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The Inner Life Of A Christian Leader

The late Steve Jobs famously insisted that the same design standards be applied to those parts of an Apple product that no consumer would ever see as were applied to the outer parts, which gained admiration for their style.

Something similar is true of the Christian, and certainly of those of us called to the daunting task of leadership in the church. Gordon Macdonald makes a similar point in a recent book, using a similar analogy:

David McCullough’s book The Great Bridge tells a fascinating story about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, which arches the East River and joins Manhattan to Brooklyn.

In June 1872, the chief engineer of the project wrote: “To such of the general public as might imagine that no work had been done on the New York tower, because they see no evidence of it above the water, I should simply remark that the amount of the masonry and concrete laid on that foundation during the past winter, under water, is equal in quantity to the entire masonry of the Brooklyn tower visible today above the waterline” (italics mine).

The Brooklyn Bridge remains a major transportation artery in New York City today because 135 years ago the chief engineer and his construction team did their most patient and daring work where no one could see it: on the foundations of the towers below the waterline. It is one more illustration of an ageless principle in leadership: the work done below the waterline (in a leader’s soul) that determines whether he or she will stand the test of time and challenge. This work is called worship, devotion, spiritual discipline. It’s done in quiet, where no one but God sees.

Macdonald’s book is appropriately called, ‘Building Below the Waterline: Shoring Up the Foundations of Leadership‘. The quote above is from the introduction (page 1). By the end of the first chapter he’s making the large claim that almost all Christian leaders agree that they need to carve out one to two hours a day for this work of nurturing the spiritual centre.

There seem to be some other books in recent years that take a similar tack. Ruth Haley Barton’s ‘Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry‘ is one. Pete Scazzero’s ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality‘ and ‘The Emotionally Healthy Church‘ are two more. In the last few decades, Eugene Peterson and Henri Nouwen have been voices callng in the wilderness, pleading with us to take this seriously, rather than concentrating on the latest techniques and plans to grow your church. Might it be that at last their cries are being heeded?

So – two questions:

1. What do you do to nurture the hidden parts of your spiritual life?

2. Are there any other authors and books you recommend on this subject?

Sacred Rhythms

We’ve just started a new course at Knaphill: Sacred Rhythms is a DVD course that abbreviates the book of the same name by Ruth Haley Barton, an American retreat leader and spiritual director. I’ve been reading her regular emails from The Transforming Center for some while. I’m about half way through the original book.

Why are we doing it? Because people asked at our annual meeting in the Spring for teaching on prayer. Barton says something striking about that: it is young Christians who typically do not ask how to pray, because they get on with it. As we become more mature, we hit  more obstacles in prayer and realise we don’t know what we thought we knew. Ironically, it is the more experienced Christians who may have to come to the point of honesty, asking, “Teach us to pray.”

We had an excellent first meeting this week. The opening chapter or session locates ‘desire’ as a way into discovering why we need to develop the habits of spiritual disciplines that form a rule of life, in which we focus on Christ.

That sounds strange, even wrong, at first. However, Barton begins from the times in the Gospels when Jesus asks needy people like Bartimaeus questions such as, “What do you want me to do for you?” We could come up with selfish answers to that, or the question could expose honourable desires. Yet even if we come up with answers from sinful motives, these are exposed in the light of Christ and that is a first step to coming into a better place. Like Bartimaeus, we may need to ‘throw off our cloak’ to press towards what God has for us – we may need to let go of certain things that are not always sins in order to walk in the way of Christ.

At this early stage, I recommend the course to you.  As a taster, here are the opening three minutes of it.

Organisational Barriers To Spiritual Transformation

Renewal is never merely private and personal, says Ruth Haley Barton in this taster of her forthcoming book on leadership discernment. The culture / ethos / ‘spirit’ / assumptions, both named and tacit of the organisation in which we function has an effect upon us, and it can be negative. The leadership group of the organisation needs to work on transforming the group from the inside out.

What do you think?

Sabbatical, Day 31: Links, Lent, Movies And Books

Before today’s news, here are some links. Let’s kick off with a survey. What kind of technology user are you? The Pew Internet and American Life Project has a quiz. I am an ‘ominvore‘. (Via the Comodo Monthly Insider email.)

The Evangelical Alliance has a resource launching on 5th March entitled ‘Square Mile‘. To quote their email:

Mercy: demonstrating God’s compassion to the poor
Influence: being salt and light in the public life of the community
Life Discipleship: equipping Christians for missional living as workers & neighbours
Evangelism: faithful and relevant communication of the gospel
Square Mile is an exciting initiative, designed to catalyse and equip the UK Church to take a truly integrated approach to mission in partnership with the Alliance and Community Mission.
Square Mile resources include a new DVD-based course designed for small groups, which explores these four areas of mission. Featuring insights from: Shane Claiborne, Mark Greene, J John, Tim Keller, Elaine Storkey, Jim Wallis and N.T. Wright, as well as examples of grassroots projects around the UK. A journal is also availabe containing daily readings, reflections and activities covering four weeks – ideally used alongside the DVD course.

Ruth Haley Barton has an article for the first week of Lent: Practising Repentance.

…………

If it isn’t one, then it’s the other. Mark went back to school today, and Rebekah was off sick. She had diarrhoea in the night and this morning. I’ll spare you further grisly details. 

Thus today I have been a teacher and an entertainer. Not that far removed from ministry, is it? I helped her with her reading, her spelling homework and her Maths game.

As a reward, we allowed her to paint a mug. Not one of our existing mugs, one that came in a box with paints and brushes. She has decorated a couple before, but I put the last one in the dishwasher and the paint began to peel. If everything King Midas touched turned to gold, most things I touch shatter into several pieces.

Either side of lunchtime, Debbie, Rebekah and I watched ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘ on DVD. It came out in 1968, and I saw it at the cinema first time around. If I didn’t feel old enough already, what with the fact that tomorrow I enter the final year of my forties, I felt even more decrepit remembering that fact.

As I watched it, I mused on this thought. Today, we are used to discussing serious themes in films. Organisations like Damaris Trust and others produce first class material to help in that matter. Usually, the movies chosen are not children’s titles. Yet Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has some simple ideas that would bear some exploration. Here are just a few. 

Career-wise, do you follow your dreams, imagination and creative talent, even into penury that affects you and your family, in the hope it will work out in the end, or do you just take a routine mundane job? (Caractacus Potts)

How do you deal with the fact that evil is sometimes blatant and other times disguised? (The Child Catcher)

How do you hang on in the face of evil while injustice reigns? (The villagers keep their children underground, not seeing the sun, while the Baron and his forces seek to eliminate children.)

Can you have successful marriages and relationships across wide socio-economic barriers? (Caractacus Potts doesn’t propose marriage to Truly Scrumptious until he realises his invention of Toot Sweets is going to make him wealthy, just as she is.)

…………

And finally, just a little tiny bit of sabbatical work today. Some of that was reading the terms and conditions for signing up to Survey Monkey. I’m glad I read these. I have to be very careful how I word emails in which I invite people to complete my survey, and include various items to avoid Survey Monkey deleting my account. Clearly they are protecting themselves against use by spammers. I have to include an ‘unsubscribe’ link and my snail-mail address. The problem with ‘ubsubscribe’ will be that I may not be using a mailing list full of individuals, so I’ll need to think of a way around that.

The other thing that has happened is this. You may recall my recent series of posts on The Starfish And The Spider. There was another similar book I also wanted to read. Well, at last, after several weeks on order and being number one in the queue to read it next, ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ by Clay Shirky found its way to North Melbourne Library today, and it is sitting on my desk at last. I had taken to reading something that is not sabbatical related, but which is thought-provoking on a general theme: ‘The God I Don’t Understand‘ by Chris Wright. I may need to return to that later now.

Sabbatical, Day 29: From Mountain To Valley With A Bump

So we roused Mark at 9 pm yesterday. Despite the pain in his ear, he protested that he wanted to go back to sleep rather than see a doctor. Eventually, half way to the hospital (where the out of hours GP service is located), he began to be half-awake enough to view the trip as an adventure. 

Arriving in the car park, we were still stung at that time to the tune of £3.50 for the privilege of leaving the car in a mostly empty facility. Thanks, Broomfield Hospital. You’re so kind.

Entering the waiting room at 9:20 with an appointment time of 9:40, I let Mark snuggle up to me as I noticed more than twenty minutes go by before anyone else was called into a consulting room. I calculated that with the number of people in front of us, we would probably only get to see a medic around 10:20 – 10:30. For me, the time was passing almost as slowly as it would for a child, and I invoked my interest in Maths to occupy my brain, just as I sometimes stimulate myself on a long car journey by periodically calculating my average speed to two or three decimal points. Did someone say ‘Sad’?

I gathered only one doctor was on duty, but while we were there one more began a shift, as did an advanced nurse practitioner. The pace thus sped up, and just after 10 Mark was called in. We trotted into see the nurse practitioner, along with his Favourite Bear. (He gives his cuddly toys descriptions rather than names.)

Sure enough, it was a routine ear infection and so out came another bottle of amoxicillin, or ‘banana medicine’ as Mark calls it. I wonder whether you can guess the flavour. 🙂

On the way home, he was chatty if still tired, but was very taken by the experience. He said that in future when he was ill he wanted to alternate between seeing ‘Chelmsford doctors’ (by which he meant our GP surgery) and ‘hospital doctors’.

Of course, he didn’t realise that he had seen ‘hospital doctors’ when he was a baby – not only when he was born, but when the root cause of his permanently screaming the manse down was discovered. No, not the shock of having me for a father: he had been born with an inguinal hernia. Diagnosis only happened at seven weeks, after several incidents when Debbie had taken refuge with large glasses of sherry on nights when I was out at church meetings. He had surgery at ten weeks. 

This morning, Debbie took Rebekah to church while I stayed home with Mark. He has picked up considerably, but he has a week of banana medicine ahead of him and although he has been quite bouncy today, we’re keeping him off school tomorrow. 

If I’ve done any thinking about the sabbatical today, it’s just been a temporary musing of the problem of re-entry that awaits me in two months’ time. I’ve had two mountain-top experiences already, and while the church usually aims to ease ministers back in post-sabbatical, it didn’t happen to me last time and I don’t suppose it will this time.

Last time, the circumstances were exceptional: the circuit treasurer had failed to apply for the release of some funds. Realising his mistake, he had put thousands of his own money into the circuit accounts, leaving us the recipients of an unauthorised loan. He was one of my church members, and a decent guy in many ways.

But what exercises me this time is the adjustment to ‘normal church life’. I think it was A W Tozer who once observed that the spiritual temperature in many churches is so low that when someone turns up with a normal, New Testament ‘temperature’, they treat that person as if they have a fever.

Now let me quickly qualify that. I’m again aware how easy it is at a point like this to slip into a judgmental attitude. I can only assure you I don’t mean that, just as I also don’t mean anyone reading this to assume I’m painting myself as the one with the normal spiritual temperature. I’m struggling for language to express the dilemma, and I expect and hope you know what I’m driving at. In a desire to be accepting, inclusive and indeed avoid judgmentalism we have tolerated a low temperature in our churches. There have been many times over the years when I have felt that slowly suck the life out of me. In such circumstances, regular outside support is vital. Sometimes it’s easy to come by, but not always. Even when it is available, it emphasises the disconnect painfully, and has to be channelled into a passion for change.

In other news: I’ve been wading through the five hundred emails that were in the inbox when I returned. Among the gems was yet another article from the wonderful Ruth Haley Barton. I realise this one on Ash Wednesday is now four days late, but you might still gain something from her reflections, or at very least note it for next year. 

And on that positive note, it’s goodnight from me.

Finding (The Will Of) God

That’s the theme that has popped up a couple of times today. In both cases, it’s been a resource that challenges popular evangelical practice.

Firstly, I met my weekly Bible Study group. We discussed what they might do as a Lent course when I start my sabbatical next month. With the support of the church treasurer, I had recently bought a few DVD courses, so that groups might feel more confident to run some studies without ‘expert’ input.

One DVD I invited them to look at this morning was ‘Stop Looking For The Will Of God‘ by the redoubtable Jeff Lucas. His theme is that rather than worrying about discovering the will of God, we should concentrate first on seeking God for himself.

When I came home, I found an email from The Transforming Center. It containd one of Ruth Haley Barton‘s regular devotional articles for church leaders. Entitled ‘Discernment: Finding God In All Things‘, she encourages a more Ignatian approach of discerning the presence of God with us in the contrasting themes of ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’. That is, what gives us life and what drains us of life? We are more likely to find God’s pleasure for our lives in those activities which energise us rather than those which suck the life out of us.

It’s an attractive theory, but would need testing at greater depth than a seven-page article can offer. It would be interesting to know where Barton sees the place of doing something uncongenial, because we are servants, for example. I am sure she has a place for that in her spirituality, it just isn’t obvious to me in the article. (Unless I wasn’t being very attentive, perhaps.) Certainly that is in my mind, having taken a Methodist Covenant Service on Sunday, which delicately balances the fact that we may like what God calls us to do, or we may find it unattractive. The Covenant Service neatly avoids the two contrasting traps of God’s will either being something we love or something we hate.

Both Lucas and Barton are subtly different from evangelical convention, which speaks of finding God’s will supremely through Scripture, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, trusted Christian friends, circumstances and the resources of reason, tradition and experience. They don’t eschew these filters of understanding God’s will, but they place the emphasis elsewhere. While certain biblical characters are castigated for not ‘enquiring of the Lord’, Lucas and Barton avoid the kind of paralysis some find themselves in where they won’t get out of bed without divine guidance. They put an emphasis back on the relationship with God, in place of a more mechanical approach.

So I wondered: what is important to you in finding and following the will of God?

Links

Here is what I have found in the last week of touring the Internet. Not as much as previous weeks – you’ll see I’ve struggled to publish much of substance in recent days, apart from the Damaris videos. Anyway, I think these are all worthwhile – a mixture of theological and techie stuff.

Theology 
Is the missional approach to church good or not? Helen Lee surveys the question of missional shift or drift.

A superb Paul Vallely article from The Independent lays out the different perspectives lucidly back in October: Religion vs science: can the divide between God and rationality be reconciled?

Ruth Haley Barton describes Advent as training in waiting.

After four years of blogging, Brother Maynard has discovered a new God.

Whoopee, John and Olive Drane are blogging together.

Alan Hirsch is putting the adventure back into the venture.

Techie 
 Google’s advice for bloggers. Looks like I’d better drop the style of one-word post titles I’ve been pursuing in recent weeks!

TechRepublic has ten classic clueless-user stories: entertainment for the geeky among you.

Links

OK, here’s another round-up of links I found during the last week. Have fun.

A Theremin (remember Good Vibrations?) inside a Russian doll. (Via Mojo.)

A friend of mine once rewrote Monty Python’s Dead Parrot Sketch as the Dead Church Sketch. But now we learn that the ancient Greeks pre-empted the dead parrot sketch.

Jesus spoke about lust as ‘adultery of the heart’. Now, a ‘virtual affair’ in Second Life has led to a divorce.

The Today programme on BBC Radio 4 ponders great drum solos.

Remember the Johnny Cash song ‘One piece at a time’? Well, a Russian Orthodox church has been stolen, brick by brick.

Once it was pizzas looking like Jesus, now it’s Buddha bee hives.

You want a prayer movement – how about this? Artist creates ‘public prayer booths’ in NYC. They look like phone booths, apparently.

If only this were true: hoax New York Times newspaper proclaims end of Iraq war.

My father has a life-long interest in astronomy. Doubtless he will have been excited to read about the Hubble Telescope spotting a planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut and the planetary system discovered by the Gemini Observatory in Chile. (Both links via Personal Computer World‘s weekly email.)

Ruth Haley Barton has written on the loneliness of leadership: loneliness drives us to seek the presence of God rather than any notion of the Promised Land.

Unhappy people watch more TV. ‘TV doesn’t really seem to satisfy people over the long haul the way that social involvement or reading a newspaper does,’ says researcher John P. Robinson.

Go on, you want to make cake in a mug.

MyBloop – unlimited free online storage, max file size 1 GB. Via Chris Pirillo.

Twenty hated clichés. In contrast, here are James Emery White’s top five irritating Christian phrases.