Moving Into Transition – The Awakening of Hope

Let us gather at the table together

Let us gather at the table together

This is the third post in my series this week on transitioning MSA and the process I am engaged in personally as a part of that. It is very much a thinking out loud process for me, but one which I realize requires me to listen to many voices and to discern together with others what God is saying. You can check out the other posts here:

Going Through Transition – Help from Walter Brueggemann

Planning For Transition – Wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers

The first posts came out of the retreat time Tom and I had at the end of last week. Since then we have participated in meetings with others who are key to this process – the MSA team and several consultants who are helping us on the way. I am excited about what is emerging – not new ministries or even a new focus but rather a new process that ignites participants with images of hope for the inbreaking of God’s kingdom and invites them into a community where together we provide tools to journey along the path towards God’s kingdom.

In the first post on Monday I wrote – The prophet offers symbols of hope for a new future. As I have wrestled with who we are currently and who we are sensing God wants us to become, this I realize is central. Interestingly the third book that I read during my retreat time was Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s The Awakening of Hope. What I loved about this book is its practicality – not just giving theological precepts that should shape our practice but sharing beautiful stories of how our Christian beliefs are lived out in practice. As Jonathan says we need to build community amongst believers by nurturing faith that leads to action.

Building community and nurturing faith that leads to action that too is central to who we are and what we hope to become.  At this point we have identified three aspects of MSA that we believe are important elements of the process we are developing. Part of what excites me is that none of these elements require experts to speak at su, they require a recognition that all in the body of Christ have valuable gifts to bring to the table:

  1. Encouraging each other with images of God’s hope for the future – I think that one of our strengths in the past has been the sharing of mustard seed stories that inspire others with the the thought “I could do that”.
  2. Discerning together as a spiritual community – As many of you know we begin all of our meetings with a check in time – looking back and looking forward and then discussing where we sense God is moving in our midst. It is a powerful and energizing process that not only draws us closer to each other but also closer to God. This element of who we are can be adapted to any situation. It draws us into the hope of God’s kingdom and it ignites creativity within all of us.
  3. Fellowship and hospitality – Tom often tells people that he would rather cook for them than stand in front of them to speak. We have tended to treat it as a joke, but as we talk around the table I am beginning to realize that this too is a central part of who we are. In The Awakening of Hope, Jonathan quotes Norman Wirzba: To be reconciled to one another is to be able to gather around a table with each other without shame, celebrating the gifts to each other that we are. Table fellowship builds community, connects us to each other and to the body of Christ around the world. I am not sure at this point how this translates into all the situations we are involved in – for example how do we practice table fellowship with those who read our books and blogs but are separated by many miles?

There is much still for us to grapple with and I would very much like to engage others in this conversation. What do you think MSA should become? What has inspired or connected you to this ministry and why do you remain connected?

 

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Planning For Transition – Wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Seeing with new eyes

Seeing with new eyes

Yesterday I posted this post, about the fact that Mustard Seed Associates is in a time of transition and talked about the impact that Walter Brueggemann has had on my theology and my thinking. There are others that have helped to shape my thinking in this transition time too that I wanted to mention.

The second book I took with me was Christine Valter Paintner’s book Desert Fathers and Mothers Early Christian Wisdom Sayings. What particularly struck me is where she comments:

We often bring unconscious expectations to life. We feel disappointed when things don’t turn out as we had hoped, even when we aren’t aware we had a desire for a particular outcome. Often we are poor judges of what should happen in our lives. We bring a whole set of ego-centered habits and patterns, and we dream from the person we have been , rather than the person we are being transformed into. Our transformed self is always far beyond our own striving.

When we realize we have limited vision and that our planning minds will only take us so far, then we can begin to gently release the pressure we put on ourselves to have things turn out in a certain way. We may begin to approach life in a more open-hearted way, receiving its gifts rather than grumbling about what we would rather have had happen. (60).

When we seek to bring about change that is not a tweaking of what has existed in the past but rather something entirely new, our own planning and limited vision often does get in the way. Letting go does not begin in the planning room, it begins in the place where we seek to listen to God. I am more convinced than ever that unless we can unleash our creativity and imaginations in the realm of prayer and worship, we will never see real change that leads us into the new reality of God’s kingdom, occur. God’s new reality does not emerge fully grown, but as a baby that needs to be nurtured and fed.

Going Through Transition – Help from Walter Brueggemann

A journey into newness

A journey into newness

Tom and I have just returned from one of our quarterly retreats. These usually focus on our personal lives and the direction we sense God is nudging us into for the next three months. This time however I was focused on the transitions we are going through at Mustard Seed Associates. We are seeking to discern what MSA will become in the future, with new leadership at the helm. During the retreat I skimmed through three very helpful books which I will share about over the next few days.

The first of these was Walter Brueggemann’The Prophetic ImaginationBrueggemann has played a major role in shaping my theology in the past and I can that he will in this transition too. Though this is not a book about how to transition a ministry to new leadership, it certainly has a lot to say that can help in a situation like this.

MSA has always been a prophetic organization, challenging followers of Jesus to consider how the world is changing and how we as God’s people need to change to be more effective in the future. At its centre is a vision of hope, the belief that God’s kingdom of shalom is not only possible but is already breaking into our world and God calls us to be a part of that. We have always done a broad array of ministries – from Tom’s and my speaking and writing to networking and consulting and it is easy for us to look at the future and say – who can we find that can take over these tasks? It is easy for us to look at what we have done and attach the word forever.

As I read through Prophetic Imagination I realized that this will never move us into God’s future. The forever language is the language of kings and rulers who want to maintain the status quo. MSA has always been a prophetic organization and to continue to be prophetic we must be willing to let go of what has been and embrace the possibility of newness. Newness is only possible when we have the freedom to hope for something different and to allow for the possibility that everything can and should change.The question Brueggemann raised that really challenged me is: How can we have enough freedom to imagine and articulate a real historical newness in our situation? (44). Maybe beyond that, how can we allow others to have the freedom to imagine and articulate something that is totally new? Brueggemann goes on to say: The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined.  At this point we are not wanting to ask the questions – how can we manage change – that could stifle any possibility of something new. Our question is What is God’s vision of newness for us as an organization?

The prophet offers symbols of hope for a new future. Change and newness do not spring into being in a void however. It is not accomplished by discarding all the symbols and accomplishments from the past, but rather it means to move back into the deepest memories of the community and activate those very symbols that have always been the basis for contradicting the regnant consciousness (66). Israel stood agains the regnant consciousness of the Pharaoh in order to bring a new reality into being because they believed in God’s promise to Abraham that this alternative reality was both possible and desired by God.

So my question for us at MSA is what are the “deep memories”, the DNA of our organization that God would draw us back to? Interestingly as I thought about this none of what we do came to mind. It is not our activities but our beliefs and our passions that make it possible to face a future of newness.

Here is my sense of what that is, though I realize this is not something that can be defined without the discernment of the MSA team, Board and even the broader MSA community.

  1. From Biblical hope to new design: the core of MSA is its desire to articulate and bring into being something of God’s kingdom dream of a world made new where justice does come for the poor, healing for the sick and wholeness for all creation.
  2. A spiritually discerning community that seeks together to discern the will of God for us as an organization and the implement it. Ministry flows out of spiritual discernment in community not out of “what we do well”.
  3. A questioning organization (or should I use the word prophetic) that calls others to question the status quo of the secular culture and inspires them to create new models of life and faith that flesh out something of what they hope God’s kingdom will look like. It is only when we question that our imaginations can be stirred and newness can come.
  4. We are an organic organization and see planning as a fluid process that flows out of our spiritual discernment and constantly allows us to be reshaped by the ways God speaks to us as a community.
  5. Praxis and academia are both important to us. We don’t just want to talk about change, we want to be a part of it, allowing it to shape who we are so that we can move along the journey towards becoming the people God wants us to be.

I wold love to hear your thoughts on this. Some of you have travelled with us in MSA for a long time. Others have recently joined the journey. What is it that inspires and ignites your passion? As we move into the future we want to make sure that we listen to all the voices through whom God would speak to us. We want to make sure that allow for all the newness that God wants to give birth to.

Is Failure Always Bad?

one way?

one way?

This morning I had hoped that we would have good news to share about a potential grant for the Cascadia project. Unfortunately that is not so. Our grant application was rejected and so we are in re-imagining mode. Is this really bad news though?

Not surprisingly, this morning I have been thinking about failure and the number of articles I have read over the last few months that suggest it is actually good for us.

in today’s post-recession economy, some employers are no longer shying away from failure—they’re embracing it. According to a recent article in BusinessWeek, many companies are deliberately seeking out those with track records reflecting both failure and success, believing that those who have been in the trenches, survived battle and come out on the other side have irreplaceable experience and perseverance. They’re veterans of failure. Read the entire article

Another article on Seven Reasons Why Failure is a Good Thing suggested that failure has many positive benefits. It helps us learn, grow, become resilient, create new opportunities and in long run succeed.

Failure to get the results you wanted is not a negative thing; it is simply an opportunity to try a different method. It is also the opportunity to start again….. Fail fast and recover quickly to try again. Use every failure as an opportunity to learn and to grow as a person. Remember that every failure is like one step on the stairway to success. Above all else, remember this: If you never fail, you will never succeed. Read this article

What I don’t like in these articles is the implication that worldly success is the goal towards which we are moving and God’s successes I am aware often look very different from the world’s successes. Reading the Bible encourages me to think that God sees what we think of as failure in very different terms too. Most people in Jesus time would have thought that his life ended in failure. He had the most successful healing ministry in the history of the world yet deliberately turned his back on it to walk towards Jerusalem and the cross. The moment he did that people started to turn away. Even his closest disciples could not understand that the Cross was the greatest success in human history.

I often think that when everything is going well for us we are tempted consciously or unconsciously to rely on ourselves and not on God. When things don’t turn out the way we hope it sends us back to our knees to pray, to discern and to seek the loving heart of God. So this morning that is where I am at, seeking above all to sit in that place where God’s love flows in, over and around me. So I thought that I would end with this quote from Elaine Heath’s The Mystic Way of Evangelism, which has given me great encouragement as I pray

The minister of the future, Nouwen wrote, must be a mystic, one “whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s first love.” Those who would lead us through the night must be schooled in contemplative prayer., for they can give only what they have received. Coming home to God’s first love, they will come home to their true selves. Then they will know how to lead us toward heaven and will help us see how to live so that God’s will “is done on earth as it is in heaven.”  The call to give ourselves in ministry is first and always a call to come home to love.” (p83)

So please pray with us that in place of God’s love and kindness we will discern God’s way forward.

Leading Spiritually – What I learned from the Business World

Starfish at Esperanza Canada

The art of leading spiritually

This is the final post in the series on Leading Spiritually. Thank you for joining with me in this journey. I particularly appreciate your thoughts and comments which have helped me grapple with these issues.

Check out the other posts:

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?

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning Together

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning on Your Own

Leading Spiritually: What I Learned from the Business World 

Not everything about leadership in the business world is counter to what good spiritual leadership should look like. However, for me personally the insights I have gained from the business world are more likely to affirm or flesh out what God has already been saying to our discernment group rather than give new or fresh ideas.

Sometimes they have helped us name the processes we are using. When we started using a more organic approach to strategic planning, it was very encouraging to find information on organic strategic planning which is a recognized model in the business world. It bears a lot of resemblance to the group discernment process we use, but has helped us refine what we do and walk with confidence in our new approach.

When we were looking for networking models The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations  was an excellent resource to help us think strategically about what we wanted to accomplish and how best to achieve it.

I love articles like Productivity Lagging: Take A Nap  that remind me that taking a siesta increases productivity and creativity affirming my belief in the importance of balance and rhythm to our lives.  The business world even affirms the importance of contemplative practices in the creation of good leaders as in this article: Mindful Leadership: Compassion, Contemplation and Meditation Develop Effective Leaders  

Unfortunately most of the best messages I have learned from the business world are about how not to lead. The grasping after position, power and wealth, the centrality of self ambition and the use of others to gain these ends is widespread. It is also devastating to those they supposedly lead and is often destructive for society. Surely this was one of the lessons of the recent recession. Spiritual power looks very different from this.

What I am strongly convinced of is that there is no substitute for the wisdom of God when we want to discern how we should operate as leaders and the ways of God are often foolishness to the world. God does indeed delight in using the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. As Richard Rohr says:

The bottom, the edge, the outsider… is the privileged spiritual position. In a word, that is why the biblical revelation is revolutionary and even subversive…. Stop trying. Stop forcing reality. Learn the mystery of surrender and trust, and then it will be done unto you, through you, with you and very often, in spite of you. You could say that God’s forever pattern is creatio ex nihilo; Yahweb is always creating something out of nothing…. God “brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist” (Romans 4:17) You could call it God’s primary job description. (Things Hidden p 90)

So let me end with a prayer from the apostle Paul who I suspect is speaking here to all aspiring spiritual leader.

We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. (Colossians 1:9-14 NLT)

May you grow in wisdom and become the leader and the follower that God intends you to be

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Leading From Within #2

Leading from within

Leading from within

The following post is another contribution to the series on Leading Spiritually. Thanks for those who have commented and encouraged the continuation of this series.

Check out the other posts:

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?

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning Together

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning on Your Own

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning a Shared Rhythm of Life Together

Leading Spiritually from Within #1

______________________________________________________

This post is a continuation from my post a couple of days ago Leading Spiritually from Within so don’t be confused by the numbering.

5. We must take our faith practices and discernment processes seriously. It is often easier to discern the will God than it is to implement it. I am embarrassed at how often I make the same list of resolutions at my three monthly retreats and then go home and forget about them. Old habits die hard. We get out of a discernment meeting and immediately head back to our busy schedules ignoring completely the implications of our decisions. Unfortunately sometimes there is no one except God to keep us accountable to those decisions.

Keep a discernment journal for both your personal and group discernment sessions and revisit it regularly to see how seriously you have followed the promptings of God’s spirit.  What has God said? How has that changed the way you lead? How has it changed what you do and your leadership community do? I suspect that many good Christian ministries and churches fail because they don’t take seriously enough what God is saying in their midst.

6. We must be acknowledgers of doubts and uncertainties. According to Thomas Merton faith means doubt It is our doubts and uncertainties that keep us questioning and learning. They keep us flexible and creative – two essential characteristics of good spiritual leaders. The story of Thomas teaches us that Jesus comes to us in the place of our deepest fears and doubts and reveals himself to us. If we pretend we know everything we stop growing in our relationship to God and to others. We become set in our ways and become rigid in our leadership.

7. We must be seekers after the joy of gratitude. Gratitude opens us to the enjoyment of new aspects of who God is and what God is doing. Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts, comments: learning to live in joy is learning to be grateful in all circumstances even in the midst of pain and suffering. The psalmist says: Giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honours me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God. (Psalm 50:23) What is the path that reveals the salvation of God? It is the path of gratitude and thanksgiving. To grow in intimacy with God and move deeper into that loving union we all so desperately crave we must learn to live in gratitude.

Gratitude has other benefits that undergird our spiritual leadership too. It boosts our chance of success and keeps us flexible and resilient. It also increases not only our chance of happiness but that of our colleagues too. It even boosts our immune system.

8. We must be seekers after trust in God. That may sound like a strange thing to seek after, but to grow in our ability to trust God we also need to grow in our knowledge and connection to the deep and abiding love of God for us.

In his book Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, Richard Rohr says:

We will not trust spiritual power until we have experienced a God who operates in the same way, a God who is willing to wait, allow, forgive, trust and love unconditionally. (p89)

Do we really believe that God is trustworthy and wants what is best for our lives? Do we really believe God loves us? If we did we would seek to model that love rather than the critical, taskmaster, threaten God that our hierarchical leadership styles model.  Do we really believe that God’s purposes are higher than ours? If we did we would take discernment and direction from God far more seriously. We will learn to relax and allow God to move and like the children of God in the desert we will learn to stay put until God says so.

I think one of the reasons we so often surge ahead with our own ideas and plans is because deep down inside we don’t really believe that God loves us and wants what is best for us. We don’t really believe that God has either the desire or the power to fulfill the dreams he has placed in our hearts. We can easily start to believe that we, not Jesus are the saviours of the world and so we take on ourselves heavy burdens of responsibility that God does not intend for us.

9. We must learn to relax in the limits of who God has made us to be. A person who knows their own limits and those of the people with whom they work lives a life of balance, freedom and productivity. So many leaders leave pathways strewn with burnout for themselves and for others. they stray from God’s path because in their work consumed lives they have lost the ability to listen to the still small voice of God.

To me the best biblical example of burnout is the prophet Elijah as he flees into the desert running away from Jezebel. He has just defeated the prophets of Baal and yet here he is running away from a single woman. I love the gentle way God deals with him. He is fed, given shelter and allowed to rest. Then God gently tries to talk to him, but all Elijah can say is “I have been zealous for God”  (1 Kings 19). It seems to me that he is so consumed by all he has done for God that he can no longer hear what God is saying.

10. We must be seekers after the love of God and love of neighbour. Central to our understanding of the Biblical story is the knowledge that God is love. Jesus reminds us that the central commandment is “love of God and love of neighbour”. The epistle of James affirms that God’s royal law is: love your neighbour as yourself. (James 2:8) and Paul confirms that without love we are nothing but a noisy gong. (1 Corinthians 13:1-9) Theologian N.T. Wright says that the language of God’s kingdom is the language of love.

A leader who is not loving towards those he or she works with or lovingly concerned for those in the broader society is not a leader at all. This goes far deeper than just having a kind word to say to our colleagues. It means that to lead well spiritually we must be willing to lead as servants, put the needs of others before our own and be committed to the ways of justice, peace and generosity for all.  This means being concerned about issues of inequality, poverty and environmental justice to name but a few.

11. We must be seekers after the promised land of God. In my post on Where are we heading? I talked about the fact that God’s destination for us is his promised shalom world in which we find abundance and peace for all. We are all journeying towards this incredible new world and our central responsibility as leaders is to learn to live into that world and bring others into that world too. Does your leadership draw others towards a place of shalom, abundance and rest? Does it make your leadership community feel fulfilled, rejoicing in the presence of God?

Leading Spiritually from Within

 

Cross with candles

The following post is another contribution to the series on Leading Spiritually. Thanks for those who have commented and encouraged the continuation of this series.

Check out the other posts:

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?

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning Together

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning on Your Own

Leading Spiritually from Within

I mentioned last week that writing this series on leading spiritually has been something of a process of self examination for me. Listening does not come easily to me. I am a great multitasker and can easily get distracted from what I am supposed to be focused on.  So I don’t always take the time to give God or others my full attention. In a world that applauds multitasking especially in leaders, I know I am not alone in this but to be good spiritual leaders we need to be able to focus.

Spiritual leadership is about giving full attention to all that is happening in the moment in which we are living. So how do we equip ourselves personally to be good spiritual leaders?

When I think of leadership Jesus style of think of washing feet, hugging kids, embracing lepers, healing the marginalized. I also think of desert retreats, nights spent in prayer, walks with his disciples. The attributes of a good spiritual leader that I see expressed in Jesus life are contemplative, activist, servant, spiritual director, generosity, justice and love.  Some of these may sound contradictory but for me they imply balance. Activism should always flow out of a contemplative centre. Spiritual direction should always flow out of a servant heart that is committed above all else to the nurture and fulfillment of others. And a heart full of the love of God will always be generous and just.

This type of leadership places huge responsibility on us as individuals. In fact the more I have written, the longer the list seems to become so I have decided to break it into two posts. Today’s post talks about intimacy with God and seeking our true and authentic self. Tomorrow’s post addresses listening, acknowledging doubts and uncertainties, gratitude and seeking after love of God and neighbour.

1. We must above all else be committed to a journey into deeper intimacy with God. This sounds obvious but I have noticed that I can easily be fully engaged in my regular spiritual practices of prayer and bible reading and still not be moving closer to God.  I have mentioned in the past that the chronic randomness of our prayer and scripture study often disconnects us from the presence and purposes of God. It can become more of an intellectual exercise than a journey into intimacy.

What we need most are intentional and disciplined patterns to our prayer life and to our reading and study of God’s word that deliberately draw us into God’s presence and into a deeper understanding of God’s purposes. My blog series last year on Tools for Prayer was an attempt to identify some of the tools that can help with this. If, like me, you like variety you may enjoy experimenting with one tool for a season and then trying another. Just remember however that the goal of this is not experimentation itself but intimacy with God.

2. We must be seekers after our true and authentic self. Salvation is a journey from death into life, from blindness into sight, from solitude into community, from false self into true self. If, as spiritual leaders, our responsibility is to enable others to become all that God intends them to be, then we too must be committed to the process of becoming who God intends us to be. This is often a very painful journey of self discovery in which God slowly brings us face to face with the distorted and dysfunctional being at the center of our being. It is also a very liberating journey that brings healing not only for us personally but often for those we lead as well.

One of the reasons that I see activism and contemplation in balance is because it is often activism that uncovers our dysfunctionality. It also usually births within us a deep craving for the newness of life that God wants us to experience. It is this that hopefully drives us into the secure womblike safety of contemplation where we can be transformed and reborn. One of my guiding passages as I started to allow God to work his transformation in me was Isaiah 58:6-12. Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness. (v10) Reaching out to heal and make others whole is often part of the pathway into our own healing and wholeness. 

Contemplative practices like retreats, regular use of the prayer of examen, regular check in times with a spiritual director or soul friend are some of the keys to this journey, but obviously this is a topic that could give rise to an entire blog series on its own.

3. We must never be too busy to listen, never be too tired to pray. This prayer which I wrote a couple of years ago is a good mantra for me to go back to when I feel overburdened, overstressed or aware of another area in my life where I need transformation. Its intent is reflected in Ruth Hayley Barton’s beautiful discussion of Moses’ turning aside to the burning bush. “The practice of ‘turning aside to look’ is a spiritual discipline that by its very nature sets us up for an encounter with God.”(Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership p52).

Encountering God in the midst of heavy responsibilities requires these moments of deliberate turning aside, retreating into ourselves so that God can permeate our being.  Often a repeated centering or breathing prayer enables us to retreat in this way without being in a place of physical solitude.

4. We must be willing to listen to all the voices through which God speaks. As a keen organic gardener I know that diversity is an important priority in maintaining a healthy garden. I think that it is also an important priority in maintaining a healthy, spiritually leadership team. Jewish philosophers believe that argument is the highest form of discourse and that we cannot have a true discussion unless there are dissenting voices.

God often speaks loudest to us through those who are different theologically, culturally or socially and if we are not open to voices outside our own little enclave then we will never hear the voice of God clearly. Particularly if we are making major decisions we need to make sure that the voices we listen to are as diverse and varied as possible. This is just as important for personal discernment and spiritual growth as it is for group discernment and spiritual leadership.