Issue No. 254 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting features a just published book on spiritual discernment by Ruth Haley Barton—whose previous book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, was my 2009 Book-of-the-Year. Her latest is equally powerful. Plus, this reminder: check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
From Decision-making to Discernment
Warning! This is a dangerous book (I’ll explain). And it’s certainly a no-brainer Top-10 book for 2012 for pastors, ministry leaders and board members. It might even be my No. 1 Book-of-the-Year pick, but the year’s not over yet.
Ruth Haley Barton has the audacity to write, “Just because something is strategic does not necessarily mean it is God’s will for us right now.”
She says that our staff meetings and board meetings must move from decision-making to discernment. “Spiritual discernment is the ability to distinguish 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).”
She adds, “Many of us have been taught that leadership is having the answer, and we come into meetings we are leading prepared to bestow that wisdom on our trusty followers; we might ask God for wisdom in a prayer that sounds very spiritual, but the truth is, there isn’t much room for God to do or say anything other than what we already have in mind.”
Spiritual leadership has a different flavor believes the author and founder of the Transforming Center (click here for info on their Discernment Summit for Leaders). “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.”
And there’s the problem: most of us want to do the will of God, but few of us are willing to invest the time to learn, practice and facilitate a spiritual discernment process. (Raise your hand if your board has a designated “discernmentarian.” How about a wise sage? Barton says you need both.)
About 75 pages into this dangerous book, I grieved the wasted years of clever PowerPoints, flipchart busy-work, 31-tab binders and too many frequent flier miles…just soldiering on…when, in fact, I was focused on the wrong thing. To think that, instead, we could have actually heard from Almighty God Himself!
Ruth Haley Barton got my attention in 2009 with her extraordinary book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, especially the chapters on spiritual discernment. Then several clients mentored me with stunning moments of discernment. The blinders fell off. I began to see God’s work with new eyes. You will too, if you do the hard work of reading, reflecting and praying through this book—but don’t do it alone.
Each chapter begins with Barton’s keeping-it-real continuing story of Grace Church, a fictitious megachurch in the Pacific Northwest. Grace has vision, passion, a gifted top-notch team “and they wore cool jeans.” Trust me—she’s been in our churches, sniffed around, and knows way too much!
Dangerous? Have you every gathered your team or board for a fork-in-the-road decision and prayed for “holy indifference” (a good thing)? She writes, “At the beginning of any leadership discernment process, it is good to be reminded to ask for the grace to be indifferent to matters of ego, prestige, organizational politics, personal opinion, personal advantage or even ownership of a pet project. We ask God for the grace to desire his will—nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.”
“If we do not reach the point of indifference, or if we are not at least honest about the fact that we are not indifferent, the discernment process becomes little more than a rigged election.”
Dangerous? How about instead of feeble attempts at conflict resolution, you practice conflict transformation—and, says Barton—it’s a prerequisite to the discernment process.
Dangerous? “Have you ever been part of a meeting in which people were so tired that they made a decision just so they could go home? Have you ever participated in a decision-making process knowing that you were resorting to ‘sloppy desperation’ just because you were exhausted?”
You’ll appreciate the been there/done that elephant-in-the-room stories—and how a spiritual discernment process can lead you to a healthy culture. Barton will inspire you—and give you tools—for the priority task of discerning your team’s values. Her ten guidelines for “entering into and maintaining a listening posture” are both brilliant and practical. You’ll want to laminate the list and bring it to every meeting. (Hey, Hank! Read No. 3 again! “DO NOT INTERRUPT!”)
Dangerous? Barton warns us about attempting spiritual discernment when there are no spiritually discerning people in the room. So she plows deep into that field with practical exercises for preparing the ground. (The harvest takes time.)
But the point of all this is not more visionary leadership, better decisions, S.M.A.R.T. goals, bigger budgets or fewer staff or board conflicts. “The main point of discerning the will of God is to do it.” And then she encourages us with I Thess. 5:24, “…the one who has called you will be faithful to bring it to pass.”
I just bought 30 copies.
To order this book from Amazon, click on the title below for Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, by Ruth Haley Barton.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) Ruth Haley Barton says that “conflict happens in all relationships; the only question is what we will do when it does.” Why might “conflict transformation” (versus conflict avoidance) be a bedrock value that must be in place before you begin a spiritual discernment process?
2) Overwhelmed? Too much to do? Doing the work of three people? Barton says that a spiritual discernment process will help us realize that “When we refuse to live within our limits, we wear out ourselves and those who lead with us.” What are other reasons why discernment is so important?
Are You Battle-ready? - Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
One of the big ideas in Chapter 13 (The Crisis Bucket) in my book, Mastering the Management Buckets, is to be battle-ready.
Peter Drucker said, “Fortunately or unfortunately, the one predictable thing in any organization is the crisis. That always comes. That’s when you do depend on the leader.” He said that the job of the leader is to build an organization that is “battle-ready, that has high morale, that knows how to behave, that trusts itself, and where people trust one another.”
If the shocking crisis that devastated the community of Aurora, Colo., last week were to happen near your church or ministry—would you be battle-ready? For more resources, visit the Crisis Bucket webpage and download the worksheet, “Plan Now for Your Next Crisis.”
ECFA Blog on “Governance of Christ-centered Organizations”
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