“Is there a trustworthy process that enables Christian leaders to actively seek God relative to decisions we are making?” asks Ruth Haley Barton in her latest book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.
Thankfully she not only asks the question, she lays out the answer on a personal and corporate level. If one is not pursuing such spiritual practices in one’s personal life, it won’t equate to corporate action.
That’s why the book is for not only for individuals (though it would be valuable in its own right), but for groups. And that’s what led me to read this book. As a leader in a church that desires to do God’s will, it is great to have a tool that will help us do that together.
The book features 2 main parts: Becoming a Community of Discernment (chapters 1-3) and Practicing Discernment Together (chapters 4-8). In both parts there is opportunity for personal reflection with 27 questions spread throughout the pages of each chapter as well as at the end of each chapter direction to practice the principles in community.
What I appreciate about this look at discernment is it moves beyond theory or some out there mystic experience, but to practical application. As when Ruth writes, “One of the first lessons we learn about discernment — from Jesus anyway — is that it will always tend toward concrete expressions of love with real people rather than theoretical conversations about theology and philosophy.” Thank you Jesus!
Her working through early church practices, the Quaker tradition, and her own leadership of the Transforming Center helped move the book’s lessons from theory to practice.
I had thought of leadership as leading a team with Christ, she helped me to see leadership in terms of building community in Christ.
I had thought of what do I do especially with great lay leaders who move out of “official” leadership positions, she helped me see the value of sages and prayer warriors.
If you have never engaged spiritual habits or practices in your walk with Christ, this book will provide great guidance (as well as her other books), and if you have engaged them you will learn how to hone those skills together in leadership and in ministry.
The hardest concept for me to work through was the prayer of indifference. I simply don’t like the word “indifferent”. Yet I like the definition she gives for it. We don’t move forward in a decision until we are “indifferent” to our agenda, and ready to be all in for God’s will to be done.
Discerning such decisions and guidance from God takes work, but is essential from personnel to resource allocation, ministry expansion or focus, to working through conflict, and even better conflict resolution.
Initially our staff and lay leadership picked up this book to read this summer then cover in a 2 hour meeting in September. Having read the book, there is way much more to cover. As Ruth says at the end of the book, give yourself a year. We’ll start with comparing and for some perhaps building personal practices, and then move toward community building discernment. The book’s web site includes video and pdf downloads that summarize and help process the book’s content. Check them out here. You can also read the introduction by clicking here.
I give the book 5 out of 5 stars. Feedback from my fellow staff members, they give it the same. Often ministry seems like being a roller coaster filled with turns, drops and catch you by surprise excitement. Turns out the safety harness to wear is one’s relationship with God and hearing His voice together. Thank you Ruth, the Transforming Center, and InterVarsity Press for providing such a great book and even more a great tool for discerning God’s will together.