BarStre 08-12-176

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership

Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry


Ruth Haley Barton

InterVarsity Press, 2008, 228 pp., ISBN 978-0-8308-3513-3



Barton is cofounder and president of The Transforming Center, a ministry to pastors and Christian leaders.  She has served on the pastoral staff of several churches and is a trained spiritual director and retreat leader.  She is the author of four additional books.  The author draws heavily on lessons from the life of Moses -- whose whole life can be viewed through the lens of his private encounters with God-- to help us experience God in the middle of leadership.  


"Strengthening the soul of our leadership is an invitation that begins, continues and ends with seeking God in the crucible of ministry.  It is an invitation to stay connected with our own soul--that very private place where God's Spirit and my spirit dwell together in union--and to lead from that place."  (210)



1.  When Leaders Lose Their Souls

"So how is it with your soul?"  (24)


"Spiritual leadership emerges from our willingness to stay involved with our own soul--that place where God's Spirit is at work stirring up our deepest questions and longings to draw us deeper into relationship with him." (25) 


"The temptation to compromise basic Christian values--love, community, truth-telling, confession and reconciliation, silent listening and waiting on God for discernment--for the sake of expedience is very great." (27)


"…those who are looking to us for spiritual sustenance need us first and foremost to be spiritual seekers ourselves." (29)


"The discipline of solitude is a key discipline for all those who seek after God."  (31)  This is in contrast to the activities and experiences of leadership that can be very addicting.


2.  What Lies Beneath

"A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what's going on inside him- or herself, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good." (38, quoting Parker Palmer, "Leading from Within")


"Solitude will do its good work whether we know what we are doing or not."  "One of the primary functions of solitude is to settle into ourselves in God's presence." (41)  "Most of what happens in solitude is happening under the surface, and God is doing it." (42)


3.  The Place of Our Own Conversion

"Just as the physical law of gravity ensures that sediment swirling in a jar of muddy river water will eventually settle and the water will become clear, so the spiritual law of gravity ensures that the chaos of the human soul will settle if it sits still long enough." (47)


"All of us [need to] claim our experiences as our own and acknowledge the ways they have shaped us.  Then we are in a position to take responsibility for ourselves rather than being driven by our unconscious patterns of manipulating and controlling reality."  "Taking responsibility for oneself may well be more demanding than taking responsibility for a congregation or an organization!  …it is crucial to our capacity to lead spiritually." (48)


"…none of us are immune to the results of being born as a tender self needing to find ways to protect ourselves from the wounding elements in our environment." (49)  "…the demands of long-term leadership usually push us to a place where our patterns are clearly revealed." (50)  "…often our reactions are more connected to the past than to what is actually going on in the present or what is called for in our current situation." (51) 


"In solitude we…come in contact with our own dysfunctions [and] our illusions fall away." (31)  "We get in touch with our fears…."  "We discover that we are not who we thought we were…"  "This is a very hard place for a leader to be." (52)


"…it is not about fixing; it is about letting go--letting go of old patterns…" (53)  "To give ourselves to this process, we must trust that our true self is hidden with Christ in God…." (53)  When we name our situation correctly it leads to a purging of the soul and an opportunity for growth and the integration of the warring elements inside us. (53)  Our awareness is accompanied by confession and repentance.  It facilitates a letting go that opens us for an encounter with God, freedom from our own bondage, and a receiving of what we are being given. (55)


4.  The Practice of Paying Attention

"When we are taking time to pay attention, we never know when God will show up!" (60)  "How much paying attention am I doing--really?" (62)  "Learning to pay attention and knowing what to pay attention to is a key discipline for leaders….  One of the downsides of visionary leadership is that we can get our sights set on something that is so far out in the future that we miss what's going on in our life as it exists now.  We are blind to the bush that is burning in our own backyard…."  (63) 


"If spiritual leadership is anything, it is the capacity to see the bush burning in the middle of our own life and having enough sense to turn aside, take off our shoes and pay attention!"  (64)  "At the heart of spiritual leadership is the capacity to notice the activity of God so we can join him in it. …an essential discipline for leaders is to craft times of quiet in which we allow God to show us those things that we might otherwise miss." (68)


5.  The Conundrum of Calling

"Our transformation is never for ourselves alone.  It is always for the sake of others."  (74)  "When God calls, it is a very big deal.  It is holy ground." (74)  "We 'see' with new eyes that God's call on our life is so tightly woven into the fabric of our being, so core to who we are, that to ignore it or to refuse it would be to jeopardize our well-being." (74) 


"Being called by God is one of the most essentially spiritual experiences of human existence, because it is a place where God's presence intersects with a human life." (76)


"God called Moses to be who he was, but he was also calling him to become something that he was not yet…." (77)  "Our calling is woven into the very fabric of our being as we have been created by God…." (77)


"Any kind of authentic calling usually takes us to a place where we have serious objections of some sort, places where we feel inadequate--where we confront our own willfulness and our preconceived ideas about how we thought our life would go, where we think what God is asking us to do is downright impossible or where we just don't want to take the risk.  But one of the ways we recognize calling is that it has come about in ways that could not be humanly orchestrated and so it cannot be easily dismissed.  'Vocational calling involves more riskiness and uncertainty.   While you won't be given 'more than you can bear,' you will be led by 'a way you do not know' to be a channel for race in ways you cannot adequately predict.'" (80)


6.  Guiding Others on the Spiritual Journey

"The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there." (87, quoting Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer)


"Have I learned enough about how to wait on God in my own life to be able to call others to wait when that is what's truly needed?  Have I done enough spiritual journeying to lead people on this part of their journey?" (98) 


7.  Living Within Limits

"It is a very humbling moment in the life of a leader when we realize that we have taken on too much." (103)  "There is a limit." (103)  Learn to recognize the signs: irritability, hypersensitivy, restlessness, compulsive overworking, emotional numbness, escapist behaviors, not able to exercise and eat right, slipping in our spiritual practices, etc,  (104-5) 


"We are driven by our grandiosity more than we think." (110)  "The good news is that there is something deeply spiritual about living and working within our God-ordained limits--or to put it another way, living fully and acceptingly within our own set of realities." (112)


8.  Spiritual Rhythms in the Life of a Leader

"There is nothing more crucial to the staying power of the leader than establishing rhythms that keep us replenished--body, mind and soul."  "All organisms follow life-sustaining rhythms." (122)


"It takes profound willingness to invite God to…show us the difference between the performance-oriented drivenness of the false self and the deeper calling to lead from our authentic self in God." (126) "It is impossible to overstate how dangerous we can become as leaders if we are not routinely inviting God to search us and know us and lead us in a new way." (127)


9.  Leadership as Intercession

"One of the most consistent patterns of Moses' life in leadership is the regularity with which he prayed for the people he was leading and sought God's guidance for situations involving them."  "Over and over again the pattern was very consistent: 'The people complained…and Moses cried out to the Lord.'" (142) 


"Being this reliant on God for the actual outcome of things is a very edgy way to lead." (144) 


"Intercessory prayer is not primarily about thinking that I know what someone else needs and trying to wrestle it from God.  Rather, it is being present to God on another's behalf, listening for the prayer of the Holy Spirit that is already being prayed for that person before the throne of grace, and being willing to join God in that prayer." (146)


"Who would we be if the practice of intercessory prayer shaped our leadership?" (151)


10.  The Loneliness of Leadership

"There is a pivotal moment in the life of a leader…when whatever the promised land is for us…pales in significance when compared with our desire for God." (158) 


"Any leader who cannot endure profound levels of loneliness will not last long."  (163)  


11.  From Isolation to Leadership Community

"…we can be surrounded by people and be very busy doing good things and yet feel deeply alone with the burdens we bear." (170)


"Experiencing spiritual community at the leadership level is one of [the] richest and most satisfying aspects of leadership, but it can also be one of the trickiest.  The truth is, we are not very good at cultivating community when we get together to lead something." (175)


"When leadership flows from our commitment to being a community that gathers around the presence of Christ for ongoing transformation, our ministry is deeper and richer and more effective for ourselves and for others." (180)


12.  Finding God's Will Together

"At the heart of spiritual leadership and spiritual journeying is discernment--the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God both personally and in community."  "For Moses…this involved entering into God's presence regularly and routinely, asking God what he should do and then leading the people in that way." (193) 


"We must rely on the more subtle dynamics of the Holy Spirit witnessing with the human spirit about things that are true (Romans 8:16)."  "It 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." (194)  "Discernment is always a gift given by the Spirit to spiritual people." (196)


"When the gift of discernment has been given, those responsible for providing leadership can look at each other and 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.'  Then we rest in God, thanking him for his presence with us and for the gift of discernment as it has been given.  Then we are ready, as the old Nike commercial admonishes, to 'Just do it!'" (206)


13.  Reenvisioning the Promised Land

"Strengthening the soul of our leadership is an invitation that begins, continues and ends with seeking God in the crucible of ministry.  It is an invitation to stay connected with our own soul--that very private place where God's Spirit and my spirit dwell together in union--and to lead from that place."  (210)  This makes us vulnerable: we don't have all the answers and we are not in control.  (210)


"Rather than leading from the unconscious patterns of the false self, I am leading from a self that is being transformed by my encounters with God in solitude and silence." (211)


"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 want--the presence of God, that which can never be taken from us?"  (215) 


"Every time I read about Moses' relationship with God I am filled with longing…to be a certain kind of person.  A person who knows God.  A person who is faithful against all odds and does not shrink back." (219)




 * * * * * *

Your comments and book recommendations are welcome.

To discontinue receiving book notes, hit Reply and put Discontinue in the text.