The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning Together
[caption id="attachment_5877" align="alignnone" width="224" caption="Candles help us centre ourselves"][/caption] The following post is part of a series on Leading Spiritually. Check out the other posts in this series: The Art of Leading Spiritually – An Invitation to a Journey The Art of Leading Spiritually – Why Are We Leading? The Art of Leading Spiritually – Where Are We Heading? The Art of Leading Spiritually – How Do We Do It? Team Meetings as Discerning the Will God I have shared the process that we use in the MSA team meetings and when we go on retreat, on previous occasions but have expanded it here to make it a more useable tool. You may also like to read Practicing Discernment Together by Lon Fendall, Jan Wood and Bruce Bishop which is a great book on the Quaker discernment process. The amazing thing is that this process has not only drawn us closer to God and to each other but it has also made us more sensitive to the moving of God's spirit in our lives and those of our colleagues at other times. And it has made us more creative as we listen to the diverse ideas and possibilities that God is unveiling through others.
- Centering - (Recognizing the presence of God). It is always helpful to start with a centering prayer or activity that stills our minds and brings us into a place of attentiveness to God. Centering is an intentional way to gather the group and help us begin to leave behind our busy schedules and the demands on our time. We each arrive at a meeting with an entire world dragging behind us. For each of us, that world is unique. So taking time to make a conscious choice to set aside those demands and distractions is helpful. That’s what this opening exercise is all about. Here is a prayer that I wrote last year to help me with this process:
May the centre of all things be Christ May the way of all things be Christ May the truth of all things be Christ Behind, before, within, without May the life of all things be Christ
- Other suggested centering exercises are: to light a candle as a representation of Christ’s presence; join hands in a moment of silence; sing a song; say the Lord’s prayer or another prayer and then sit in silence. I have also written several breathing prayers that we have found useful in this process.
- Gathering silence before the meeting. Sitting in silence for a few minutes extends this time of stillness before God. This is a time for each of us to let go of our grip on ourselves and our desire for control over both the process and the decisions that come out of it. We each need to acknowledge that we know nothing and must trust in God for all that comes out of the meeting. In this place of stillness we remind ourselves that God is in a different dimension beyond cognitive knowing.
- Relating - (Checking in with each other) Since business is now a practice of discerning God’s desires, our ability to be sensitive to the movement of the Spirit must be encouraged. This step a spiritual practice that enables us to reconnect with one another in a way that grounds us in the Holy Spirit, connecting us more deeply to the presence of God. This is an extremely important part of the process in which as we actively listen to each other share we become aware of who the Spirit of God is at work in our lives.
- Prayer of Examen on your experience of God this last week: Consolations (those things that have given you a deep sense of life-giving connection to God, others & yourself) and Desolations (those things that have made you lose your connection to God)
- Sharing the transforming edge of God’s activity in your lives. Where are you most aware of God’s transforming work in your life? What would give God the greatest opportunity to continue that work? What is the greatest hinderance to what God is teaching you?
- How is it with your soul? This is a question we can only ask when we are in a long term trusting relationship with our discernment group. Sharing our sense of our own spiritual state places each of us in a very vulnerable position. The willingness to keep this confidential is an essential element in this depth of group sharing.
- Lectio Divina. This is a very ancient contemplative prayer technique practiced at one time by all Christians and kept alive by the monastic tradition. It draws us into the presence of God opening our hearts and our minds to the activity of the Holy Spirit in and around us.
- Receiving, listening and reflecting. (Attending to God, listening) Once we have shared we take time to consider what God is saying in our midst through our personal situations. This step works from the assumption that God is busy in our midst. We spend time in silence listening to God looking for directions, threads and common themes considering how God is moving in our personal lives. We then ask the questions: Given what we’ve heard and shared, what is God doing among us or calling us to? How is that related to our vision as a staff or board? What are the implications of what we have heard for our lives and ministry?
- Prayer of thanks for God’s activity in our midst. It is good before moving into the business for the day to spend time savouring the preciousness of all that has been shared, resting in the contentment of knowing that our lives are in God’s hands and giving thanks for both the good and the bad. Then we pray for request that have surfaced during our sharing.
- Responding (With this focus on God and God’s activity, we do the business at hand in a spirit of attentiveness) This is the point where we finally get to business. Oh wait, we’ve been doing business all along! This is simply the point where we introduce specific items that need discussion or decision. Once the foundation of feeling connected to one another and to God has been laid, then we can move forward with confidence into the tasks at hand…always keeping an eye on our attentiveness to the Spirit. If at any point we feel distracted from being rooted in Christ, we need to push ourselves back from the agenda, take a deep breath, recenter and reconnect.
- Returning and closing(offering ourselves and our efforts to God) are the final steps. Before rushing back out into the world, take a moment to prayerfully reflect over the course of the meeting. Ask yourselves where you felt close to God; where there seemed to be shifts in the discussion that opened you up to new ways of thinking; where there were blocks; where God seemed most present. Celebrate your experience of doing the work of the Church in the presence of God by naming some of these times and being grateful together. Allow your closing prayer to express your thanks and joy.
[caption id="attachment_5872" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Garden catalogues everywhere"][/caption] It is that time of the year again - at least here in Seattle. The mail is flooded with seed catalogues and my email is alive with news on spring planting. There are so many options to choose from that it is hard to know where to begin. So how do we make the decisions? If you can’t get outside yet here are a couple of websites that you might like to check out to at least give you the feel of being outside. They are great planning tools. BBC’s Virtual Garden – it has a fun 3D function on the site and is free Kitchen Garden Planner – part of the Gardener’s Supply website which is one of my favourite places to look for seed starter supplies and self watering pots. This is also free. I use it each year to help plan the vegetable garden, though it is a little limited on vegetable varieties to chose from. They also have some excellent garden how to information. And if your looking for more information on how to go organic my Texas based friends love The Dirt Doctor - Howard Garrett Plangarden.com This website has some great hints for gardening on it. The garden design function costs $20/year Of course this is also a great time to drool over all those wonderful photos in the seed catalogues that in your saner moments you know won’t grow in your climate zone but which you just can’t resist when it is too cold to grow anything anyway. I always like to buy from those companies that specialize in heritage and organic seed like: Seeds of Change Seed Savers Exchange Bountiful Gardens Peaceful Valley Organic Seeds & Supplies and a couple of new ones I heard about this year: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds High Mowing Organic Seeds For my Canadian friends Richter's seeds West Coast Seeds or those that are based in the local Pacific NW area Territorial Seeds Raintree Nursery Nichol's Garden Nursery - going virtual this year with only an online catalogue Irish Eyes Garden Seeds in Ellensburg WA Uprising Organic Seeds in Bellingham WA Unfortunately I also cannot resist a couple of big company catalogues like the English classic Thompson and Morgan and Park Seeds which have products I can’t seem to find anywhere else. And my favourite for lettuce and other salad greens The Cook's Garden. I particularly love their Zen oriental green - it is mild in flavour and delicious in salads or cooked.
The Art of Leading Spiritually – How Do We Do It?
[caption id="attachment_5866" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Leading together"][/caption] The following post is part of a series on Leading Spiritually. Check out the other posts in this series: The Art of Leading Spiritually – An Invitation to a Journey The Art of Leading Spiritually – Why Are We Leading? The Art of Leading Spiritually - Where Are We Heading? How Are We Leading? How do we become good leaders? Ruth Hayley Barton in her book Strengthening the Soul of a Leader affirms that a leadership team is at core a spiritual community gathered around the presence of Christ to discern and carry out God’s will for the community be that a church, a small group, or a ministry organization. She says: Learning to come together and stay together in unity is our first and most enduring task as we pattern our relationships after Christ’s relationships with his disciples. “He loved his own to the end” (John 13:1; John 15 & 17). To compromise our community would be to compromise our essence and the we would not have much that is of value to offer to others. (p176) What an incredibly powerful and challenging statement. The way to become a good leader is not to focus on our own spiritual growth or life skills but to enter into a journey with a community in which we all grow together into the people that God intends us to be. Obviously this does require strong commitment to growing our individual faith and seeing our individual lives transformed but it requires much more than that. Ruth Barton goes on to share that a leadership community at its best is:
- Finding ways to be open to the presence of Christ in our midst.
- Attending to our relationships by listening to each other, caring for each other and praying for each other
- Resting and retreating together not to move our business meetings to another location but so that we can pray together, listen to our journeys, eat together and enjoy each other.
- Living within its limits. Knowing our strengths and weaknesses, knowing what God has called us to do and learning to say no to what is outside these limits is extremely important
- Moving forward in in its work on the basis of discernment rather than human planning or strategic maneuvering. (p179 - 183).
The Art of Leading Spiritually – Where are We Heading?
[caption id="attachment_5862" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Edward Hicks - Peaceable Kingdom"][/caption] This post is part of series on Leading Spiritually. Before reading it you may want to check out the first two posts in the series: The Art of Leading Spiritually – An Invitation to a Journey The Art of Leading Spiritually - Why Are We Leading? Where are We Leading? Dysfunctional images of God and of God’s purposes for us have created dysfunctional view of spiritual leadership. In my last post I said: The central purpose of spiritual leadership is to become co-creators with God in bringing into being a community that is at one with God and with each other. Together we can shine with the presence of Jesus and model the love of God in such a way that others are drawn to believe in God. If we truly believe that at the heart of the universe there is a loving, caring Creator whose deepest longing is to draw us into into intimacy with himself our leadership will reflect that. If we really believe that God’s central passion is the restoration of all creation into a restored community of love and mutual care, that will become our central passion too. About five years ago the MSA team started a journey into this type of leadership model. We began in a time of retreat asking a question we continue to ask and discern that I think is at the core of all spiritual leadership is: What is God’s vision for the future and what part of this vision does God want our community to grab hold of and live out together? We started by reflecting on God’s vision for the future. The rich imagery of the creation story introduces us to a world where God, human beings and the creation live in harmony and mutual concern. Theologian Howard Snyder equates this beautiful, mutually dependent world with shalom. He explains: “On the seventh day God created shalom – the crown and goal of all his work.” The crown and goal of all God’s work was a community of people living and working together in harmony and mutual trust, caring for creation and relating personally to their God who walked in the garden with them. And God looked at all that had been created with complete satisfaction. (Gen 1:27,28,31) Shalom is a corporate vision embracing the entire world community. The segregation into small ethnocentric cultural groups that occurred at Babel is reversed and all people are reconciled and again walk in harmony and understanding together. As we walk together toward God’s mountain, the instruments of war become the instruments of peace (Is 2:2-5, Mic 4:1-4) the lame are healed (Is 35: 4-7), the oppressed set free and justice comes for the poor. Shalom even encompasses and our rediscovery of God’s call to be stewards of creation. God did not create us to live as isolated individuals but as men and women together, in a harmonious interdependent community, caring for each other and for the entire created order. From the time humanity was excluded from the Garden, the object of all of God’s work has been the recovery of shalom in creation and the restoration and renewal of all that was ruptured at the Fall. Amazingly, God asks us to be a part of that restoration. All Christ followers have a new job to do, to join with God in restoring, renewing and healing all that was distorted and broken by sin. We are heading towards a world of shalom. Our shared journey can show people how to live in shalom, how to share God’s shalom, and how to bring God’s shalom to the world. What would the shalom of God look like if it was fully realized in our midst and how does God want us to live and operate to bring that into reality?
The Art of Leading Spiritually – Why are we Leading?
[caption id="attachment_5856" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="The art of leading spiritually"][/caption] Why Are We Leading? This post is part of series on Leading Spiritually. Before reading this you may want to check out the first post in the series: The Art of Leading Spiritually - An Invitation to a Journey Most of us aspire to be leaders. We want to be noticed. We want to feel successful. As Christians we want to know that what we do makes a difference in God’s world. I wonder however if in our striving towards these leadership goals we sometimes miss God’s purposes for us as leaders. To know how to become good spiritual leaders we need first to understand the purpose of leadership not from the perspective of the secular world or even from the perspective of the religious community but from God’s point of view. A good place to start is with Jesus‘ last prayer to his disciples before his betrayal and crucifixion. I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one - as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.(John 17:20-23) Jesus invited his disciples into a journey towards unity with God and with each other. The challenges of listening together, struggling together and praying together moulded them into a richly diverse loving community that resounded with the Spirit of God and as a consequence turned the world upside down. No wonder Jesus spent more time developing a community of followers than he did preaching. Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin explains: “...the center of Jesus’ concern was the calling and binding to himself of a living community of men and women who would be the witnesses of what he was and did. The new reality that he introduced into history was to be continued through history in the form of a community, not in the form of a book.” Early Christians believed that to live by the law of love that Jesus called them to required community because we cannot practice love in isolation. They reasoned that as the essential nature of God is love and because it is impossible to practice love in isolation, God the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - must be a model of perfect community, a perfect harmony of loving relationship. Gilbert Bilezikian in his book Community 101, further elaborates this understanding. “Since God is Trinity he is plurality in oneness. Therefore, the creation in his image required the creation of a plurality of persons. God’s supreme achievement was not the creation of a solitary man, but the creation of human community.” He goes on to explain that this last prayer of Jesus with his disciples is a prayer for community. “The oneness that Jesus prayed for was not mere unity. It was the oneness that reaches deep into the being of God and finds its source in the relationship between Father and Son. Jesus is asking for the restoration among humans of the oneness that had originally been entrusted to them in creation, a oneness made in the image of the oneness within the Trinity.” This understanding of God and of God’s purposes for us invites us to rethink everything including the function and form of leadership. In fact it turns our leadership models on their heads. Spiritual leadership is not about our own advancement or success. The central purpose of spiritual leadership is to become co-creators with God in bringing into being a community that is at one with God and with each other. Together we can shine with the presence of Jesus and model the love of God in such a way that others are drawn to believe in God. This doesn’t require a charismatic out in front personality that hopes everyone will catch their vision, follow and obey. It requires a community that is willing to journey together into the ways of God. It recognizes that leadership is a function of the whole community. As we listen together, discern together, struggle together and pray together we learn to grow together into that restored community of love and mutuality which does indeed reflect the image of the oneness within the Trinity. (Coming tomorrow - Where are we leading)
The Art of Leading Spiritually – An Invitation to a Journey
[caption id="attachment_5856" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="The art of leading spiritually"][/caption] The Art of Leading Spiritually What does it mean to be a spiritual leader? Why do we lead and where are we heading? What was it that made Jesus leadership special? These are all questions that have revolved in my mind over the last few weeks as I have reflected on my own leadership and evaluated where I am at and where I need to grow into the future. Let me say up front that much of what I share over the next couple of weeks will, to a certain extent, be me thinking out loud. I want to grapple with important questions about why, where and how we lead and hope that you will join me in this journey. Mustard Seed Associates is going through some huge transitions at the moment. In the next couple of years our team here in Seattle will probably double in size and we will also begin to establish the Mustard Seed Village community on Camano Island. Our Board is also going through transitions as we grapple with the new skills that are needed to move us into the future. Mustard Seed Associates is a community not a program based organization. We see both our staff team and Board as spiritual communities that discern and carry out the will of God for our organization. We believe that everything we do should flow out of our involvement together as community. We also want to foster spirituality that draws followers of Christ into a deeper relationship with God not alone but as a community. That is one of the reasons I am attracted to monastic communities and the liturgical calendar. Both of these provide tools that draw us into community with God’s people around the world. The Mustard Seed team also wants to encourage innovation that enables us to create new ways to advance God’s kingdom purposes and engage tomorrow’s challenges. That kind of creativity only occurs in community. In many ways MSA provides a networking hub for many expressions of faith and community. Shane Claiborne once described us as cross pollinators. We draw people together across generations, denominations and cultures connecting and equipping them to create their own models that can transform their cultures by both living differently and making a difference for God’s kingdom. To be honest in some ways I am less sure now of what Godly leadership is meant to look like than I was 10 years ago partly because I realize that spiritual leadership is not a job but a journey. It is a journey into intimacy with God. It is a journey into the kingdom of God. It is also a journey into the company of others. Spiritual leadership is not about individual success, in fact I am not sure that it is about individuals at all. Spiritual leadership is about community, about enabling others to become the people God intends them to be so that together we can become the community of shalom that God intends us to become. It is probably fairly obvious that my ideas on spiritual leadership look nothing like the secular model of leadership we so often applaud. Our modern idea of leadership, even of Christian leadership is often a very hierarchical model, based on power and prestige. Success is often judged by growth in numbers rather than in spiritual maturity. Sadly this is the model that most of us know and adhere to without even thinking about it. So I hope you will join me in this journey of exploration and discovery as we discuss the whys, wheres and hows of what it means to lead spiritually.
Today is the last day of the Christmas season. Tomorrow we will take down our Christmas tree and lights. We will pack away our advent wreath for another year and replace the poinsettias on our mantle. I always struggle with this because it seems that suddenly we replace the promise and joy of Christmas with a drab and uninviting plainness. But in the midst of this plainness I start to think about the need to get outside and get going with the spring garden. Heaps of catalogues arrive in the mail and my fingers itch to get down into the dirt and make something happen. It had not occurred to me before but this garden activity seems like a very appropriate one for the season of Epiphany, that season when we are all encouraged to get out into the world and tell others about the Saviour whose birth we have just celebrated. Making something happen to bring new life into our world is the spirit of Epiphany. We are called out into the world not just to talk about Christ but to reveal him to others through our deeds and actions. The garden is one place in which I both connect to God and work to help others connect to God as well, but it is not the only place. One of the challenges I have been thinking about over the Christmas season is How do I reveal Christ to others through my life? I want this season to be a true epiphany for myself and those around me. Here are some other suggestions that posted a couple of years ago: There are many different ways that you could reveal the message of hope to others during this season. Consider doing one of the following during the weeks of Epiphany
- Do you have new neighbours? Are there newcomers to your church? Invite them over for an evening to get better acquainted
- Is this an opportunity to reach out to people in your office or workplace? Consider providing breakfast for those you work with. If you are feeling particularly adventurous you might like to make this a weekly or monthly event.
- Is there a university close by with international students? Invite a small group of students home for lunch or dinner. This is a great way to get know about another culture and the students will be very eager to learn more about your culture and religious traditions.
- Is there a senior care facility near where you live? Take your children over for a visit. Get them to read a story or sing a song for the residents. Consider taking some of the elderly people out for a trip.
- Is there a special way in which your children could reach out to others at their school or play group? Talk to them about the Biblical story and ask them to come up with one way that they could reveal the hope of God the their playmates.
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