Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

The Pastor and Spirituality

Ruth.jpg“Someone has said that we are not human beings trying to become spiritual but spiritual beings trying to become human.”

I’m not quite sure what that set of options means, but it pushes against the tendency for Christian leaders to be gnostic — and Ruth Haley Barton, in her new book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry
, guides pastors in spiritual discernment and how to craft a life where their own spiritual life emerges into leadership.


If you are a pastor and dry, if you are know periods that are arid, and if you are in search — not of a quick fix but of a solid set of reflections on how to get your life back in order, I heartily recommend buying this book, going on a 3 day retreat, and working through it — one chp every three or four hours.

For leaders: How do you integrate your personal life and your own transformation with your leadership?

Long ago I read a short study by BB Warfield on the spiritual life for pastors (anyone know the reference?), and I thought at that time and I think to this day that more attention needs to be given to specialized focus on helping pastors become more spiritual. How odd to say that, but the reality is this: spirituality is the routine business of the pastor and the more spirituality becomes routine, the more difficult it is for the sheer mystery and delight in God’s presence can become.



Ruth Haley Barton, known for her studies on solitude and prayer and contemplation, guides The Transforming Center, and has become a specialist in guiding leaders back into a spiritual life and for guiding pastors further into a spiritual life. She takes Moses as her guide in this book, and probes the following journey: what lies beneath your own life, your own ongoing conversion, learning to listen and pay attention to yourself and to what God is doing, the sense of a calling, guiding others,  living within your limits, and developing spiritual rhythms.


Her chp on spiritual disciplines for leaders is a gold mine of insight.

She then explores leadership as intercession, loneliness in leadership, leadership community, finding God’s will together, and reenvisioning the promised land.

The secret contribution to this book is that combination of the practice of spiritual disciplines, spiritual discernment, and leadership — those in the last group know they need the former.

Comments read comments(10)
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Ray Fowler

posted June 10, 2009 at 9:08 am

I have always appreciated George MacDonald’s warning against letting spiritual matters become routine:
?There is nothing so deadening to the divine as an habitual dealing with the outsides of holy things.?

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posted June 10, 2009 at 9:55 am

Taking money for being spiritual is so dangerous. You learn very quickly how to subtly appear spiritual even if you’re as flat as a pancake. Ministry is a very weird way to make a living.
One of the keys for me has been to make myself live in community with a few other leaders. My natural tendency is independence and keeping my own counsel. At first out of conviction, and more now out of grateful experience, I’ve “forced” myself to open up, and let some other elders and pastors into my world. This doesn’t solve everything, or turn every day into a spiritual high. But hiding, isolation, and pretending is just death to the spiritual life.

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Jim Martin

posted June 10, 2009 at 10:40 am

I’ve read this excellent book and appreciate what you said about it. The book is rich with help, direction, and resources.
Spirituality is such a critical and huge issue for pastors. Fundamentally, I believe that my own ministry has to flow out of who I am before God. The greatest gift that I can offer a church is to live as a godly person and for my ministry to flow out of my life yielded to the Spirit of God.
Practically this means that I have to be attentive to my life before God prior to anything else. It means, as a leader, that I need to constantly watch Jesus in Scripture, instead of allowing my ego, flesh, insecurities, etc. rule.

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Rick Cruse

posted June 10, 2009 at 11:20 am

I’ve been chastised this week by my failure to live by the words sitting on the wall over my desk, words, drawn from a Leadership Journal article by Gordon MacDonald:
“The most essential activity for the Christian leader is the cultivation of [his/her] own soul as the dwelling place for God.”
Thanks for the “carrot” which provides the needed step after the “stick” wielded by my own conscience.

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Bob Smallman

posted June 10, 2009 at 11:29 am

“Long ago I read a short study by BB Warfield on the spiritual life for pastors (anyone know the reference?)”
You’re not thinking of “The Emotional Life of Our Lord” by any chance are you? That’s Warfield’s “The Person and Work of Christ.” I suspect this is not what you’re referring to but thought I’d give it a shot!

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Scot McKnight

posted June 10, 2009 at 11:41 am

Bob, thanks for bringing that up. I wasn’t in my library when I wrote that and I forgot to look it up …
The piece is BB Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students, and the publisher is P&R, and they inform us that the piece is found in The Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield. It was an address given at Princeton in 1911.

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Steve Summerell

posted June 10, 2009 at 2:49 pm

I absolutely concur with your recommendation of this book! I have pastored for 23 years, am a spiritual director to pastors, and have recommended this book to the pastors I work with. In my interactions with ministry leaders, I find again and again that so many are tired, worn down by ministry life and often clueless about what steps to take to nurture and restore a deep life giving relationship with God. Jim (comment 3) is correct in saying that the greatest gift we offer our people is a ministry that flows out of our own deep life with God. Most pastors I have talked to did not receive training in these issues when they went through seminary. One personal note, I have found regular days away(as a part of my “church” responsibilities) for silence and solitude and also having a spiritual director myself have been very helpful in keeping me attuned to the movements of the Spirit in my personal life.

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posted June 10, 2009 at 5:11 pm

I think laypersons need to be made aware of this and keep this in mind since some churches expect their pastors to be available 24-7. I was raised in a tradition and a time when the pastor was on call at all times and was expected to work in his/her office at the church or parsonage and was expected to be at all church functions. (Teen activities were excluded if there was a youth minister, paid or unpaid). From talking to pastors in various traditions in this day and age I think some of that mindset still exists. So, not only do pastors need to hear this message, but laypersons need to be educated about the need for pastors and for laypersons to tend to their spiritual lives. We are all so busy doing good that we forget about, or put at the bottom of the pile, being in relationship with God. Are there any books written for laypersons to educate them in this area?

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posted June 10, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Re Amy, “Support Your Local Pastor” by Wes Roberts

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posted June 10, 2009 at 10:59 pm

As an elder I am learning to integrate the difficulties of my position into my spiritual life and vice versa. I am learning to be grateful for the little blessings that occur amongst the challenges and learning to look for God in them. I hit valleys, but I always manage to come out of them with a renewed sense of purpose and a deepening relationship with God and greater insight. This quarter I’m involved in leading two different groups that appear so far to be blessing me. And while they are groups that I’m either leading or helping to lead, they’re the kind of groups that call for group interaction so I can actually sit back and be somewhat passive.
Thank you for the recommendation on this book. I’ve recently felt the need to take a break from all the reading I had been doing in order to regroup and this book sounds like something that would meet me where I’m currently living.

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