and to be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Suddenly something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see. He got up and was baptized." Acts 9:18 (CEV)
The miracle happened, then the conclusion:
"Then he ate and felt much better. For several days Saul stayed with the Lord’s followers in Damascus. Soon he went to the Jewish meeting places and started telling people that Jesus is the Son of God. Everyone who heard Saul was amazed and said, “Isn’t this the man who caused so much trouble for those people in Jerusalem who worship in the name of Jesus? Didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them to the chief priests?” Saul preached with such power that he completely confused the Jewish people in Damascus, as he tried to show them that Jesus is the Messiah." Acts 9:19-22 (CEV)
This is the story of someone who took an incredible leap on his spiritual journey. Saul went from arresting anyone who believed in Jesus to telling people that Jesus is the Son of God. Saul did a reversal, a 180, a complete turnaround for God.
What was the catalyst?
It wasn’t just the experience.
It wasn’t just the interaction with the truth.
It wasn’t just the vision.
The change in Saul’s life didn’t occur when he was blinded, when he had a vision or even when he heard Jesus talking.
"Ananias placed his hands on him and said, “Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me. He is the same one who appeared to you along the road. He wants you to be able to see and to be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Suddenly something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see." Acts 9:17-18 (CEV)
Did you notice that the miracle in Saul’s life didn’t actually happen until Ananias showed up? There was a relational component in Saul’s spiritual turnaround.
What is the why behind what we do? WE ARE A RELATIONAL NETWORK. We focus on clusters because we are a relational network. We start out with four days of intensive encounters at the Discovery Center because we are a relational network. We go to ball games because we are a relational network. We push coaching because we are a relational network. We are, unapologetically, a relational network.
So, how do you program providential relationships?
We can’t schedule a miraculous meeting with Ananias every three to six months. Providential relationships are up to God. But we can work with God. We can put ourselves in a position to hear God through and see God in other people.
1. Sense the Ananias in your life
"Anyone who walks with wise people grows wise. But a companion of foolish people suffers harm." Proverbs 13:20 (NIV)
We need to get around wise, godly, effective leaders. Steven Furtick says, “If you're going to do what God has called you to do, you have to intentionally bring the people into your life He wants you to have.”
I suspect that God has an Ananias or two ready to make a difference in each of our lives. Are you sensing them? Are you available to them? Are you coming to clusters and hanging out with leaders?
2. Be an Ananias
I suspect that you are called to be an Ananias is someone’s life. Your touch, your words just might cause the scales to drop from their eyes.
Belonging to a network and being an active, engaged participant opens a plethora of opportunities to influence others with God’s love.
I want to encourage you to take seriously the connections and the relational power that are available to you—that’s why we have a network.