Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

Strengthen Your Own Soul to Lead Others

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • Published Nov 21, 2008
Strengthen Your Own Soul to Lead Others

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Ruth Haley Barton's new book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, (InterVarsity Press, 2008).

In the process of working hard to lead other people to God, are you missing His presence yourself? The burdens of leadership can take such a toll on you that your soul suffers.  And if your soul is weak, your leadership will be, too.

Here’s how you can strengthen your soul so you’ll be able to lead others from a place of spiritual strength:

Allow your leadership challenges to draw you closer to God. Whenever you experience difficulties while leading, let those experiences show you your need for God, motivate you to seek Him more, and grow closer to Him as a result. Ask God to help you find Him and recognize the connections between what’s going on in your own soul and what’s going on in your leadership work. Remain committed to seeking God through spiritual disciplines during tough times as well as good times.

Look at what lies beneath the surface of your life. Be bold enough to take a hard look at the truth about yourself – including all the sin that may be in your life right now. What are the patterns underneath the behaviors and situations that are currently disturbing you? What’s hindering your spiritual journey and your effectiveness as a leader? Honestly acknowledge the reality of what you see and confess it to God.

Pay attention. Try to pay attention to God’s work in your life. Include margins in your schedule so you have plenty of time to reflect regularly on what’s going on. Think about how God has surprised you in extraordinary ways in the middle of ordinary moments. Instead of focusing too much on your leadership vision for the future, pay attention to what God is doing right now in the present, and thank Him for it. Listen for God’s voice that may be speaking to you before you make decisions.

Clarify your calling. Remember that time when you first began to sense God’s call on your life.  Then ask yourself: “What is God saying to me these days about my calling?”, “As I settle into myself more fully, what am I learning about my calling?”, “Is there any place where I am resisting who I am or have lost touch with who I am?”, “Where am I still wrestling with God and needing assurance of His presence with me?” and “Am I willing to say ‘yes’ again?”.

Learn to wait on God and help others do the same. Be willing to wait for God’s guidance to become clear when you’re facing problems that need solutions. Once you learn how to wait on God in your own life, you’ll be able to call others to wait when that’s necessary.

Live within your limits. Look for these warning signs that your leadership work may be pushing you beyond healthy limits: irritability or hypersensitivity, restlessness, compulsive overworking, emotional numbness, escapist behaviors, a disconnection from your identity and calling, an inability to attend to human needs, hoarding energy, and slipping in your spiritual practices. Choosing to live within the limits of your resources will help you rely on God more, which will help you discover more about His will.

Notice your spiritual rhythms. Figure out what rhythms of life work best for you to nurture your relationship with God. Consider rhythms such as: solitude and community; work and rest; stillness and action; silence and speaking; and engagement and retreat.

Intercede in prayer for others wisely. Rather than being crushed by the burden of too many people and concerns to pray for, simply pray as God brings particular people and situations to mind. Trust God to bring them to mind at the right times and guide you through His Spirit to know what to pray for them. Don’t worry about following any artificial prayer plans; instead, simply listen to the Spirit’s promptings and intercede as you sense God leading you to do so.

Let your loneliness lead you to God. Acknowledge the loneliness you may feel as a leader – loneliness that comes from criticism and sabotage, being alienated and estranged from meaningful human connection, feeling disconnected or abandoned by God, or carrying too much of a burden alone. Ask God to meet you in the middle of your loneliness. Let your loneliness motivate you to keep you seeking God.

Create a healthy leadership community. Work with your fellow leaders t find ways to open each other up to the presence of Christ in your midst, attend to your relationships, rest and retreat, live within your limits, and move forward in your work on the basis of discernment.

Find God’s will together. Discern God’s will as a leadership team by: clarifying the question of discernment, involving the right people, establishing guiding values and principles, pray often, ask God to make you all indifferent to everything but His will, consider what needs to die in each of you in order for God’s will to come forth in and among you, and pray for wisdom. Then listen carefully to sources like: your experiences, the Holy Spirit’s inner promptings, Scripture, pertinent information, and people who will be affected the most by your decisions. Next, select an option that seems consistent with what God is doing among your leadership team, seek confirmation, and agree together to take action to do God’s will as you’ve come to understand it.

Get a fresh view of your “promised land.” What is your “promised land” – the place where you’d like to end up as a leader? Embrace a new perspective on your goals, focusing on who you want to be instead of on what you want to do.  Break free of your attachment to your former goals. Aim simply to become a person who loves and trusts God deeply enough to follow wherever He leads you.

Adapted from Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, copyright 2008 by Ruth Haley Barton.  Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill.,
Ruth Haley Barton is a spiritual director, teacher, author and retreat leader trained at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation (Washington, D.C.). She is cofounder and president of The Transforming Center, a ministry to pastors and Christian leaders. Educated at Wheaton College and Northern Seminary, Barton has served at several churches, including Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Her books include
Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Sacred Rhythms, Longing for More, An Ordinary Day with Jesus: Experiencing the Reality of God in Your Everyday Life (with John Ortberg), Ruth: Relationships That Bring Life and a series of articles called The Transforming Leader in Christian Management Report.