This week I have been reading Ruth Barton’s book, Pursuing God’s Will Together. One section – of this important and insightful read – has been particularly eye-opening. Ruth describes some of the values she and the Transforming Center are committed to practicing together. Her words encourage us to be honest with ourselves and the story God is writing in and through us. Her encouragement, has particular relevance to spiritual leadership; the conviction, compassion, and concern we show to those around us! On pages, 100 – 102, she writes,
“Closely related to our commitment to spiritual transformation is our commitment to increasing levels of self-knowledge and our willingness to take responsibility for negative patterns that affect our interactions in community. Spiritual transformation takes place primarily in those places where we are not like Christ . . . Thus, we seek to respect the profound role that acknowledging our brokenness plays in the unfolding of the spiritual life and in the formation of true spiritual community.“
MY LIFE THROUGH THE EYES OF MY WIFE
A week or two ago my wife and I were participating in a small group from our church. We were discussing the outcomes (realities) of Spiritual Formation. Spiritual formation is often confused for and dismissed as navel gazing; irrelevant to the call of God on our life in His world.
I was sharing about my own experience and how my life has changed – literally been transformed – over the past few years. At one point, she interjected – with tears in her eyes, “I can personally attest to his transformation. This (the practice of Spiritual disciplines) is not naval gazing! This is real and the outcomes are tremendous. We feel them everyday in our home and I see them constantly in our marriage.”
I was deeply moved by her spontaneous confession. Yes, spiritual formation has brought God’s greatest good to me and delivered His greatest good to those around me. This journey – which has been steady and consistent since the Fall of 2009 – began to take shape the moment I realized that the brokenness around me was related to – and encouraged by – the brokenness within me.
So, I am going to tell you a story. A story of a leader who was unable to see himself because of his need to blame as well as receive the approval of others. A story about the internal infrastructure of leader’s heart and the ways that infrastructure shapes those he/she is leading.
It is, fundamentally, a story about one of my a moments of awakening. A moment when I began to awaken to the fact that the brokenness around me was acutely affixed to the brokenness with in me!
ME, A SENIOR PASTOR?!?
Eleven years ago I accepted my first assignment as a Senior Pastor of a congregation. The congregation was a wonderful group of people who were highly involved in the local community and wonderfully engaged with one another. As a rookie pastor, I was excited about the new journey. My young family was well loved and cared for and the people seemed to truly appreciate and respond to my leadership. I replaced the founding and only pastor the church had ever known. This reality made the church’s positive response even more impressive.
The first year or so of ministry went very well, to say the least. As I cultivated relationships with the congregation and various leadership teams, I began to note some deficiencies in the ministries. I began to keep careful – but guarded (this is, by the way, an indication of brokenness) – watch over these areas where I noted deficiencies. After some time it was apparent that important changes needed to be made if we were to go to the next level (whatever that vague and self inflated phrase means).
I began to work on and concentrate all my efforts on implementing and administering these changes. As I focused on these changes I noticed that others around me – staff, elders, etc. agreed with my initial observations and conclusions. I also, however, noticed a reluctance about or ambivalence toward moving forward. This reluctance or ambivalence frustrated me and – candidly – was impeding progress. Even those who agreed were not able to clearly state what should be done.
I knew what needed to be done, but I was hesitant to share this knowledge with my leadership team in any meaningful and constructive way (this is, by the way, an indication of brokenness). I was concerned that I would face too much opposition. Too many differing opinions that would further thwart my goals. After some time in prayer and a variety of conversations with other leaders (all of whom were outside of the local congregation), I decided that it was time to make the changes. So, I made them – unilaterally.
HOW UNILATERAL LEADERSHIP HIDES THE BROKENNESS OF ME AND DISPLACES THE OPPORTUNITY FOR WE
The changes were abrupt. They caught much of the leadership off guard, particularly those who were most affected by the changes. Once made, I then doubled down on the decision and decided that we would not consider reversing course. No matter how costly, we would move forward. That’s exactly what I did.
The changes – carried out in high profile ministries of the congregation – caused a ripple effect throughout the entire congregation. In fact, the ripple extended well into the community as I fielded several phone calls from people who didn’t even attend our church. In regard to our local congregation, there were those who agreed with the changes and welcomed them. They would make comments like, ‘this was long overdue’ or, ‘what took so long?’. Others thought the changes were necessary but were suspicious of the way in which they were made. And yet others deeply disagreed. They wanted more answers – or different answers – than I was willing to give. As such, they remained unsatisfied and wounded for some time.
The ministry continued to move forward, but we suffered through months of contentious and factious behavior from all the parties involved in and affected by the changes. As the conflict wore on, my patience wore thin. I became more resolved and less tolerant of disagreement. I became irritable at home, impatient with my children and disengaged from meaningful relationships. Yeah, I was a site to behold.
THE MOMENT BROKENNESS BECAME MY BEACON
After six months or so of sporadic but ongoing conflict, I – in one moment of self-absorbed anger – sent out a harsh email to my elders. An email in which I chided them, rebuked them, accused them and demeaned them. It was, needless to say, not my most glorious moment!
As I reflect on that moment today, I realize that much of what I felt was grounded in reality. I, however, was unable to see the brokenness within me because I was focusing on the brokenness around me. A healthy leader is one who is aware of and awakened to, as Ruth says, the profound role that acknowledging our brokenness plays in the unfolding of the spiritual life and in the formation of true spiritual community.
I went home that afternoon to spend some time with Melissa and the kids. When I described the email to her, she tried to be strong and support me. However, her visceral response – which was evident in her face and body language – was clear: she thought I had botched things up royally.
At this point, the timeline gets cloudy. I remember, however, that the elders called a meeting to reflect on and respond to my email. I had already heard from one elder- with whom I was very close. He confessed his surprise when he read my email. He expressed genuine concern for my internal well-being. This elder continues to be a dear friend to this day. His love and friendship have taught and encouraged me many times, in many way
The next few hours and days were ones of deep reflection. During this time, I began to recognize my role in creating the problems we were experiencing. Indeed, I realized – perhaps for the first time – that the brokenness all around me was because of the brokenness within me. I sensed the Lord’s presence with me – encouraging me to own my brokenness and trust the leadership placed around me.
Our elder meeting was that very evening. Before leaving my home, I told Melissa that I was going to take responsibility for my brokenness and ask the elders to join me on a journey of communal leadership and teamwork into the future. The delight in her heart was apparent in the joy on her face (what a dear and precious gift she is!). I felt, for the first time in months, that I was on the way toward health and wholeness! Still, I knew my email had wounded the elders and I wondered how the evening would unfold.
THE LONG DRIVE BACK TO MYSELF
I remember every detail of the drive that evening. I thought about each elder, their family and how supportive they had been to me – a rookie pastor – for the past year and a half. I pulled into the driveway and sat in my car for what seemed like hours – praying for grace, goodness and mercy.
As I walked up to the front door that evening, God gave me a wonderful image to hold close. The sidewalk was spider veined with cracks, as many in Florida are. My eyes followed the contours of the cracks as they wound their way through the entire cement BUT didn’t split it apart. It was as if God was saying, “Biz, we are all cracked. Your cracks are a part of this structure just as much as theirs are. Take courage and know that I keep the cracks and hold the stone together.”
I gently knocked on the door. A friend answered – for it was friends who were gathering together at this time, in this place. Warmly, he invited me in. I sat at the table, studying every face gathered. I saw welcome mixed with hurt, frustration and surprise. One elder after another spoke directly to me – gently but firmly. To a person no one believed my email was justified. Further, the email caused them to suspect that deeper issues might be lurking somewhere in my soul. They were not accusatory; simply concerned.
I received all that was said and sat in silence for a minute before I braved a word. When I did speak I told them, they were all correct. I had behaved badly. I owned my brokenness. I confessed my sins; sins against the Lord, those gathered, my family and the congregation.
I asked for their forgiveness.
To a person, they all forgave me. They expressed a renewed desire to work with me. We developed parameters on my leadership. They were parameters of love, hope and genuine support and friendship. Those parameters became a framework for much growth in my life as a leader as well as the basis upon which I could rebuild trust with the leadership team.
While I didn’t realize it then, I see it so clearly now: this was the first of many steps on my journey of Spiritual formation. A journey which has birthed transformation deep in my soul. Transformation so vital that my wife, in humble joy, bears witness to others.
A journey that began the moment I realized how closely knitted the brokenness around me was to the brokenness within me.
A journey which led us to launch Pillar Community Church – a church centered on spiritual formation.
Indeed, this is the first step for each of us – awakening to how the brokenness within us contributes to the brokenness around us!
What is preventing you from joining us on this journey?
What is keeping you from coming to a place and being with a people who are discovering that brokenness can become a beacon?
Disrupting to Renew,