Often the U.S. mail presents me with gifts of review copies sent by other publishers, and last month, through the courtesy of Intervarsity Press, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton landed on my desk. I found myself drawn to Barton’s depiction of Moses as having had to overcome his imperfect connections with the worlds in which he lived in order to become the leader of his people. She presents Moses as an outsider living between his Hebrew heritage and his Egyptian upbringing, fully at home in neither place and struggling with the question of his true identity. “Spiritual leadership emerges from our willingness to stay involved with our own soul — that place where God’s Spirit is at work stirring up our deepest questions and longings to draw us into deeper relationships,” the author states.
Barton makes it clear that Moses’ struggle, then, was to discover the nature of his soul, to discover how God’s spirit could reconcile this dual identity. It is a struggle with which I readily empathize: I, too, was raised in a family other than that of my birth and, though part of both biological and foster families, was an outsider to both. I never felt I fit in with either, and, like Moses, had issues of identity. Like Moses, I developed ways of adjusting and staying safe from real or perceived dangers, skills upon which I still rely.
Moses learned that if one does not search beneath the physical surface of outward existence, one can gain the world, but lose one’s soul. Our true identity is in our soul.
Losing our spiritual center is comparable to losing a credit card, suggests Barton. One hardly thinks about the card most of the time, confident that it is safely tucked away in a wallet. But when it is needed and not found in the wallet, there begins a frantic search, a retracing of steps and efforts to remember the last time it was used. Suddenly nothing other than recovering the lost valuable, matters.
I have become used to the idea that God is always close by, tucked away in my soul. The duties of ministry take control of my day and I find myself occasionally forgetting to connect with that which is truly essential. It isn’t until I am unsettled or not feeling whole that I begin to look for my soul. Yet, unlike the hypothetical search for the lost credit card, there is no panic; I do not search in the same manner. I simply believe I will find my full soul again. At times, it doesn’t seem as urgent to find my soul as it might to recover a lost credit card.
This realization struck me. It occurred to me that the busyness of ministry has taken over my time in such a manner that I had forgotten where my strength lies and by whom this ministry is given. My true identity is realized from the spiritual practice of developing my relationship with God rather than personal skills. Top on my “to do” list should be the various practices that keep me in tune with my true self. Barton reminded me to “keep searching for the bread of life that feeds our own souls so that we can guide them [those whom we lead] to places of sustenance for their own souls. Then, rather than offering the cold stone of past devotionals, regurgitated apologetics or someone else’s musings about the spiritual life, we will have bread to offer that is warm from the oven of our own intimacy with God.” This to me is what is needed in any ministry that hopes to grow.
Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry is not a book that can be read quickly. Rather, this a book that needs to be savored. The words need to “get down deep” into one’s soul. Indeed this book has been a timely gift that has reoriented my soul to yearn for God first before any ministry is done.
Grow in ministry, my Friends. Strengthen your soul and gain your identity in God.