Several of the speakers at the recent Willow Creek Association Leadership Summit held in our City this fall commented on the significance of reflection and reading for effective leadership. Being of a more contemplative personality myself I would readily agree but it is good to know that this is also the conclusion of high-energy, high profile leaders. The best leaders have always taken adequate time to read and reflect. David Gergen, the White House presidential observer and journalist for many years, said that “it’s easy to confuse motion with progress.” And quoting Peter Drucker he says, “every once and awhile you have to go to the balcony to see the dance on the floor.” “The best leaders,” says Gergen, “are the ones who are confident enough to step back.” And Bill Hybels said that one of the main things he learned about the recent economic downturn is that we have to have an adequate replenishment strategy. We need to replenish the bucket when it is moving toward empty.
Having been rather busy with a variety of ministry challenges this fall (which also shows in my sparse writing schedule here) I certainly agree with this principle. It seems like it’s been awhile since I’ve had the chance to have a day to think and pray, but today has been that kind of day. In our fast-paced, high-tech society, we are suffering from over-active life-styles that keep us busy at the expense of meaningful relationships and ministries. And pastors, who are expected to offer timely counsel and wisdom, often find themselves running on empty because they also are caught in the busy cycle. For them the consequences can be especially harmful.
So it is that good leaders will develop the discipline of sabbath, of reflective thought, of prayer, of time with those they love and by whom they are loved. This should not be confused with the temptation to be lazy, lethargic, and dispassionate. I am speaking here about the discipline of reflective time-out — the intentional effort to draw away from all the things that call us to be busy with people.
These thoughts are partly influenced by some extra reading I have been dong recently on the value of the spiritual disciplines as expressed by Dallas Willard in his book, The Great Omission. It is a collection of essays that demonstrate how the spiritual disciplines are rooted in Christian biblical theology. He would say that spiritual formation is a matter of reforming, in co-operation with the Holy Spirit, the redeemed soul within, by training it in the ways of righteousness extending to every part of 0ne’s being including the body. It is a most encouraging and inspiring journey for the Christian to actually experience the formation of Christ’s character within through yielding to His rule in thought, word, and action. (See, for example, Romans 8:29, Galatians 4:19.)
Another book that has been very inspiring to me because of its well-reasoned content is Tim Keller’s, The Reason for God. The book is divided in two parts, the first being a response to common questions of objection to the Christian faith, and the second part, an explanation of why the Gospel and the theology of the Bible makes such good sense. So while the first part addresses such questions as why God allows suffering and why belief in Christ is an exclusive faith, the second part deals with the nature of the Gospel, justice, and the church. I was so impressed with his research and writing style that I want to recommend this book to anyone who is willing to take a thoughtful look at their doubts or the nature of their faith.
I find my own soul refreshed in a most mysterious way by taking time to draw away from ordinary responsibility in order to rest, pray, read, recreate and contemplate. After a day or so of this each week, I am much more ready to face the challenges of meaningful work and ministry.