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Discerning Gods Will Together: Discovering a Process of Leadership Discernment

Ruth Haley Barton |


It was a conversation similar to many I have had with Christian leaders. A pastor from a large church was telling me that his church was going through a major transition as its leaders tried to respond to the growth they were experiencing. They had outgrown their facility (a good problem to have!) so the obvious question was: Will we add on to our facility or will we start another church? But clearly this was only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface larger questions lurked: What should be our emphasis now? Does our mission still capture what we feel called to? Is the leadership structure effective for what is emerging now? Can we keep going this way or will we burn ourselves out, adding a building campaign and more people and activities to our plates? Sensing the weight that this pastor was carrying, I probed a little deeper and asked, How are you going about answering thes e questions? Does your leadership team have a clearly articulated process for discerning Gods will in these matters? A look of disorienting awarene ss crossed his face as he realized that the answer to the question was no. After recovering a bit, he added But we always have a time of prayer at the beginning of our meetings.

Understanding Spiritual Leadership


Many of us have a vague idea that there should be something different about our leadership as Christians particularly if we are leading a church or Christian organizationbut the truth is that the difference usually gets reduced to a perfunctory prayer at the beginning of a meeting and sometimes even that gets lost in the shuffle! What is it, then, that distinguishes spiritual leadership from other kinds of leadership? The heart of spiritual leadership is discernment: the capacity to recognize and respond to Gods will both personally and in commu nity. This is much easier said than done. Discernment requires us to move beyond our reliance on cognition and intellectual hard work to a place of deep listening and response to the Spirit of God within us and among us. It is one thing to rely on what feels like such a subjective approach when it pertains to ones personal life, but its much riskier when our decisions involve large budgets, other peoples financial investments, the lives of multiple staff, reports to high-powered boards, and serving a customer base with its expectations. Is there a trustworthy process for actively seeking God relative to decisions we are making? The practice of corporate discernment, like any other Christian discipline, is a means of creating space for Gods activity in ou r lives, making ourselves available so that he can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The spiritual leader is distinguished by his or her commitment and ability to guide the discernment process so everyone can affirm together a shared sense of Gods desire for them and move forward. Through the pra ctice of discernment in community we open ourselves to the wisdom of God that is beyond human wisdom but is available to us when we ask for it. But discernment does not take place in a vacuum nor by accident. We must first cultivate an environment in which discernment can take place and then enter a process that enables us to actively seek Gods will in the decision that we face.

Cultivating an Environment for Discernment


Romans 12:1, 2 indicates that the ability to discern the will of God is a natural by-product of spiritual transformation in community. Paul says, Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God what is good and acceptable and perfect. Therefore, a community that is dedicated to spiritual transformation provides the e nvironment in which discernment takes place. We cultivate this environment as we commit ourselves to spiritual disciplines, personally and together, that enable us to keep offering ourselves to God for the work that only he can do. Discernment takes place in the community of those who are committed to spiritual transformation. When the leaders launching the Transforming Center began meeting together, we gathered first on the basis of our desire to experience spiritual transformation in the context of community. This desire led us to establish rhythms of prayer, Scripture reading, self-examination and confession, solitude and silent listening, worship and intercession that called forth our own transformation. It was out of our commitment to be together in ways that were spiritually transforming that we began to discern a calling to do something together. It is only as we have struggled to stay true to our own process of spiritual transformation that we have continued to discern what our calling is and stay true to it. We continue to discover, sometimes painfully, that when our commitment to basic spiritual disciplines in community slips, we become muddled in our capacity to be truly discerning: rather than acting from a clear sense of Gods desire for us we bec ome driven by our own agendas, rather than experiencing Gods peace we become frantic, rather than finding clarity we become lost in a swir l of inner and outer chaos.

Entering into the Process of Discernment


As we cultivate an environment in which discernment can take place, we notice that it begins to happen naturally. However, there are also times for decision-making that call for intentionality and focus in actively seeking Gods will. During such times the spiritual leader calls people into the spiritual practice of discernment. Discernment as a spiritual practice is not mechanical nor is it always linear. As we become more comfortable with the process we experience it not so much as a step-by-step procedure but as a creative mix of these dynamic elements: Ask the right question. Not all questions warrant a full discernment process. Some questions, such as choosing a computer system, might be answered with a 15 minute, fact-filled discussion. However, there are other questions that require a different level of attention and prayerfulness from the entire leadership group. Even when we think we know what the question is, there might be a larger question lurking underneath it that holds even greater significance for us. A churchs question about the building project migh t deepen into a question about mission and values and whether a new building might or might not help us stay true to these. What starts out as a meeting to set strategy gives way to the deeper question of whether we are pushing our own agenda or whether God is really opening up new opportunities. What begins as a question about event scheduling raises a more far- reaching concern about pace of life and whether or not we are working and living together in such a way that we honor true human limitations and create space in our lives for loving God and others. Thus, discernment begins with listening for the deeper question. Involve the right people. It is amazing how we can become so stuck in organizational silos that we overlook those who might have importan t contributions to make to the discernment process. In addition to the obvious (the board, the staff, the management team) we might consider: Who else has gifts of wisdom and discernment that we value? Who has information and experience that might help us? Who has influence that might be able to help us communicate the outcomes of our process to others in an inviting way to the larger community when the time comes? Establish guiding values and principles. Discernment with others at the leadership level requires an extraordinary amount of safety in each others presence along with great clarity about what values govern the process. For the Transforming Center, there are certain values that we have agreed together we will not violate for any reason no matter how expedient it might seem. One of these values is our commitment to trustworthy relationships in community. We have agreed that learning to come together and stay together in unity is our first and most enduring task as we pattern our relationships after Christs commitment to his own disciples. We do not just assume these things; we talk about them and seek to live into them with great vigor and intent. This means that we are also committed to telling the truth. Beyond the kind of maneuvering and posturing that often takes place in leadership settings, we believe God works through all trutheven truth that seems like it might slow us down or complicate matters or take us into uncharted territoryto bring forth the gift of discernment. Even when the truth is hard, we take great pains to affirm the courage that it takes for each one of us to bring the truth that God has given us to the discernment process. When any one of us has deep reservations or resistance to a particular direction or decision, we trust the Spirit of God in that person and wait for deeper understanding and unity. We have never regretted the decision to honor each other in this way. In fact, God has often used this principle to save us from ourselves! Over time we have come to understand that when we compromise basic values for any reason we have compromised our essence and then we do not have much that is of value to offer others. Pray without ceasing. Discernment requires much more than a perfunctory prayer at the beginning of a meeting. In fact, it involves several kinds of praying throughout the entire process. When the question for discernment has been clarified, the community for discernment assembled, and guiding principles have been established, we can begin with a prayer of quiet trust like the one found in Psalm 131 in which the Psalmist acknowledges his utter dependence upon God in the face of matters too great and too marvelous for me. A different kind of s pirit descends upon us when we enter into decision-making from this stance. When we sense that the process is getting out of hand, that human dynamics are distracting us from real issues, that we are stuck, that we are applying nothing more than human effort to the decision at hand, it can be very helpful for the leader to call the group back to this prayer of quiet trust along with a little time for silence. This gives us the opportunity to shift back into a position of trust rather than human striving. We need to also pray for indifference. This is not the kind of indifference that we associate with apathy; rather, it is the prayer that we would be indifferent to everything but the will of God. This can be a very challenging prayer for us to pray because oftentimes we enter into decision-making with strong opinions and more than a little self- interest. Indifference in the discernment process means that I am indifferent to matters of ego, prestige, organizational politics, personal advantage, personal comfort or favor, or even my own pet project. Gods will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. This takes time, for there is often a death to self that is required before we can see Gods will taking shape in our lives. But it is well-spent, because otherwise the discernment process becomes little more than a rigged election! When we have reached a point of indifference, we are finally ready to pray for wisdom which God promises to bestow on us generously when we ask. The prayer for indifference is an important pre-requisite to the prayer for wisdom because the wisdom of God is often foolish to man; indifference to matters of our own ego, in particular, prepares us to receive this gift. Listen. At the heart of the discernment process is the choice and the ability to listen on many levels. First of all we must listen deeply to the experience (s) that caused us to be asking this question in the first place. When the New Testament believers were faced with the question of whether or not Gentiles should be required to be circumcised in order to be saved, they entered into a time of deep listening: to the conversion experience of the Gentiles, to the perspectives of the people who were with them, to the questions and debate of the Pharisees,

to Peters sense of personal calling to the Gentiles, to Paul and Barnabas descriptions of signs and wonders, to James exposition of Scripture connecting this experience to the words of the prophets in the Old Testament. Finally, out of all that listening James dared to state what he felt God was saying in it all: that they would not impose any further burden on the Gentiles beyond the essentials of the faith. The listening process had been so thorough that when James summarized it so succinctly, it was clear to everyone that the wisdom of God had been given. This story illustrates that the discernment process involves a major commitment to listening with love and attention to our experiences, to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit deep within ourselves and others, to Scripture and Christian tradition, to pertinent facts and information, to those who will be affected most deeply by our decisions, to that place in us where Gods spirit witnesses with our spirit about those things that are true. When we embark on a true discernment process, we ask: What voices do we need to hear and how do we make sure that we hear them? Select an option that seems consistent with what God is doing among you. Discernment does not always come with as much clarity as it did for the New Testament church. When its not clear, you might select an option or two, seek to improve upon those options so that they are the best they can possibly be and then weigh them out to see which one seems most consistent with what God is doing among you. Questions that help us to weigh out these alternatives are: What is the thing that God is making natural and easy? What brings a sense of lightness and peace even in the midst of challenge? Is there an option that enables us to do something before we do everything? Seek inner confirmation. Sometimes in the excitement of a meeting we can get somewhat carried away by what is happening in the moment. We might need to allow people some time apart from the group to become quiet in Gods presence, to pray and think, and to notice whether they are at peace with the decisions being made. It is good to take a break (a few minutes, an hour, a day, or even a week) and come back together and check in with each other to see what God is saying to them in their quiet listening. If people are experiencing deep, inner peace with the options you are exploring, then affirm that together. If anyone is still having reservations or experiencing questions or resistance, honor them by listening to what it is they are experiencing and see what God has to say to you in it. Perhaps one element of a particular option that needs to be tweaked or perhaps a larger adjustment needs to be made. Trust God to work through this persons hesitation. Agree together. Once the leadership group has thoroughly explored the different options, hopefully there is a clarity that emerges which points towards one of the options or some combination of the options as particularly graced by God with wisdom and truth. This is the time when those responsible for providing leadership look at each other and say, To the best of our ability, we agree that this particular path is Gods will for us so this is the direction we will go. Then we rest in God, thanking him for his presence with us and for the gift of disce rnment as it has been given. Now its time to move forward into planning and implementation, confident, that the one who has called you will be faithful to bring it to pass.

Ruth Haley Barton is co-founder of the Transforming Center providing leadership in the areas of vision, communitybuilding and teaching. She is the author of books and articles including a series of articles on transformational leadership published in Christian Management Report (www.CMAonline.org), from which this article is reprinted.

The Dynamics of Discernment


By Ruth Haley Barton
At some point, we are faced with a decision that requires us to make a choice in which we are aware of our desire to discern the will of God in the matter. While it is beyond the scope of this [article] to outline the practice of personal discernment in detail, I will describe several dynamics of discernment that can be practiced personally in such a way as to prepare individuals for discernment at the leadership level.

The Prayer for Indifference


The first and most essential dynamic of discernment is the movement toward indifference. In the context of spiritual discernment, indifference is a positive term signifying that I am indifferent to anything but Gods will. This is interior freedom or a state of openness to God in which we are free from undue attachment to any particular outcome. Coming to a place of indifference is no small thingespecially if we are facing a decision in which the outcome really matters to us or we have a vested interest in it. It is even harder in a leadership setting where egos are on the line, where posturing and maneuvering is the norm and territorialism lies right under the surface of our polite prayers, words and handshakes.

In fact, indifference is not something we can achieve for ourselves. Just like everything else that is of significance in the spiritual life, God must accomplish this for uswhich is why all we can do is pray and wait for it to be given. Questions that can help us identify where we need to be made indifferent are: What needs to die in me in order for Gods will to come forth in my life? Is there anything I need to set aside so that I can be open to what God wants?

The Prayer for Wisdom


The movement toward indifference is the threshold between two worldsthe world of human decision-making and the spiritual practice of discerning the divine will. In this waiting room of the soul, we are made ready to pray the second prayerthe prayer for wisdom: If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you (James 1:5, NRSV).

Notice Without Judging


Another dynamic of discernment is the ability to notice everything pertinent to the situationboth external and internalwithout judging, at least at first. Most of us are accustomed to observing the obvious as we make decisions circumstances, the clear meaning of pertinent Scriptures, the advice of wise Christian friends and the wisdom contained in our faith tradition. These form the basic framework for our Christian living, and it is assumed that we are making decisions within this framework, especially at the leadership level. That is discernment 101. The more complex the decisions facing us, the more we must move beyond the basics of discernment to considering inner dynamics, which are harder to notice and interpret. We learn to listen to the stirrings of desire, to distinguish our true, God-given desires and calling from externally imposed oughts and shoulds and the compulsions of the false self. These dynamics are much more subtle, yet they give us clues as to what choices will nurture the life of Christ lived in and through our most authentic selves.

Seek Spiritual Direction


It is tempting to think that once we have done a little reading on discernment and once we have practiced a bit, we dont nee d any help with discernment, but this is just not true. In fact, there is an even greater need for spiritual direction as we progress in the spiritual life. At the very least we need a wise spiritual friend in whose presence all inner dynamics can be attended to without bias. It is ironic that sometimes, as we progress in the spiritual journey, we convince ourselves that we are beyond needing spiritual guidance, when in reality, that is actually the time when the evil one switches tactics and we need spiritual counsel more than ever.

Gather and Assess Information


Another dynamic of discernment is the ability to ask good questions and to allow those questions to help us gather data and gain perspective. These are not necessarily questions that will get us the answers we want; rather, they are questions that will elicit the deeper wisdom we need. A good question has the power to throw open a door or a window so that a fresh wind of the Spirit can blow through. Some questions to ask include: How does this choice fit with the overall direction and calling of God on my life? Which choice brings the deepest sense of life, inner peace and freedom? Is there a particular Scripture that God is bringing to mind relative to this choice? Is this choice consistent with what I know about the mind and heart of Christ and His loving, redemptive purposes in the world?

Abandoning Ourselves to God


Ultimately, discernment is about being completely given over to God in love and allowing that love to guide everything. It is about trusting God so much that all we want in this life is to abandon ourselves to the goodness of Gods will. It is about valuing Gods will so much that we will wait until we feel we have discerned Gods will before taking action. Adapted from Pursuing Gods Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups by Ruth Haley Barton.

Part 1: Leading in Rhythm


Ruth Haley Barton | eReflections
We are blessed with inner rhythms that tell us where we are, and where we are going. No matter, then, our fifty and sixty ho ur work weeks, the refusing to stop for lunch, the bypassing sleep and working deep into the darkness. If we stop, if we return to rest, our natural state reasserts itself. Our natural wisdom and balance come to our aid, and we can find our way to what is good, ne cessary and true. Wayne Muller, Sabbath Several years ago, during a time when I was not officially on staff at any church, our family had the opportunity to simply attend a local church as normal church members. With three teenagers/young adults, it was a busy season of our lives and yet we really wanted to establish rhythms for ourselves that gave us one day a week for rest, renewal and being together in a more relaxed and uninterrupted way. Given our work, school, and sports schedules, Sunday was the only day it was even possible to think in terms of time that was qualitatively different than other days of the week. During that season we made a sad discovery: in addition to the typical obstacles within secular culture to creating such a day, the church itself was also a major deterrent to creating a Sabbath rhythm. Committee meetings, youth group events, choir practices, elder meetings, small group gatherings, and congregational meetings were all scheduled on Sundays; this meant that most Sundays found our family coming and going all dayunable to even schedule a meal together!

It is hard for me to put into words how discouraging this was and how defeating. I knew that Sabbath-keeping was particularly challenging for pastors and other church staff but now I was shocked to discover that even as a normal participant, the church itself was making it difficult to keep a Sabbatha discipline which I have come to believe is foundational to a life well-lived in Gods presence. How I longed for a community of faith that would help usby our very participation in that community to live into the rhythms that our hearts were longing for. Rhythms of Trust Contrast this contemporary reality with the leadership God asked Moses to provide for the Hebrew community in Exodus 16. Part of Moses job as a spiritual leader was to establish rhythms for life in community that would sustain them and help them to live as human beings in the presence of Almighty God. First of all there were daily rhythms of receiving their sustenance from the hand of Godquail in the evening and manna in the morning. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as they needed for that day. Every day they sought Gods provision for their basic needs. Beyond these daily rhythms, their very identity as a nation was to be shaped by patterning themselves after Gods rhythm of working six days and then resting on the seventh. Before the Ten Commandments were even given, instructions about the Sabbath were made very clear and Moses job was to lead the way in it. As the nation of Israel approached their first Sabbath, Moses gave careful instructions to the leaders of the congregation so that they could help guide the people in understanding what was happening. Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord, he told them. And it didnt come easy. Because the instructions about keeping a Sabbath were so counter-intuitive and went against the grain of their basic survival instincts, the people just didnt get it at first. They got confused and made mistakes. But Moses was right there, patiently helping them along. He kept reiterating the significance of this important way of life. See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day. Little by little under Moses shepherding care, the people learned how to enter into this shared discipline that built lesson s about trust into the very rhythm of their lives. Every week the whole community entered into this exercise in trust together. Every week the community gave in to their need for rest, believing that if they did this God would continue to care for their needs. Every week the whole community used the space created by not working to turn itself towards God. Through this very concrete discipline, they lived out their belief that somehow the work that they could accomplish in six days would be enough and God could be trusted with running the world while they rested. These daily and weekly rhythms became the earliest and most fundamental pattern of their life together in Gods presence and it shaped their identity as individual souls and as a community. It taught them how to honor God with the time of their lives. The Bondage of Busyness For the Israelites, incorporating these rhythms involved a radical re-ordering of life as they had known it. Clearly this is something we as contemporary Christians do not have a handle on. A recent survey of 20,000 Christians around the world revealed that Christians worldwide identify busyness and constant overload as a major distraction from God. Dr. Michael Zigarelli, who conducted this survey from his post as associate professor of Management at the Charleston University School of Business, describes a vicious cycle prompted by cultural conformity. He says, It may be the case that 1) Christians are assimilating a culture of busyness, hurry and overload, which leads to 2) God becoming more marginalized in Christians lives, which leads to 3) a deteriorating relationship with God, which leads to 4) Christians becoming even more vulnerable to adopting secular assumptions about how to live, which leads to 5) more conformity to a culture of busyness, hurry and overload. And then the cycle begins again.[i] This in itself is a sad state of affairs but it gets worse. What is most insightful about this survey is that pastors and Christian leaders seem to be as caught up in this culture of busyness as anyone else. A full 65 percent of pastors (right up there with lawyers, managers, and nurses) were among those most likely to rush from task to task in a way that interferes with their relationship with God. Its tragic. Its ironic, notes Zigarelli, that the very people who could best help us escape the bondage of busyness are themselves in chains. [ii] Reality Check The sad truth is that life in and around the church these days often leads people into a way of life that is layered with Christian busyness. If we are honest, we might admit that those of us who are in Christian ministry are just as driven to succeed as anyone else, only our success is measured in larger congregations, better church services, more innovations, and bigger buildings. There is nothing wrong with any of these things, in and of themselves, but what can be wrong is the kind of life we have to live in order to accomplish them. The operative word here is driven. What results from such driven-ness is Christian busyness that we then confuse with having a spiritual life and/or a relationship with God. In this summer series of eReflections, we will take a thoughtful look at what it means for leaders to lead, not only in vision and strategy, but also in guiding their communities into a way of life that works. Stay tuned.

[i] Michael Zigarelli, Christian Post, Survey: Christians Worldwide Too Busy for God, July, 30, 2007. [ii] Ibid.

Ruth Haley Barton, 2013. This excerpt is from Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.Not to be used without permission. Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Baptist Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center. A teacher, spiritual director and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Pursuing Gods Will Together, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, and Invitation to Solitude and Silence.

How do you respond to the idea that an important aspect of your leadership is living in rhythm yourself and guiding others into rhythms that help us honor God with the time of our lives?

In Honor of Dallas Willard: Why Bother with Discipleship?


Dallas Willard | eReflections
Early yesterday morning Dallas Willard, beloved teacher, philosophy professor, author and spiritual formation guide lost his battle with stage four cancer and entered into the full experience of transformation in Christs presence. There is no doubt that Dallas passing is a great loss for us and great gain for him. Through the years when people asked me what I think about Dallas, the truest thing I could think to say was, He is the real deal. And that is exactly what I would say todayDallas is the real deal, only now even more so! In honor of Dallas life and in celebration of what his transforming presence meant to so many of us, we offer this excerpt (slightly adapted) from one of his later works, The Great Omission. It is Dallas at his bestinsightful and penetrating, theologically and biblically deep, culturally savvy with a generous helping of his endearing, tongue-in-cheek humor. Wherever you are today, perhaps you can take a few moments in quiet to read this piece and thank God for this man who submitted a brilliant mind, a beautiful heart, and a great spirit to the transforming presence of Christ in such a way that it brought forth such a unique ministry among us. If you are drawn to renew your commitment to be a student of Christ one who is possessed and permeated with Gods character such that you can be trusted with Christs power to do Gods work in the worldwhat a worthy tribute that would be! Ruth Haley Barton

Why Bother with Discipleship?


by Dallas Willard IF WE ARE CHRISTIANS simply by believing that Jesus died for our sins, and that is all it takes to have sins forgiven and go to heaven when we die, why, then, do some people keep insisting that something more than this is desirable? Lordship, discipleship, spiritual formation, and the like? What more could one want than to be sure of ones eternal destiny and to enjoy life among others who profess the same faith? Of course everyone wants to be a good person. But that does not require that you actually do what Jesus himself said and did. Havent y ou heard? Christians arent perfect, just forgiven. Those who honestly find themselves concerned about such matters might find it helpful to consider four simple points. Vampire Christianity First, there is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggests you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesuss expense and have nothing more to do with him. Some years ago A. W. Tozer expressed his feeling that a notable heresy has come into being throughout evangelical Christian circlesthe widely accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need him as Savior and that we have the right to

postpone our obedience to him as Lord as long as we want to! He then goes on to state that salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred scriptures. (I Call it Heresy, Christian Publications, 1974, p. 5f) This heresy has created the impression that it is quite reasonable to be a vampire Christian. One in effect says to Jesus, Id like a little of your blood, please. But I dont care to be your student or have your character. In fact, wont you just excuse me while I get on with my life, and Ill see you in heaven. But can we really imagine that this is an approach that Jesus finds acceptable? And when you stop to think about it, how could one actually trust him for forgiveness of sins while not trusting him for much more than that? You cant trust him without believing that he was right about everything, and that he alone has the key to every aspect of our lives here on earth. But if you believe that, you will naturally want to stay just as close to him as you can, in every aspect of your life. Locked in Moral Defeat Second, if we do not become his apprentices in Kingdom living, we remain locked in defeat so far as our moral intentions are concerned. This is where most professing Christians find themselves today. Statistical studies prove it. People, generally, choose to sin. And they are filled with explanations as to why, everything considered, it is necessary to do so. But, even so, no one wants to be a sin ner. It is amusing that people will admit to lying, for example, but stoutly deny that they are liars. We want to be good, but we are prepared, ready, to do evil should circumstances require it. And of course they do require it, with deadening regularity. As Jesus himself indicated, those who practice sin actually are slaves of it (John 8:34). Ordinary life confirms it. How consistently do you find people who routinely succeed in doing the good and avoiding the evil they intend? In contrast, practicing Jesuss words, as his apprentices, enables us to understand our lives and to see how we can interact with Gods redemptive resources, ever at hand. This in turn gives us an increasing freedom from failed intentions as we learn from him how to, simply, do what we know to be right. By a practiced abiding in his words, we come to know the truth, and the truth does, sure enough, make us free (John 8:36). We are able to do the good we intend. Simplicity that is Really Transparency Third, only avid discipleship to Christ through the Spirit brings the inward transformation of thought, feeling, and character that cleans the inside of the cup (Matthew 23:25) and makes the tree good (Matthew 12:33). As we study with Jesus we increasingly beco me on the insidewith the Father who is in secret (Matthew 6:6)exactly what we are on the outside, where actions and moods and attitudes visibly play over our body, alive in its social context. An amazing simplicity will take over our lives a simplicity that is really just transparency. This requires a long and careful learning from Jesus to remove the duplicity that has become second nature to usas is perhaps inevitable in a world where, to manage our relations to those about us, we must hide what we really think, feel, and would like to do, if only we could avoid observation. Thus, a part of Jesuss teaching was to avoid the leaven, or permeating spirit, of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1). The Pharisees were in many respects the very best people of Jesuss day. But they located goodness in behavior and tried to s ecure themselves by careful management at the behavioral level. However, that simply cannot be done. Behavior is driven by the hidden or secret dimension of human personality, from the depths of the soul and body, and what is present there will escape. Hence, the Pharisee always fails at some point to do what is right, and then must redefine, redescribe, or explain it awayor simply hide it. In contrast, the fruit of the spirit, as described by Jesus, Paul, and other biblical writers, does not consist in actions, but in attitudes or settled personality traits that make up the substance of the hidden self, the inner man. Love captures this fruit in one word, but does so in such a concentrated form that it needs to be spelled out. Thus, the fruit [singular] of the Spirit is love, joy, peace , patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Other such passages easily come to mind, such as 2 Peter 1:48, 1 Corinthians 13, and Romans 5:15. Spiritual formation in the Christian tradition is a process of increasingly being possessed and permeated by such character traits as we walk in the easy yoke of discipleship with Jesus our teacher. From the inward character the deeds of love then naturally but supernaturallyand transparently flow. Of course there will always be room for improvement, so we need not worry that we will become perfectat least for a few weeks or months. Our aim is to be pervasively possessed by Jesus through constant companionship with him. Like our brother Paul, This one thing I do:I press on toward the goal!That I may know Christ! (Philippians 3:1314, 8). Those Jesus can Trust with His Power Finally, for the one who makes sure to walk as close to Jesus as possible there comes the reliable exercise of a power that is beyond them in dealing with the problems and evils that afflict earthly existence. Jesus is actually looking for people he can trust with his power. He knows that otherwise we remain largely helpless in the face of the organized and disorganized evils around us, and that we are unable given his chosen strategyto promote his will for good in this world with adequate power. He is the one who said, I have been given say over all things in heaven and earth. So you go (Matthew 28:18). Of him it was said that God anoin ted Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, and he went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him ( Acts 10:38). It is also given to us, we are called, to do his work by his power and not our own. However we may understand the details, there can be no doubt on the biblical picture of human life that we were meant to be inhabited by God and to live by a power beyond ourselves. Human problems cannot be solved by human means. Human life can never flourish unless it pulses with the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:19).

But only constant students of Jesus will be given adequate power to fulfill their calling to be Gods person for their time a nd their place in this world. They are the only ones who develop the character which makes it safe to have such power. But, someone will say, can I not be savedthat is, get into heaven when I diewithout any of this? Perhaps you can. Gods goodness is so great, I am sure that He will let you in if He can find any basis at all to do so. But you might wish to think about what your life amounts to before you die, about what kind of person you are becoming, and about whether you really would be comfortable for eternity in the presence of One whose company you have not found especially desirable for the few hours and days of your earthly existence. He is, after all, the One who says to you now, Follow me!

Adapted (subheads added) from Dallas Willard, The Great Omission (New York: HarperOne, 2006) pp. 13-15. Dallas Willard was a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California and renowned author of numerous books on the spiritual life including The Divine Conspiracy, The Spirit of the Disciplines, and Renovation of the Heart. Dallas was one of the most brilliant Christian thinkers of our time, calling us back to the true meaning of discipleship and Christian formation.

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own


Ruth Haley Barton | eReflections
I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land! Martin Luther King, Jr. Is it possible for a leader to have encountered God so richly that no matter what we are working toward here on this earth, we know we already have what we most deeply wantthe presence of God, that which can never be taken from us? Is it possible to get to a place where God is so real to us and we are so given over to that relationship that physical death is just one more step toward the intimacy and union we seek? Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed this conviction in a speech given in Memphis, Tennessee, on the night before he was assassinated. He spoke of receiving a letter from a little girl after he had been near-fatally stabbed in New York. X-rays had revealed that the knife blade was lodged so close to his aorta that if he had sneezed, he would have died. King received letters of comfort and encouragement from around the world, but the one from this young white girl touched him deeply. Dear Dr. King, she wrote. While it should not matter, I would like to mention that Im a white girl. I read in the paper of y our misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And Im simply writing to say that Im so happy you didnt sneeze. View from the Mountaintop King then recounted many reasons why he, too, was glad he had not sneezed. He described a litany of victorious events that he had been able to be a part of because he hadnt sneezedI wouldnt have been around here when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up or when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill or later that year, to try and tell America about a dream I had had. Im so happy that I didnt sneeze, he said. But then he went on to say that something new had happened within him, something that put him in a different relationship with all that he had been a part of up until that moment. It just didnt matter like it used to! King alluded to Moses experience on the mountain, and with uncanny foresight (which many feel was a premonition), his speech gathered momentum until it reached a crescendo. I dont know what will happen now, he thundered. Weve got some difficult days ahead but it really doesnt matter with me now, because Ive been to the mountaintop. And I dont mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But Im not concerned about that now. I just want to do Gods will. And he allowed me to go up to the mountain. And Ive looked over. And Ive seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! And so Im happy tonight. Im not worried about anything. Im not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the comi ng of the Lord!! Beyond Grandiosity

This journey to the mountaintop is the ultimate antidote to our grandiosity, if we will let be. It helps us find our place in the scheme of things lest we become overly inflated in our view of ourselves and our role in kingdom work. It puts everything in perspective and it is a perspective we need. A prayer written in memory of Oscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred for his outspoken advocacy for the poor, articulates the power of this perspective: It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom [of God] is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is Gods work. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lords grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. For a leader, the promised land is something you see and know that cant be beaten out of you even when other people dont see it yeteven when they say it is impossible, unrealistic, idealistic. It is the phoenix that keeps rising out of the ashes of every failure. It can never fully die. But paradoxically, by the time a leader gets to this promised land, it has usually been stripped down to its barest essence. By the time you get there, maybe you can still see itas Moses did and as Martin Luther King, Jr. didbut it doesnt matter nearly as much. What matters is the presence of God right there with you on the mountainside and being able to say yes to God in the deepest way because you are not clinging to or grasping at anything. A Prophet in Word and Deed This view from the mountaintop right-sizes our role in kingdom work and makes us leaders who are free indeed. It makes us leaders with strength of soul. This kind of leader is not perfect, but we have been met by God, and that is where our authority comes from. This is the kind of leader who spends a lifetime discerning right action in the world so that perhaps, with Martin Luther King, Jr., we can also say, If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I dont want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isnt important. Tell them not to m ention that I have three or four hundred other awards, thats not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. Id like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others. Id like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say on that day, that I did try, in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Indeed, this is the kind of leader who is prophetic both in word and deed, heralding a future and a kingdom that is not our own and yet is absolutely certain. From the eReflections archive: Martin Luther King, Jr.s Strength of Soul

Ruth Haley Barton, 2013. Adapted from Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Not to be used without permission.

Dreams and Visions


Ruth Haley Barton | eReflections
Twenty years ago, as a young minister in my early thirties, I hit a wall in my spiritual life. I was exhausted. I was driven. I was disillusioned. I had sucked every last bit of marrow out of the dry bones of traditional quiet times, noisy church services, chatty small groups, and Christian self-help books. When I was honest, I had to admit that I wasnt changing in the deep inside p laces of my being.

Those of you who know my story know what happened next. I connected with a spiritual directorsomeone who was more experienced in the ways of the soul than I was and who seemed to understand what was going on. This part of the journey was good and hard. Good because I was experiencing the presence of God again and knew I was changing. Hard because it required the dismantling of so much that I had come to believe about myself, about God, and about the nature of the spiritual life. It was disorienting, it was frightening and it was spiritually fruitful, all at the same time. Dangerous Questions The knottiest aspect of this whole thing was the knowledge that my church was not a place where I could share what I was going through. Somehow I knew that being too open about the doubts, questions and longings stirring within me could mean the death of my career as a professional Christian. In addition, I was vaguely aware that some well-meaning Christians might think I was embracing Buddhist practice or New Age philosophy if they discovered I was exploring solitude, silence, and more contemplative aspects of prayer. And yet I was so desperate for more of God and for deeper levels of transformation that I really didnt care. Usually, at this point, I launch into teaching and guided experiences on the spiritual practices that have become so crucial to my spiritual well-being but today I want to broach an entirely different set of questions. What if my church had been a place where I could have found guidance for this well-worn leg of the spiritual journey? How might my story have been different if leaders within my church circles could have heard my questions as an important part of my spiritual journey and had been prepared to guide me into the practices of solitude, silence, Sabbath-keeping and spiritual direction I so desperately needed? How many seeking souls are looking outside their churches for the spiritual guidance they need at different stages of their spiritual journey? Potentially, quite a few. In a recent Barna group survey probing the degree to which people say their lives have been changed by attending church, the findings were disturbing, to say the least. Nearly half (46%) of those surveyed said their lives had not changed at all as a result of churchgoing. One of the most significant gaps uncovered by the research was the fact that most people cannot recall gaining any new spiritual insights the last time they attended church. When asked to think about their last church visit, three out of five church attenders (61%) said they could not remember a significant or important new insight or understanding related to faith. We Can Only Imagine While these statistics are perplexing, we are not driven to despair. In fact, these days we are letting our imaginations run wild. We are imagining churches and Christian ministries whose members are experiencing transformation just by being part of that community. We are imagining leaders who are on a serious spiritual journey themselves teaching and guiding their flocks in a variety of spiritual practices that open them to Gods transforming presence at different stages of the spiritual journey. We are letting ourselves envision leadership groups who are deeply attentive to their own process of spiritual transformation so that they can discern the will of God rather than relying solely on strategic planning and human striving. We are imagining it and we are starting to see it happen through the Transforming Church initiativea growing movement of clergy and Christian leaders committed to cultivating communities of spiritual transformation that discern and do the will of God, starting with their own journey of personal transformation. Transforming Churches Everywhere Becoming a transforming church is not primarily about introducing new programs; it requires a culture shift radiating from the leadership center out. And leaders cant do it alonewhich is why we are committed to providing relationships (through the Transforming Church network) and resources (through the new Leading a Transforming Church program) that will equip and empower leaders to take this next step in their leadership journey. Our passion is to see every church and ministry organization become a center for spiritual transformation for the glory of God, for the abundance of our own lives and for the sake of others. Will you stand with us as we seek to call forth communities of spiritual transformation through the Transforming Church initiative? Will you join us in praying for Christs church and all who lead within itthat we will each do our part to cultivate transforming churches that discern and do the will of God? If so, let us pray together: O God our Wisdom, who eternally makes all things new; encourage by your Holy Spirit those who seek to discern your will that we may labor together for the building up of your world and your Church; counsel us when to act and when to wait; turn our hearts always toward those in greatest need, and away from our own preoccupations and fears; help us never to forget that love and mercy are your greatest gifts, given us all to offer one another as we see them in Jesus Christ who alone is our joy, our way, our truth, and our life. Amen. [1]

[1] Bishop Jeffery Rowthorne, Octave of Prayer for General Convention 2006, Day 5.

Re-thinking Success
Ruth Haley Barton | eReflections
As we enter into the new ministry season. If you know you are the Beloved, you can live with an enormous amount of success and an enormous amount of failure without l osing your identity. Because your identity is that you are the Beloved The question becomes Can I live a life of faith in the wor ld and trust that it will bear fruit? Henri Nouwen Recently I read a letter that I have not been able to get off my mind. It was written by a pastor to the editor of a Christian magazine and it said, I retired a year ago from one of several consecutive positions as associate or senior pastor. I retired not because I didnt love the people, the missions, the act of preaching and the way weekly preaching shaped meNo, it was because I was never able to navi gate through the expectations of my church, both at the local level and from the hierarchy, that I would attract more and more money and bring in more and more members. By the time I decided to retire, these two components of ministry became the only validations of effective ministry in my de nomination. Conducting ministry by such a method was mind-numbing and soul-draining. I tried my best, and in the end I left. Today I guest preach and lead retreats only occasionally. Mostly I spend my time in utter joy, compiling my journal entries and letters from my first year as a solo pastor in England. At long last, I have time to reflect. Never Quite Sure if Im Measuring Up This pastor is not alone in the experience of being driven from ministry by false measures of success. A recent survey reports that over 17,000 pastors leave ministry every month. 17,000! According to a recent article on these statistics, this staggering number includes some of the brightest, most inspiring pastors in the country. Not surprisingly, several of the top reasons pastors leave ministry too soon have to do with discouragement and a sense of failure around how they measure success, how they compare themselves to other pastors and ministries, and how those around them measure success and critique them on that basis. Even leadership conferences, which are designed to be helpful and empowering, can contribute to this sense of not measuring up. As one young pastor shared with me, I find leadership conferences to be very exciting on one level but there is something darker t hat happens as well. Sometimes they leave me feeling competitive towards other churches and what they are accomplishing. I leave the conference feeling dissatisfied with my own situationmy own staff, my own resources, my own gifts and abilities. My ego gets ramped up to do bigger and better things and then I go home and drive everyone crazy. Three months later, the conference notebook is on a bookshelf somewhere and I have returned to life as usual with a vague feeling of uneasiness about my effectiven ess as a leader, never quite sure if I am measuring up. Great Expectations I suppose clergy and Christian ministry leaders have always been subject to the subtle temptations of the ego as it relates to the call to ministry, but there are aspects of this phenomenon that seem to have their own unique expression in our day. When I was growing up as a pastors kid my dads responsibilities as a pastor were, in some ways, very simple. He preached on Sundays and in some cases Wednesday evenings. He visited the sick and counseled those in need of pastoral care. He sat with the elders and they made decisions together regarding the ministries and business aspects of the church. That was about it and that was enough! These days, however, the pastoral/ministry role is much more complicated than that. Now, in addition to those basic responsibilities, many are expected to function like CEOs of large corporations. They are expected to be strategic thinkers and planners. They are expected to be good managers. They are expected to preach sermons that are culturally relevant and contribute expertise and innovative ideas regarding production and programming. They are expected to lead fundraisers and capital campaigns. They are expected to be skilled at interpersonal relating but also command the attention (or draw the attention) of large crowds. Such expectations can create inner confusion about what true success really is. Faithfulness that Leads to Fruitfulness Just to be clear: I am not advocating mediocrity, lack of excellence or laziness in ministry. Anyone who works closely with me knows that I have my own issues with perfectionism and the drive for excellence; in fact, on days when I dont keep that part of my person ality in check, it can make us all crazy. But I also know that there is a difference between valuing excellencethe quest for beauty, accuracy, and effectivenessand allowing the outcomes of all that to define me and us and our success. It is a difference we do well to pay attention to. As we head into a new ministry season, I am convinced that one of the things we can do to save our souls in ministry is to re-think our definition of success and to be vigilant in rejecting the subtle seductions of the ego in this regard. Mother Theresas perspective helps me to stay grounded in the deepest truth about what success really is; it rescues me from my own inner strivings when I need rescuing. She says,

I was never called to be successful; I was called to be faithful and in my striving to be faithful my life will be fruitful and because it is fruitful you could say I am successful. Amen and amen!

Part 3: Beyond Teamwork: Do Something Before you Do Everything


Ruth Haley Barton | eReflections
Note: This is the third part in a series on becoming a community for discernment. You can read part one here, and part two here. Your Teacher will not hide himself any moreand when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hea r a word behind you, saying, This Is the way, walk in it. Isaiah 30:20, 21 So, how are you feeling as we explore the process of becoming a community for discernment? Are you inspired by the idea that your leadership group could actually practice discernment together utilizing concrete, practical steps? Are you overwhelmed at what seems to be such a long process to get there? Are you wondering how you might find the time for all that is involved in corporate leadership discernment and still get through your meeting agendas? Chances are, you are experiencing all these feelings at once; this is understandable because leaders today are tired. Tired from within because their ministry leadership is often carried out in the context of schedules that are too full and barely sustainable. Tired from without because of the continual burden of responsibility and expectation others place on them, and which they accept. Tired from beyond because current models for ministry get them ramped up to do and be more than they can realistically be, and yet they are still trying. Beyond the Exhaustion Corporate leadership discernment is not meant to add to the exhaustion. Instead, it provides hope that there is a way of doing life in leadership that is not so complicated and heavy. A way of making decisions that does not have to rely on our own brilliance and ability to think hard. A way of being involved in Gods work that ends up being more about Gods work than our own. Discerning and doing the will of God together is that way. You might also be grappling with the fact that this sort of discernment will require more of you spiritually. More time for silence and prayer in your personal lives. Increased commitment to self-knowledge and self-examination. A willingness to die to what is false within you. And its true; it will require all this and more. Something Before Everything If it feels like too much, here is a simple suggestion: do something before you do everything. Choose the one thing you can do and do it with all your heart. If members of your leadership group dont already have spiritual rhythms in place, start there. Work on establishing rhythms of work and rest, solitude and silence, engagement and retreat, prayer and Scripture reading, self-examination and confessionalone and together. At the beginning of your meetings, take time to share how your rhythms are going and how God is meeting you in the context of these spiritual practices. Read Pursuing Gods Will Together and take your time working through the group exercises and practices. Dont hurry. Just do what you can. Then, identify one or two elements of the discernment process you can realistically incorporate into your leadership process and try them in the context of a real decision you are facing.

Introduce a little bit of silence for listening to God after the information about a decision had been fully shared. (watch video) Begin your meeting with Scripture reading using the lectio divina method and then share the word God gave each of you. Add the fixed-hour prayer that fits best with your meeting time. (watch video) At least talk about the idea of indifference and whether you are indifferent to anything but the will of God as you enter into the discernment process.

Invite a spiritual director to teach your group about discernment or even facilitate your group in a discernment process relative to a decision you are facing.

The Incredible Lightness of Being Yes, there will be some new steps to learn, some new things to practice. But the point is this: do something before you do everything. Do what you can do and be assured that God is faithful to come in to any amount of space we create for him. Pretty soon that one thing will lead to another thing and anotherand another until you find that leadership is not the burden it once was. It is a dance in which God leads and you follow. It is a wave God sends and you ride it. It is the breath of God, and you are the feather that floats upon it. It is the wind of the Spirit that blows, and you lift your sail to catch it. It is a powerful current that is already flowing, and you are in that flow.

Part 2: Beyond Teamwork: When Leadership Community Is At Its Best


Ruth Haley Barton | eReflections
The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity. -Dietrich Bonnhoeffer No leadership group will be a perfect community until each and every person at the leadership table has seen Jesus face to face and has been finally and ultimately transformed in his presence. But in the meantime, we can at least start to live as the community of Jesus we already arehere and now. We can identify and articulate the values that undergird spiritual community. We can choose practices that will help us to live our values in concrete ways. And we can make a real commitment to God and to each other about how we will seek to live into and minister out of this great spiritual reality called community at the leadership level. One thing is sure: if we cant figure out how to live and lead in community as leaders, there is very little chance that those who are following us will be able to figure out how to experience community together. I concluded our last eReflections by describing some of the mistakes we have made along the way as we have sought to be a community gathering around the presence of Christ and leading out of that place. Despite our mistakes (and perhaps because of them!), there are a few things I know for sure about the values and practices that enable us to participate in spiritual community. When leadership community is at its best we are

Opening to the Presence of Christ


One of the primary ways we open to the presence of Christ when we are together is by engaging in rhythms of prayer at regular intervals throughout the day. Our own Christian tradition teaches us that praying at fixed hours of the day enables us to turn our hearts toward God in ways appropriate for whatever part of the day we are in. In the morning, we begin with praise, affirming Gods love for us and committing the work of the day to him. At mid-day, when tasks are pressing in and human effort is at its height, we stop to renew our awareness of Gods presence, to rest in him and to ask for his peace and guidance. In the evening, we place the cares of the day in Gods hands and make intercession for ourselves and others. If we are together on retreat or for an evening meeting, we close the day with night prayer, confessing our sins, celebrating Gods presence with us during the day and asking him to be with us as we rest. During these times, Scriptures is read without comment followed by a time of silence which gives God the opportunity to address us directly through his Word. The Gospel readings in particular help us to stay connected to the person of Christ as the model for our life and work.

Giving Good Attention to Our Relationships


Attending to our relationships means we are taking time to listen to each other, express care for one another with encouraging words or a warm hug, and pray for each other when we are together or apart. We affirm one anothers gifts and unique

contributions to our shared work. When there is misunderstanding or hurt in a particular relationship, if there is hesitancy or resistance to a particular direction we are takingwe do our best to create time and space to pay attention. Such conversations will often require self-examination leading to greater self-awareness. We may also need to confess sins and negative patterns and extend forgiveness as appropriate. Community at this level is not for the faint of heart nor is it for those who wish to remain permanently settled in a stance of avoidance or denial. One of Jesus specific accomplishments while on this earth was that he loved his own until the end and his prayer in John 17 expresses his deepest desire for usthat we would love one another and experience deep unity. So in a very real sense, loving one another is a concrete way of showing love for Jesus. There is no doubt that attending to our relationships in this manner takes more time and attention than just relating with one another about our shared tasks. However, we are convinced that if we fail at this, we have compromised the very essence of Christian community that Jesus came to foster among his people as a testimony to the world.

Seeking to Live Within our Limits


There is something deeply spiritual about honoring the limitations of our lives and the boundaries of what God has given us to do as leaders. In fact, narcissistic leaders are always looking beyond their sphere of influence with visions of grandiosity far out of proportion to what is actually being given. Paul, activist leader that he was, acknowledged that he had learned not to overstep his limits but to keep within the field that God had assigned to him (II Corinthians 10:13). The field that God has given us includes the body that we have been given, the limits of our personality, the community of people we work with, and the specific calling we have been given. Living within our limits means honoring the finiteness of who we are as individuals and as a communitythe limits of time and space, our physical, emotional, relational and spiritual capacities, our stage of life as community and as individuals who make up that community. It means doing this and not that. It means doing this much and not more. To live within our limits is to live in humble acceptance of the fact that we are the creature and not the Creator. Only God is infinite; the rest of us need to be very clear about what we are called to and say no to everything else.

Living in Rhythms of Work and Rest


Honoring the rhythm of Sabbath-keeping and building time into our schedules to retreat, alone and together, are two of the most significant aspects of this shared intention. Sunday is our normal day for keeping Sabbath but when we have an event that starts on a Sunday, we always take the day following the event as our Sabbath rest. We are each encouraged to take a day of retreat (extended solitude) once a month. In addition, our leadership community retreats are not merely off-site planning meetings that require us to work longer than we would if we were back at the office. Nor are they conference-type events full of programming, noisy activity, and too much information. A spiritual retreat whether we take it alone or togetheris a time apart when we move slower, take time for rest, enjoy extended time for solitude and silence, receive spiritual input and teaching, eat together and enjoy one anothers company. When we fail to maintain sane rhythms of work and rest, we become tired and disconnected from ourselves, each other and God and then we have compromised some of our deepest values.

Moving Forward on the Basis of Discernment


One of the defining characteristics of spiritual community is a shared commitment to discernment rather than human decision-making and strategic maneuvering. Every time we have made decisions purely on the basis of strategic planning rather than entering first into a process of discernment, we have gotten out ahead of ourselves (and God!) and made mistakes. When we look at things strategically, it always makes sense to do moreschedule more retreats, special events, and new initiativesbut this usually means we end up over-committed. However, when we listen to what God is saying to us in the deeper places of our being, we usually find that less is more. We are not opposed to strategic planning; in fact, that is an important second step. But discernment listening deeply for Gods directionmust precede strategic planning. Then we are able to move confidently and with sure step towards our deepest calling, rather than falling into the frenetic pace that often develops when we just think our way into things.

Bad News and Good News


The only way for any church or ministry organization to become a community of transformation is to begin at the center: with the hearts and souls of the board, elders, and staff who are willing to lead together as a spiritual community. Whatever is

empty or lacking at the leadership center of your church or organization will eventually find its way out to the very edges. Thats the bad news. The good news is that whatever is full and vibrant and true at the leadership center will find its way out to the edges as well. And it begins with the leadership community.

Part 1: Beyond Teamwork: Spiritual Community at the Leadership Level


Ruth Haley Barton | eReflections
Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ and in fact, it already exists in Christ. It is not an ideal which we must realize, it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together It is much easier to talk about communityand even try to create community for others!than it is to actually experience it at the leadership level. The truth is, most of us are not very good at maintaining our commitment to community once we get together to lead something. We find it more natural to resort to the subtleties of posturing and maneuvering and working the system when cau ght up in the dynamics of organizational or church life. When we experience disagreement, we are better at creating lines of division, voting each other off the island, or leaving each other than we are at finding ways to come together in unity. Sometimes we even lob lawsuits at each other, subjecting spiritual community to a secular court system that has little understanding of the values and commitments associated with Christian community a move expressly forbidden in New Testament Scripture. A Deeper Calling Spiritual community among leaders is challenging, at best, given the dynamics that inevitably come into play when very human people get together to lead. The ability to transcend our most primal human instincts amid the challenge of leading with others does not happen by accident, nor is it a capacity that is maintained and cultivated in a haphazard way. Cultivating community at the leadership level is a fully-orbed commitment that goes far beyond a perfunctory prayer at the beginning of a business meeting. Such an endeavor is led by leaders who are devoted to the values that undergrid community and who are willing to live out these values through concrete practices that can sometimes seem like a radical departure from the business of board meetings and strategic planning sessions. Christian people who come together to carry out Christs purposes in the worl dwhether it be a church, a denominational gathering or a ministry organizationhave a deeper calling than mere teamwork. In fact, we are called to move beyond teamwork to spiritual community in which we allow our leadership to be grounded inand emerge fromour commitment to live as a Christian community with distinctly Christian values and practices. An Important Distinction One of the fundamental differences between a team and a spiritual community is that a team gathers around a task; when the task is over the team disbands. A spiritual community gathers around a Personthe person of Christ present with us through the Holy Spirit. The bond of Christian community is a permanent reality in which we continue to be transformed by the presence of Christ so that we can discern and do the will of God both personally and together. In spiritual community we discover that spiritual transformation is not an end in itself, but rather leads to the ability to discern and do the will of God (Romans 12:1, 2). Often a mission will emerge as we participate in community together; this is to be expected. But the mission grows out of our commitment to gather around the presence of Christ in life-transforming ways and to listen deeply for his direction in our lives. This is the essence of spiritual community as Jesus defines it (Mark 3:34, 35). A Constant Tension Years ago the Transforming Center began as a small community of leaders who gathered together on the basis of a shared desire to experience deeper levels of spiritual transformation in the context of ministry. From the beginning, we committed ourselves to gathering in such a way that we were constantly opening ourselves to the presence of Christ by engaging in spiritual practices of prayer and study, selfexamination and confession, rest and work, celebration and service to others. And we did indeed begin to sense God calling us to do something together, so we crafted a mission statement that captured our sense of calling to serve others in a particular way. However, it didnt take long for us to experience the stress and strain that all leadership groups experience when the mission (and what it takes to carry out the mission) threatens to overwhelm our life together as a community in Christ. We, too, have struggled with the temptation to allow the demands of ministry to compromise our commitment to community. It is a constant tension. At times, we have made decisions too quickly and without enough time to listen fully to the wisdom of the whole community. We have made strategic plans and then struggled to keep up with the pace of life those plans required. We have missed opportunities to stop and celebrate

together what God was doing among us because we were rushing on to the next thing. At times we have gotten so caught up with what we were doing for others that our personal and corporate disciplines have suffered and the soul of our ministry has started slipping away. We know what it is like to claw our way back to the most essential place when we have slipped from it. But despite the challenges and our many failures along the way, we have learned a few things about what it is like for leaders to commit themselves to living and functioning as a spiritual community. In the next eReflections, we will share some of the practices that help keep us anchored in the deepest reality of who we area community gathered around the presence of Christ for the purpose of being transformed in that Presence so we can discern and do the will of God.

Invitation to Discernment in Community


Ruth Haley Barton | eReflections
Note: The following case study from the NEW Pursuing Gods Will Together is fictitious and yet it is all true. Everything that happens at Grace Church is based on the real life experiences of leadership groups from various churches and organizations, highlighti ng some of the questions and issues that invite us to embark on the journey of pursuing Gods will together.

The question is deceptively simple to ask and exquisitely difficult to answer: Am I truly seeking to do Thy will or mine?

Gerald May

The leadership team of Grace Church wanted to learn how to discern Gods will together as they made decisions. Theirs was a large, wellestablished church in a busy suburb of a major city in the Pacific Northwest, and they had a passion for becoming a gathering place for spiritual seekers. And their vision had become reality! They had been able to assemble a top-notch team of individuals who were gifted and experienced in ministry, and they wore cool jeans. Most did not have any formal theological training, but they had innovative ideas, bright minds and a passion for Christ; through a variety of life experiences and marketplace opportunities, they knew how to develop and market their ideas effectively and implement them with excellence. A GATHERING OF BRIGHT MINDS The elder board comprised leaders experienced at running successful businesses through good strategic planning processes and sound financial practices. There was also an attorney in the mix to make sure they always had good legal counsel, plus a brilliant strategist who had come to Christ through the church and was brimming with ideas about how to take it to the next level. Since these individuals were well-connected and successful in their careers, they also had the funds to back whatever plans and visions they agreed on. They found it deeply fulfilling to be able to connect their financial successes with the opportunity to help fund such a significant spiritual endeavor. What had started out as a small group of families with a shared vision had now mushroomed to around two thousand in attendance on Sundays. In addition, many in the local community were benefiting from their wide array of ministries. They had been able to purchase a large warehouse, which they had renovated into a multipurpose space used for worship as well as housing the many ministries that kept the place bustling with kingdom activity seven days a week. On the surface, it was all good. WHAT LIES BENEATH Beneath the surface, however, there were other realities that needed attention. The staff was exhausted from continually trying to meet the needs of the community in ways that were bigger and better. There had been a moral failure involving one of the founding members, and although appropriate disciplinary action had been taken, there had not been open communication with those close to the situation. He and his family left the church abruptly, and many were still grieving the loss of their friend and colleague. In addition, there had recently been a disagreement among the elders about purchasing a piece of property and expanding the ministry. This had created two factions in the congregation, one of which eventually left, bought the property and started another church several miles away. Public statements about how this would expand the work of the kingdom did little to heal the disillusionment am ong those who had been caught in the relational crossfire. There were also stress cracks between the elders and the staff as relationships became increasingly hierarchical and businesslike. The staff felt that the elders wanted to see more bottom-line growth (attendance, offerings, new and innovative programs), but they werent convinced that the elders really knew what it took to pull this off. The elders were now asking whether they had the right p eople on the bus. Staff members were aware of conversations in which peoples leadership capacity was questioned, and they feared being fired. TROUBLE IN PARADISE

The senior pastor, the only staff person who was also an elder, carried the weight of being the one who continually represented the two groups to each other; this often resulted in miscommunication and misunderstanding. Several staff marriages were troubled due to pace of life issues and unresolved tensions. Those who were observant noticed that these couples attended fewer and fewer events, and when they did, the spouses in particular were aloof and guarded. All of these dynamics created a prevailing mood of fear and uncertainty. Although staff and elders rarely got together as a group, the interactions they did have were characterized by posturing and maneuvering. Things were still going well externally, but there were aspects of the churchs life where real wisdom was needed. How were they to discern what the real issues were, let alone Gods will r egarding them? WHEN HUMAN WISDOM ISNT ENOUGH This is just one kind of situation in which a leadership group might realize that they have reached the limit of what human wisdom has to offer and acknowledge their need for discernment. Some- thing is not quite right. There is a realization that the methods they have used to make decisions in the past are not adequate for what they are facing now. Everyone is running so hard and so fast that no one has time or space to listen to God. They realize that even though they might have discerned Gods will in the beginning, and that was how the whole venture got started, along the way something shifted. As things got larger and more complicated (or remained small and still became complicated!), they relied more on the wisdom of experts than on a mutual commitment to discern and do the will of God toge ther. They might even have elevated leaders who were wise by human standards but were ill-prepared for spiritual discernment. It could also be that everything in a church or organization is going well, and yet their leadership group is facing important and far-reaching decisionssuch as an expansion of the physical plant, adapting a multisite strategy or making an important new hire that require discernment rather than relying solely on their own thinking and planning. How does a group of leaders discern Gods wil l together on such matters? How do they become a spiritual community in which discernment can take place? WHEN LEADERSHIP GET EXCITING Such questions and experiencesas unsettling as they can beserve as a powerful invitation to move beyond our reliance on human wisdom to the adventure of discerning and doing Gods will together as leaders. The leadership group at Grace Church will go on to discover what we all have a chance to discover: that corporate discernment, like all spiritual disciplines, is a concrete practice that opens us to the surprising activity of God in our lives. And that, friends, is when leadership gets exciting!

Discernment: The Heart of Spiritual Leadership


Ruth Haley Barton | eReflections
Discernment, in a most general sense, is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives. The apostle Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2). This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind. Discernment literally means to separate, to discriminate, to determine, to decide or to distinguish between two things. Spiritual discernment is the ability to distinguish or discriminate between good (that which is of God and draws us closer to God) and evil (that which is not of God and draws us away from God). There are many qualities that contribute to good leadership, but it is our commitment to discerning and doing the will of God through the help of the Holy Spirit that distinguishes spiritual leadership from other kinds of leadership. A Definition of Leadership Discernment Corporate or leadership discernment, then, is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God as a leadership group relative to the issues we are facing, and to make decisions in response to that awareness. Spiritual leaders are distinguished by their commitment to discern important matters together so they can affirm a shared sense of Gods desire for them and move forward on that basis. It is hard to imagine that spiritual leadership could be about anything but seeking to know and do the will of God, and yet many leadership groups do not have this as their clear mandate and reason for existence. This raises a question: If we are not pursuing the will of God together in fairly intentional ways, what are we doing? Our own will? What seems best according to our own thinking and planning? That which is merely strategic or expedient or good for the ego? Discernment together as leaders, on the other hand, opens us to an entirely different realitythe wisdom of God that is beyond human wisdom and is available to us as we learn how to open ourselves to it (1 Cor 2:6-16). This approach to leadership presents unique challenges because it requires us to move beyond reliance on human thinking and strategizing to a place of deep listening and response to the Spirit of God within and among us. This is not to dismiss what human wisdom and strategic thinking have to offer us. Our ability to think things through and apply reason to our decision making is a gift from God; however, the Scriptures are clear that human wisdom and the wisdom of God are not the same thing, and part of becoming more discerning is the ability to distinguish between the two (1 Cor 1:18-31).

The Challenge of Leadership Discernment One of the challenges to leadership discernment is that it can seem somewhat subjective and even mystical, which doesnt alwa ys go over too well with hard-nosed business people and pragmatiststhose who often make up boards and other leadership groups. It is one thing to rely on what feels like a more subjective approach when it pertains to our personal life, but it feels much riskier when our decisions involve large budgets, other peoples financial investments, the liv es of multiple staff, reports to high-powered boards and serving a customer base (congregation or organization) with varying levels of expectation. And yet many leaders today are longing for a way of leading that is more deeply responsive to the will of God than to the latest ideas from a New York Times bestseller. We wonder, Is there a trustworthy process that enables Christian leaders to actively seek God relative to decisions we are making?

From Decision-Making to Discernment: One Leaders Experience


David Hughes | eReflections
Years ago I remember watching the doctor who invented the Heimlich Maneuver demonstrate the procedure on television. A few days later my wife and I were eating at a banquet with a friend who suddenly began choking on a bite of food. As our friend slowly turned blue in the face, my wife urged me to do something, anything to save our friend. In desperation I hastily performed the Heimlich maneuver, all the while thinking, I cannot imagine this is really going to work. Much to my amazement and relief, it did. The food became dislodged, and our friend lives on to this day! That experience is much like what happened when I left my first discernment retreat with the Transforming Center a few years ago. Ruth Haley Barton had presented teachings about discernment that excited me. And scared me. And depressed me. And beyond that, I couldnt imagine that it would really work! I was excited because for the first time in my 30 years of ministry I had heard someone offer an in-depth presentation of personal and leadership discernment, soundly rooted in both Scripture and Christian tradition. I was scared because making decisions through discernment rather than simply through the rational processes I was accustomed to would push me way out of my comfort zone. And I was depressed by the thought that I had been missing the mark so clearly as I made decisions in my own life, not to mention how I led decision-making in the congregation I pastored . Yes, God in his grace had guided me in the past despite myself. But I wanted to do better, both in my personal life and in my ministry. Now I knew I could. Little did I know I would soon have the opportunity to put my new learnings about discerning together as leaders into practice. An Opportunity to Practice A few days after returning from the soul-stretching Transforming Center retreat about discernment as the heart of spiritual leadership, I was contacted by the chair of a search committee in our congregation who was seeking a new staff member. The committee had become deadlocked around two candidates, according to the chair. Every attempt to end the stalemate had failed, and the committee wondered if I would come and advise them about how to proceed. Of course, I agreed to attend the next meeting though I was clueless about how to help. Then my mind turned to what I had just learned a few days earlier. Should I share the material I learned at the discernment retreat with this struggling committee? I remember sitting with the committee in a members home on a cold winters night, a fire roaring in the fire place. I remember telling the committee about my retreat experience, and how I had learned some things that might be helpful. I began by reminding them of the Quaker belief that unity within a body is a clear sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ. I asked them not to come to our church with a divided recommendation about this staff position (as had happened in past searches), but to continue working with one another until some semblance of unity was achieved. I walked them through the steps of corporate discernment, and spent considerable time explaining the attitude and prayer of indifference. I led them through a time of listening and prayer. Ever so slowly, I could feel the tension in the room meltand not just because of the roaring fire. Truthfully, I shared this material out of desperation, not knowing what else to say. And I confess thinking to myself, I cannot imagine that this is really going to work!

But Does this Stuff Work? As the meeting drew to a conclusion I recommended the committee call it a night and allow members to pray and mediate over their decision before reconvening. They did. And after their follow up meeting, the committee chair called, ecstatic that the committee had reached a unanimous decision about a candidate to recommend. What was stunning about the chairs enthusiasm is that the candidate that eventually emerged was not the one she had favored just a few days before! Needless to say, the discernment stuff worked. Our church went on to hire the recommended candidate, and that hire has proven to be one of the best in my 20 years of ministry in this church! Since then, we have used the practice of leadership discernment to help us decide other issues. We are not experts in discernmentfar from it. Indeed, these days we are focused on developing the habit of discernment as a precursor to the practice of discernment. But we cannot and will not go back to the old decision-making model of beginning with a brief prayer; conducting a logicbased (though often emotionally heated) discussion loosely governed by Roberts Rules of Order; taking a vote (usually creating winners and losers); and ending with an even briefer (How quickly can we get out of here?) concluding prayer. There is, after all, a much better and far more biblical way.

Part 5: Discerning and Doing the Will of God


Ruth Haley Barton | eReflections
Editors note: During the launch of the fall ministry season, we offer you part 5 of our eReflections series encouraging you to establish spiritual rhythms that will strengthen the soul of your leadership. Click on the link to read part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 of this series. Decision making has its limits. We make decisions. Discernment is given. The Spirit of God, which operates at the deepest levels of the human psyche and within the mysteries of the faith community, brings to the surface gifts of wisdom and guidance which we can only discover and name. Danny Morris and Chuck Olsen

At this point in our exploration of the spiritual rhythms in the life of the leader you might be wondering, how does the work of ministry get done? The work of ministry gets done as we experience deeper levels of spiritual transformation which enables us to discern and do the will of God. Beyond the chaos that is created by facing ourselves more honestly in Gods presence and letting that which is false within us fall away, a quietness descends that is pregnant with the presence of God. Over time, as we cultivate disciplines of rest, solitude, silence and selfexamination, we find we are brought back from the brink of dangerous exhaustion to a state of quiet alertness that is able and ready to receive guidance from God. A knowing comes, a still, small voice whispers, a gentle blowing of the Spirit can be felt and we are awake and alert enough to recognize it. And we actually have enough energy to do what the still, small voice tells us to do! (See Elijahs story in I Kings 19) Beyond our normal patterns of trying to wrestle from God the wisdom we think we need, discernment is given as pure gift. We find that the transformation we are experiencing in Gods presence really is leading us quite naturally to a greater capacity to discern th e will of God, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Through the gentle but persistent nudging of the Spirit we begin to know what is called for in those places where we need wisdom. We discover that thatwisdom is often very different from the solutions we normally think our way into. And when the wisdom is just not there yet, we are restrained enough to wait until discernment is given. The Heart of Spiritual Leadership The transforming leader is growing in awareness that the things most needing to be fixed, solved, and figured out in our lives will not be fixed, solved, figured out at the thinking level anyway. They will be solved at the listening level where Gods Spirit witnesses with our spirit about things that are true (Romans 8:16). This is the level at which God speaks to us about those things that cannot be taught by human wisdom but can only be taught by the Spirit. It is the level at which spiritual discernment is given as pure gift. (I Corinthians 2:12, 13). It is

the level at which perfect love casts out fear so that we are free to respond to the risky invitations of God. (I John 4:18) The leader who listens on these levels and leads from that place is a different kind of leader indeed! The choice to lead from the place where we are growing and changing, listening and responding to God in risky ways is a vulnerable approach to leadership because it is a very tender place. It is a place where we dont have all the answers, where we are not always in control. However, if we are willing to lead from this place, we finally have something real to offer to others something that actually corresponds to what people around us are seeking. A way of life that works. Peace that comes from learning how to wait on God. Awareness of Gods unconditional love and presence as the bedrock of our identity. Real change in the areas o f our lives where we need it most. Wisdom and guidance that leads in far more satisfying directions than our own human wisdom. A heart that is compassionate towards others because that is what we have experienced in Gods presence. Furthermore, the quality of our leadership is decidedly different. Rather than leading from a place of being frenetically busy, we are leading from a place of rest in God. Rather than running on empty, we are being energized by the strength of soul that comes from being replenished in Gods presence. Rather than being driven by the inner compulsions of the false self and the external demands of other peoples expectation, we are learning to respond to Gods call upon our lives in ways that are congruent with the self he kne w and brought lovingly into being. While it may seem counter-intuitive and even dangerous to lead from this tender part of ourselves which we may be accustomed to keeping hidden in leadership settings, true spiritual leadership hinges upon the capacity to lead from our own transforming centerthe true self that is hidden with Christ in God and is cultivated in the spiritual rhythms that keep us open and available to God. In short, the transforming leader who is committed to the rhythm of discerning and doing the will of God is the kind of leader that gets the real work of ministry done.

Part 4: Self-Knowledge and Self-Examination


A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for whats going on inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good. Parker Palmer

A natural outcome of time spent in the safety of Gods presence is that we come home to ourselves in Gods presence. We are a ble to engage in a rhythm of celebrating the goodness of ourselves as God has created us as well as inviting him to show us those places where we are still living in bondage to sin and negative patterns. One of the most significant outcomes of Moses forty years in the wilderness was his ability to settle down, to name himself more truly in Gods presence and to allow God to release him from old patterns so that his leadership could be a force for good in the worl d. In a remarkable journey of transformation, Moses ability to name the unresolved inner dynamics that had shaped him (I have been an alien in a foreign land) created space for Gods transforming work in his life. After sinning spectacularly, he settled into a more solitary existence far outside the public view and began to change from being an angry young man who gave in to murderous rages to being a leader who could work for justice in ways that were truly helpful. He started small coming to the defense of some shepherd girls who were being threatened by unruly shepherdsbut this time he was able to help without killing anyone. A real improvement any way you look at it! Eventually, he was ready to be entrusted with Gods ultimate calling upon his life. Search me, O God, and Know My Heart Without the regular experience of being received and loved by God in solitude and silence and experiencing the deep rest of God that is available to us in that place, we are vulnerable to a kind of leadership that is driven by profound emptiness we are seeking to fill through performance, achievement, and powering up on our world. This unconscious striving is very dangerous for us and for those around us; it will eventually burn us out since there is no amount of achievement that will ultimately satisfy the emptiness of the human soul. And the people we work with will eventually notice that they are mere cogs in the wheel of our own ego-driven plans. It takes profound willingness to invite God to search us and know us at the deepest levels of our being, allowing him to show us the difference between the driven-ness of the false self and the deeper calling to lead from our authentic self in God. There is an elemental chaos that gets stirred up when we have been in Gods presence enough that we have allowed pretense and performance and every other thing that has bolstered our sense of self to fall away. In solitude we are stripped of our external distractions and we inevitably become aware of false patterns of thinking and being and doing that have lurked unnoticed under the surface busyness of our lives.

We may even begin to see how these patterns have mis-shaped our leadership. Perhaps we glimpse an ego-driven self that is bent on control and image management. Perhaps we see an empty self that is hungry to fill itself with the approval of others. Perhaps we glimpse a broken self, desperately seeking to preserve the illusion that we have it all together. Or maybe we see a wounded self that has spent untold energy seeking healing where healing cannot be found. When I Want to Do Good All of us have a shadow side to our leadership. We start out with a desire to do good things and to make a difference but as Paul confesses, When I want to do good, evil is close at hand. (Romans 7:21) Our personal insecurities, our anger, our feelings of inferiority, our need for approval and applausewhich can actually work for us early onare often the very same issues that can precipitate our failure if left unattended. The raw gift of leadership might be there (as it certainly was for Moses) along with a strong sense of whats rig ht and what we think needs to be done in this world. But it cannot be a force for good if it is not being refined by the rigors of self-examination in which we invite God to search us and know us, to help us to know ourselves and to lead us in a more life-giving way. Psalm 139 describes a healthy rhythm of self-knowledge and self-examination that is essential for our lives in leadership. Self-knowledge begins with waking up to the presence of God and the truth that we are forever secure in Gods love. It rests on the foundati on of being utterly convinced that there is nothing we can do that can cause us to fall out of that love. (Vs. 1-12) Healthy self-examination includes the ability to receive and celebrate the goodness of who we are as created beings. (Vs. 13-18) This includes the ability to celebrate the uniqueness of our bodies, our personalities, the configuration of our soul and its unique way of relating to God and the world, our heritage, our background, and all of the experiences that make us who we are. This kind of acceptance and celebration is not as easy as it sounds and some of us have significant work to do in learning how to celebrate the goodness of our created selves as the Psalmist does here! The culmination of a healthy self-examination process is to bring our whole selves to Godthe good, the bad, and the uglyand to invite God to go with us in the search to see if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Vs. 19 -24) Leading from Your Authentic Self It is impossible to overstate how dangerous we as leaders can be when we have not established a rhythm of self-knowledge and selfexaminationregular moments when we invite the healing love of God to expose that which is good and that which is false within us, allowing God to touch us in the unexamined, broken places of our hearts and lives. The journey beyond our false-self patterns to living and leading from our authentic self in God is a harrowing one that is paved with truthseeing and truth-telling. But it is eminently worth it because the truth will ultimately set us free to lead from our authentic self, compelled by the truer motivations that God placed within us before the foundation of the earth.

Part 1: Rhythms of Work and Rest


We are blessed with inner rhythms that tell us where we are, and where we are going. No matter, then, our fifty and sixty hour work weeks, the refusing to stop for lunch, the bypassing sleep and working deep into the darkness. If we stop, if we return to rest, our natural state reasserts itself. Our natural wisdom and balance come to our aid, and we can find our way to what is good, necessary and true. Wayne Muller

I remember sitting in a staff meeting once at a church I was serving; the purpose of the meeting was to talk about how we could attract more people to join the church. At one point someone counted the requirements for church membership already in place and made the startling discovery that there were at least five time commitments per week required of those who wanted to become church members! Outwardly I tried to be supportive of the purpose for the meeting, but on the inside I was screaming, Who would want to sign up for this? I was already trying to combat CFS (Christian fatigue syndrome) in my own life and couldnt imagine willingly inflicting it on someone else. How is it, I wondered, that life in and around the church often gets reduced to so much activity, so much busyness, such weighty expectations? One of the main reasons life in and around the church is full of so much activity, so much busyness and such weighty expectations is that that is the way its leaders are living. Most of us only know one speed: full steam ahead. And we have been stuck in that speed for a very long time. If we do not establish saner rhythms in our own liveslife patterns that curb our unbridled activism and calm our compulsive busynesswe will not make it over the long haul and neither will the people we are leading.

Worn out by our passion


Jesus seemed to understand how quickly our passions, even the most noble, can wear us out if were not careful. Early in his ministry with the disciples, he began to teach them about the importance of establishing sane rhythms of work and rest. In Mark 6, Jesus had just commissioned the disciples for ministry and had given them the authority to cast out demons, to preach the Gospel and to heal the sick. They went off on their first ministry excursion and returned all excited about their new-found powers and crowded around Jesus to report in on all they had done and taught. But Jesus didnt have much time for their ministry reports. Immediately he instructed them to come away with me and rest awhile. He seemed to be much more concerned about helping them to establish rhythms that would sustain them in ministry rather than allowing them to be overly enamored by ministry successes or inordinately driven by their compulsions to do more.

Rhythms of work and rest


When we keep pushing forward without taking adequate time for rest and replenishment, our way of life may seem heroic but there is frenetic quality to our work that lacks true effectiveness because we have lost the ability to be present to God, to be present to other people and to discern what is really needed in our situation. The result can be sloppy desperation: a mental and spiritual letharg y that prevents us from the quality of presence that delivers true insight and spiritual leadership. Charles, a gifted physician illustrates the point: I discovered in medical school that if I saw a patient when I was tired o r overworked, I would order a lot of tests. I was so exhausted, I couldnt tell exactly what was going on so I got in the habit of ordering a battery of tests, hoping they would tell me what I was missing. But when I was restedif I had the opportunity to get some sleep, or go for a quiet walk when I saw the next patient, I could rely on my intuition and experience to give me a pretty accurate reading of what was happeningwhen I could take the time to listen and be present with them and their illness, I was almost always right. When we are depleted, we become overly reliant on voices outside of ourselves to tell us what is going on. We react to symptoms rather than seeking to understand and respond to underlying causes. We rely on other peoples ministry models and outside consultants bec ause we are too tired to listen in our setting and craft something that is uniquely suited to meet the needs that are there. BUT when we are rested we bring steady, alert attention to our leadership that is characterized by right discernment about what is truly needed in our situation, and we have the energy and creativity to carry it out!

Part 2: Solitude and Community


Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the communityBut the reverse is als o true: let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In this paradoxical statement from his book Life Together, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer articulates one of the most important spiritual rhythms for all Christians but especially for those of us who are leadersthe rhythm of solitude and community. What Bonhoeffer seems to be saying is that if we do not take time regularly to enter into solitude and receive Gods unconditional love as the constant source of our identity, calling, and belonging, we become dangerous in the human community. Why? Because we will attempt to get from other human beings what only God can provide; we will demand that the community meet our needs for love, approval, a sense of self and whatever else we may be missing. Then when the community disappoints us, is unable to meet our needs or refuses our demands, we may become frustrated and take out our frustration on those around us through gossip, manipulation, attempts at controlling others. We may accuse the community of failing us and may even start projecting our inner lacks onto others in the communityblaming them for not meeting needs that are not theirs to meet anyway. The problem, of course, is that the community can never fully meet the needs that can only be met by a rich and satisfying relationship with God. It is a weight that is too heavy for any community to bear. And when the shepherds do not spend time in solitude receiving their soul s nourishment from God, they may start to feed on the sheepthe very flock they are supposed to be caring for. The result is pastors and leaders who are trying to get basic human needs for identity, approval and belonging met in the community rather than seeking to have these needs met in relationship with God. To make matters even more complicated, our deepest unmet needs are often unconscious as are our patterns for trying to get other human beings to meet them. If these real human needs continue to remain unmet (as they ultimately will because they can never be fully met in any human relationship), spiritual starvation sets in and the shepherd eventually begins to devour the sheep.

A Little Desperation Goes a Long Way


Solitude is a key discipline for all those who seek after God; however, a leaders journey into solitude and silence has its own unique challenges. One of the great and very subtle temptations relative to life in leadership is that the activities and experiences associated with leadership can be very addicting. The idea that I can do something about this, that, or the other thing feeds something in us that is voracious in its appetite. That something is the ego or the false self that, over time, identifies itself and shores itself up with external accomplishments and achievements, roles and titles, power and prestige. Leadership roles, by their very nature, give a lot of fodder for the ego. To remove ourselves, even for a time, from the very arena where we are receiving so much of our identity can be difficult, if not impossible, for leaders no matter how much mental assent we give to the whole idea. Many leaders preach solitude better than they practice it and I suspect this may be the nut of it. Leaders are busy, yes, and solitude necessitates that we pull away from the demands of our lives in ministry, which is never easy and involves many logistical challenges. But I think the real reason we resist actually moving into a more substantive experience of solitude may have more to do with the anxiety that comes as we pull away from that which we have allowed to define us externally. Usually were not willing to let go of all that unless we are desperateas Elijah was when he went into the wilderness, as Moses was when we he fled to Midian, and as Paul was when he got knocked off his horse and sat in utter stillness for three days. If youre feeling a little desperate, let it keep coming until it drives you into the wilderness of your own solitudea very fruitful place for a leader to be. And of course, the point of going into solitude is to return to our life in the company of others with something to give from the fullness of what we have received rather than coming to others from a place of emptiness demanding that they fill up what is lacking.

The Rhythm of Ministry


Henri Nouwen has said, In order to be of service to others, we have to die to them. I think Bonheoffers comments shed light on what Nouwen means. We must die to needing those we serve in order to survive. We can love the sheep and serve them and be committed to them; we can be vulnerable with them and receive from them the gifts that God has given them. But ourability to survive and to have our (very legitimate) human needs for identity, calling, approval, belonging and worth met must come from the richness of our own intimacy with God cultivated in a balanced rhythm of solitude and community. Each by itself (solitude and community) has profound pitfalls and perils, Bonhoeffer goes on to say. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feeling, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, selfinfatuation and despair. The beauty and effectiveness of solitude and community is not in either one alone but in the rhythm between the two. Let him who cannot be alone beware of communitylet him who is not in community beware of being al one.

Part 3: Silence and Word, Stillness and Action


Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech. One does not exist without the other. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I dont know about you but there are times when I can literally feel itdeep in my bonesthat if I do not shut my mouth for a while, I will get myself in trouble. This trouble will come either because I am tired and lacking in the energy to be disciplined in my use of words or because I havent been quiet enough in Gods presence for my words to be connected with any sense of what God is saying in the moment. There are timesespecially when I am in the middle of speaking five times in a row or have been with people way too much that I feel like crying out, Somebody please stop me! The Scriptures describe the futility of undisciplined human verbosity by pointing out that in the multitude of words there i s much transgression. (Proverbs 10:19) This is a truth that could drive us ministry folks to despair given the incessant flow of words from our mouths, pens and computers. Those of us who deal in words are at great risk of misusing words and even sinning with our words due to the sheer volume of them! Practicing Restraint The rhythm of silence and word is the only cure for this desperate situation. In silence our speech patterns are refined because silence fosters self-awareness that enables us to choose more truly the words that we say. Rather than speech that is motivated by our subconscious need to impress, to put others in their place, to compete, to control, to manipulate, to put a good spin on thingswe are able to notice our inner dynamics and make choices that are more grounded in love, trust and God-given wisdom. As Bonhoeffer puts it, There is a wonderful power of clarification, purification, and concentration upon the essential thing in being quietMuch that is unnecessary remain s unsaid. But the essential and the helpful thing can be said in a few words.

Silence gives us a way to practice restraint when everything in us screams to fly off the handle. The Psalmist says, When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your bed and be silent. Offer right sacrifices (in other words, stay faithful to your spiritual practices) and put your trust in the Lord. (Psalm 4:4) These are times when the most heroic thing a leader can do is to remain in that private place with God for as long as it takes to keep from sinning. In this place we consciously trust ourselves to God rather than everything else we could be doing in the moment. Waiting for God to Act Practicing rhythms of silence and stillness help us learn to wait on Godwhich doesnt come easily for those of us who are so busy trying to make things happen. A major discipline of leadership is to learn how to wait and recognize Gods direction in our lives and in our world before taking action ourselves. Moses learned this lesson so well in his forty year experience in the wilderness that when the challenges of leadership came fast and hard, his first response was to be still and wait until he recognized Gods way forward even in the midst of danger and uncontrolled panic. In Exodus 14, the Israelites found themselves trapped between the Red Sea that was in front of them and the Egyptians who were pursuing from behind; Moses ability to take decisive action in this impossible situation emerged from a clear sense of what he had heard f rom God. Through Moses, God instructed the Israelites to move forward as Moses lifted his staff and stretched out his hand over the water so that the water would divide. It was the exactly the right thing to do but it was something none of them would have thought up on their own. If Moses had not practiced orienting himself to Gods voice speaking deep within and had not been discipl ined enough to wait on taking action until Gods guidance was clear, there would have been a completely different outcome. Staying in Rhythm The key to the efficacy of the rhythm of silence and word, stillness and action, is holding them together in a beautiful tension. If we pray and never do anything, Gods will will never actually be done. If we keep doing things but shun silence and stillness, chances are our actions will be less than what is really needed. This is polarity management and it leads us to embrace yet another great paradox of leadership: the more we are called upon to use words, the more silence we need. The more active leadership required of us and the greater the need for decisive action, the more we need to cultivate stillness the capacity to wait on God long enough to receive Gods clear direction for whatever is facing us. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still. And then out of the stillness, you get up and do whatever God tells you to do.

Finding God's Will Together


How to help a group discern God's leading Discernment is the capacity to recognize the presence and activity of God. Paul says that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable, and perfect (Rom 12:2). Corporate discernment, then, is responding to the activity of Godas a leadership group and to make decisions in response to that Presence. The heart of the discernment process is listening to God, to each other, and to what's going on in the depths of our own souls. When the New Testament believers clarified their question for discernment in Acts 15do Gentiles need to be circumcised in order to be saved? they couldn't rely on knee-jerk reaction ("Of course they need to be circumcised! That's what has always been required!") or their ability to think strategically ("Well, if we make membership requirements less strenuous, maybe more people will join the church!"). No, they wanted to understand what God was up to. So they listened: to the conversion experience of the Gentiles themselves; to respected believers witnessing these conversions; to the experts in Mosaic law; to Peter's perspective; to Paul and Barnabas's descriptions of signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles. The whole assembly listened to all of this in silence (a sign of respect). In response to all he had heard, James expounded on Scripture, making the connection between the current phenomenon and the words of the Old Testament prophets. He connected the dots between Peter's testimony and the words of Amos, who described the trajectory of God's longterm plan: "And I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called" (Acts 15:17). What James did was brilliant. He placed their situation within the larger story of God's purposes in the world. Then he dared to state what he felt God was saying in it all: that Gentiles did not need to become Jews (symbolized by the ritual of circumcision), but they did need to become Godworshipers, abstaining from immorality and activities associated with idol worship. This story illustrates that leadership discernment involves listening with love and attention (1) to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the world, (2) to Scripture, religious tradition, pertinent facts and information, and (3) to that place in us where God's Spirit witnesses with our spirit about those things that are true. Here are the steps to that listening.

Set the agenda


One of the most important roles for leaders is often hidden: praying through and setting the agenda for leadership meetings. When discernment is the goal, the agenda needs to be set in such a way that the right information is available to the group before and during the meeting. The facilitator needs to make sure the necessary voices are heard and that there is plenty of space for prayer, listening, silence, and response.

Listen together
When the group gathers, reiterate the question for discernment and recount the circumstances that have brought this question to the fore. It might be something disturbing (a financial shortfall, a moral failing, lack of productivity, declining attendance) or something that feels like a work of the Spirit (an explosion of ministry growth, new opportunities, a potential partnership). Make sure everyone involved has the same information, is apprised of any new developments, and is clear that there are no secrets or hidden agendas Then, invite questions for clarification. Don't take it for granted that people know how to listen. We live in a culture where people are much more skilled at arguing their position than they are at engaging in mutually influencing relationships. The following are a few guidelines for entering into and maintaining a listening posture.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Become settled in God's presence. Listen to others with your entire self (senses, feelings, intuition, imagination, and rational faculties). Do not interrupt. And pause between speakers to absorb what has been said. Speak for yourself, expressing your own thoughts and feelings and experiences. Avoid broad generalizations. Do not challenge what others say. Rather, ask questions that enable you to wonder about things together. Listen to the group as a wholeto those who have spoken aloud as well as to those who haven't. If someone hasn't spoken, feel free to ask what he or she is thinking. Some less assertive people have much to offer because they have been listening and observing. 7. Hold your desires and opinions lightly. Be willing to be influenced by others.

Notice without judging


The listening phase is to gather as much data as possible. Use the following to notice everything without judging. Pertinent facts. Gather background information, financial reports and implications, pertinent research and statistics, actual proposals, advice from experts, etc. Voices from the community. Listen to those affected by our decision, those who will carry out our decision, and those who have a special giftedness, experience, or expertise in the area we are discussing.

Leadership discernment involves listening with love and attention.


Direction and calling. What fits best with the direction and calling of God on this church or organization? (It can be helpful to review your mission statement here.) Scripture. Is God bringing to mind Scripture that has direct bearing on what we are discussing? Do the larger themes of Scripture provide a context for this decision? The life of Christ. Is there anything in the life and teachings of Jesus that informs our considerations? Does this decision reflect the mind of Christ as described in Philippians 2? Fruit of the Spirit. Read Galatians 5:22-26. Which choice will nurture the fruit of the Spirit in our community? Consolation and desolation. Which alternative brings us the deepest sense of life (Jn. 10:10), inner peace (Phil 4:7), freedom in the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17)? Which brings us a sense of wholeness, authenticity, congruence with who we are in God? Which choice fosters a deeper level of surrender to God and to love? Which would draw us away from God? Pay particular attention to distress, confusion, desolation. Even the more difficult emotions need to be acknowledged.

Tradition. Is there a guiding principle or deep wisdom in our faith tradition (particularly the wisdom and charism of our founders) that could give guidance? Love and unity. Since our ability to love one another and to come together in unity is Jesus' desire for us, which alternative would foster the greatest unity among us? Since love is our highest calling, what is the most loving thing we could dofor God, for ourselves, for our brothers and sisters in Christ, for those we are called to serve? These questions can be on-ramps to the discussions most fruitful for discernment. They are interconnected; one quite naturally leads to others.

Listen in silence
After you have listened together, there are several things that might happen, and silence is the appropriate response to all of them. One possibility is that a solution might start to become clear to the group and someone is able to name it. That's fine. Do not shy away from this, but don't rush to make this happen. Keep in mind, however, that "way opening" (as the Quakers would characterize it) is very different from brainstorming and

working hard to come up with a human solution. If some clarity opens, receive it; it will be part of what everyone takes into silence. Silence will provide an opportunity for God to confirm it, reveal more, or raise additional questions and concerns. Another possibility is that people will feel overwhelmed or confused by the complexity of the issues. This is uncomfortable but also wonderful! Don't fight this feeling. When the group feels the limits of its own wisdom and resources, it creates room for God to work. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). The temptation is to keep talking at this point, but silence is the only place you should go with it. It takes discipline to call for silence when everyone is riled up.

Why silence helps


Silence helps us rest in God. Discernment requires self- and other-awareness as well as space for the Holy Spirit to work. Silence creates this space. In silence we become aware of our emotions, thoughts, experiences, sins, temptations, and attachments. Most of all, silence leads us to an awareness of others and the gift they are to us in our sameness and in our diversity. In silence we return to a place of honoring each other. Silence creates space to listen within for God's wisdom. In a normal meeting, allot fifteen to twenty minutes for silence. Let people leave the room to walk or find a place of quiet. If you are at the end of your allotted meeting time, ask people to take some time in silence before the next meeting in order to listen to God. In the movie Of Gods and Men, a group of French monks living in a country besieged by terrorists needed to discern whether to stay in the monastery and remain faithful to their vows, or leave in order to save their lives. It was an excruciating dilemma. Some felt strongly about staying, others disagreed, and some were undecided. All points of view were expressed with respect and restraint. As they entered into silence and prayerful listening, their leader dismissed them with these simple words, "Our help comes from the Lord," and the brothers responded, "Who made heaven and earth." What a perfect way to enter into silence by affirming who and what we are seeking in the silence.

Reconvene and listen again


The words that follow these times of silence are often characterized by deeper wisdom and truer insight. The group will probably gather more quietly. Start by asking what happened for them and what God said to them in the silence. This question encourages group members to share what they noticed about themselves and what shifts might have taken place.

"Place each path near the heart." Does the Spirit of God seem to rest on this option? What brings a sense of lightness and peace even in the midst of suffering?
For instance, someone might say, "When I first went into the silence, I noticed that I was all riled up and had a hard time settling down. A part of me wanted to keep fighting and arguing. However, when I was able to let go of my desire to fight, God started showing me the ways I try to control outcomes rather than trusting him for what's needed. I realize now that it was because of my desire to be in control that I challenged so-and-so rather than really listening." Another person might come back having experienced God's leading to consider a particular metaphor or passage of Scripture. Someone else may have an innovative funding idea that will help with the financial side of the question. We never know what will come from these times of silence, but something always does. At this point it is likely that a way forward begins to emerge. If so, the group moves to

Select an option in line with what God's doing


In some cases the way forward presents itself clearly, as happened in Acts 15. After James described his own conviction that beyond the basics of abstaining from things polluted by idols and fornication, "we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God," the whole group affirmed this as God's way forward. Discernment does not always come with as much clarity, but do not despair. When the way forward is not clear, select an option or two and seek to improve those options so they are the best they can possibly be. Now the leader can summarize by clearly stating the options and inviting the group to respond. "Does the way I have stated the options accurately capture what we have discussed? Is anyone uncomfortable with proceeding to the next step?" If someone does express discomfort, make adjustments as needed.

Weigh the option(s)


The group now weighs the option(s) to examine what is most consistent with what God is doing among them. The Quaker tradition encourages folks to "place each path near the heart" to see if it brings consolation or desolation. Does the Spirit of God seem to rest on this option? What is the fruit of this option? Other questions may be asked: Is there a Scripture that God brings to mind that is pertinent to the issue we are facing? What is God making natural and easy? What brings a sense of lightness and peace even in the midst of challenge? Is there an option that enables us to do something before we do everything?

Agree together
Once the group has thoroughly explored the options and dealt with any questions, clarity should begin to emerge. Hopefully, everyone will say, "To the best of our ability, we agree that this particular path is God's will for us. So this is the direction we will go." It is the leader's job to articulate "the sense of the meeting"the conclusion to which God seems to be leading. Then the question is, Does this matter need more prayer and reflection? Or are we ready to close by agreeing together on the way forward? Ask whether each member affirms that the articulated path seems to be God's will. This step is extremely important because it allows each person to speak on the matter so the group can move forward in unity. It safeguards the unity of the group by avoiding future arguments about whether there really was agreement. It also prevents anyone from sowing seeds of doubt later on by saying, "Well, I wasn't really sure, but I didn't want to say anything." Whatever successes come as a result of this decision, everyone celebrates together. And whatever challenges come, everyone faces those together. There can be no finger pointing and blaming. Whatever we did, we did it together. That said, there are several levels of agreement that can signify unity of spirit: Everyone in the circle unequivocally agrees. "I agree but with some reservation; however, I have expressed my reservations and feel I have been heard by the group, so I can go forward in peace." "I don't agree, but I feel comfortable deferring to those who have particular wisdom, who are most affected, who have greater certainty." "No, I don't agree and cannot go forward. In order for me to agree, we will need to go back to the drawing board, wait and pray." All of these responses are respectful of the group and give priority to unity of spirit even when there might be differences of opinion. When someone who is respected in leadership (and hopefully all members of the group are) communicates doubt, this will send the group back into discernment mode. Do not see this as a sign of failure. See this person's thoughtful resistance and willingness to speak the truth as a gift. This can spur the group on to fine-tune their discernment, or it might be seen as a potential safeguard against an unwise decision. At the very least there is something God still wants to reveal to the group through this person's inability to agree. If the new direction has been confirmed in each person's spirit, then move forward by affirming the decision in the group and within the wider community. The fact that leaders have taken such care to discern God's will in unity should be a cause for great celebration in the larger community!

Test For Indifference


Are you indifferent to anything but the will of God? Ask God to show you where you might be attached to anything other than God's will. If you are indifferent, thanks be to God. If not, don't judge yourself; just notice it honestly and with compassion. Ask: What needs to die in me for the will of God to find room in my life? What do I need to let go of in order to receive some new gift of God?