Q&A with the Ruth Haley Barton

How is Pursuing God's Will Together different from other books on leadership?

Ruth Haley Barton: This book is designed to be a one-stop shop for leadership groups who want to shift their approach to leadership from a model that relies primarily on human decision making and strategic planning to an approach that is defined by the spiritual practice of corporate discernment. It is a book for leaders and leadership groups to read and experience together. Not only does it help leaders reflect on discerning and doing God's will as the heart of spiritual leadership, it offers them a step-by-step process for becoming a community for discernment at the leadership level along with an actual practice for corporate discernment.

You write that the preparation for becoming a community for discernment is more important than the process. Why is that ?

Ruth: In Romans 12:2 Paul writes that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. This seems to indicate that spiritual transformation is a prerequisite to our ability to discern—both personally and corporately. Paul is not primarily addressing individuals here. He is addressing a community of believers gathered in Rome and giving all sorts of instruction about how to be a community that is distinctly Christian. If leaders are on an intentional journey of spiritual transformation alone and together, discernment will begin to happen quite naturally even without a process. Conversely, if they are not involved in an intentional process of transformation, they will not be able to do much discernment, even if they have a process. There are too many human dynamics that get in the way.

What are some of the obstacles to discernment at the leadership level?

Ruth: Chapter one of Pursuing God's Will Together is an extended reflection on John 9 in which many individuals and groups of people—all very religious—saw the same man healed by Jesus but for all sorts of different reasons were not able to discern the work of God in their midst. The "obstacles to seeing" that were at work in this story are the same obstacles we experience today. Like the disciples, we might be asking the wrong questions—questions about theology and blame rather than questions about what God is doing and how we can get on board with it. Like the neighbors, we might be so caught up in our paradigm regarding the way things have always been that we can't recognize anything new that God might be doing. We might be like the Pharisees who were so committed to preserving the religious system they were a part of— that they expelled any person who had any experience that threatened it. Or we might be like the parents, who recognized that God was doing something new but were afraid to say so.

How does Pursuing God's Will Together fit with the mission of the Transforming Center?

Ruth: Our goal is to strengthen the souls of clergy and Christian leaders, equipping them to guide their churches and organizations in becoming transforming communities that discern and do the will of God. This book is one expression of our commitment to equipping leaders and leadership groups to do that very thing. Over the last ten years we have consistently worked according to a clear strategy—focusing on the spiritual transformation of individual leaders (through our Transforming Community® experience) which, of course, results in an increasing capacity to be discerning. The next step is to help them integrate what they are learning personally into their leadership settings so that they can cultivate whole communities of spiritual transformation that are able to discern and do the will of God together. In September we will be starting a new program called Leading a Transforming Church. In addition to teaching, content, and group process this new program will serve as a launching pad for the Transforming Church™ network, an affiliation of clergy and ministry leaders committed to leading communities of spiritual transformation that discern and do the will of God.

What are your hopes for Pursuing God's Will Together?

Ruth: My prayer is that this book will cast vision for discernment as the heart of spiritual leadership in a church/Christian ministry culture that has relied quite heavily on secular leadership models over the last number of years. Closely related is my hope that many leaders will be moved to drive a stake in the ground and commit themselves to discerning and doing God's will as the focus of their leadership. In fact, we are convening a group of clergy and senior leaders of Christian ministry organizations to grapple with the implications and practical outworkings of this commitment. My final hope and prayer is that entire leadership groups will engage the book together and take the step-by-step journey of becoming communities that discern and do the will of God.

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