Monday, January 07, 2008

From Surviving to Thriving, Part 1

I wanted to bring together a few thoughts about leadership, and being a Christian in general. I come across folk all over the place who have dropped out of church, Christian faith, and leadership. Meanwhile 'Extreme Pilgrim' Peter Owen Jones is finding his faith dry and his church uninspiring, and gone off on a world tour to find spiritual depth and nourishment.

At a New Wine conference a few years ago, a speaker on leadership was talking about the importance of leaders giving a significant chunk of their time to 'personal renewal'. It's not just leaders. Life is demanding whatever you do, and any Christian needs renewal time to move from surviving to thriving. This renewal includes
- Time out
- Accountability
- Spiritual disciplines
- Learning

A few thoughts on Time Out...

'The Unreflected Life is Not Worth Living'
Socrates I think. His point is that if you never stand back from what you're doing, saying, thinking etc., you won't really live. In this weeks Touching Base I raise the question of whether we are thermostats or thermometers. The thermostat sets the temperature, the thermometer merely reflects the temperature. We'll be thermometers all our lives (or to use Biblical language 'blown here and there by every wind of doctrine') unless we're able to stop, stand back, stop reacting to things, and plot our own course.

This comes back to the idea of putting the big rocks in first. Jesus was able to withstand incredible pressure because he knew what his priorities were. After 40 days fasting in the desert, he withstood temptation because he knew his God and his mission. After the (possibly even greater) pressure of success, he told the disciples it was time to leave and go elsewhere to declare the good news 'for that is why I have come'.

How did Jesus manage it? When the disciples find him, he's been away praying. Jesus is always doing this. He manages to be at his best with the crowds, because he's already been with God.

What Peter Owen-Jones is doing is getting away from it all in order to find spiritual life. I don't know if he normally goes on retreats, or whether he's now catching up for 14 years of not taking them (!) It's the same impulse, but done on catch-up. Jesus knew that he needed time with God before the pressure came, rather than when he'd got to a point of frustration or burn-out.

My own pattern for putting the big rocks in first, which is just what works for me, not a blueprint for anyone else, is:
- weekly: a couple of hours on a Monday morning looking at the week ahead, putting the big rocks into the diary (rather than squeezing them in around smaller things), getting a handle on what needs to be done, and spending some time reading and praying, and using some review tools (e.g. a short stress levels questionnaire, questions on how my walk with God is going, where the pressure points currently are, Bible passages which help to reflect on character and discipleship etc.)
- monthly: either a quiet day at a nearby retreat house (see below) or a study day - a local family has lent me use of their granny flat, which gets me away from the phone and the internet, and is a great space to read, pray and think.
- yearly: at least one major conference (for teaching and encouragement) and a retreat of 3-4 days to really get into stillness and silence, and to try to hear what God's saying about the year ahead, and about where I'm at and where my key relationships are at.

I've discovered through hard experience that this is the minimum of what I need in terms of time out, though it's a constant struggle to make and protect these times. That's the trouble, unless we make them happen, nobody will make them happen for us.

The next bit will be useless for those of you who don't live anywhere near Yeovil, unless you fancy a pilgrimage to the West Country. If you want some time out locally, and are wondering where to go or how to start, then here's some links:

Abbey House Glastonbury
Compton Durville - Franciscan convent just off the A303
Mill House, Tiverton
Chantmarle Centre, Dorset
Hilfield Friary, Dorset - sadly scaling down what they do, but still open to some visitors
Monks Yard, nr Ilminster - opening up in the next few months, has the advantage of an on-site cafe! Looks better for group awaydays than individuals
Chemin Neuf Community, Langport. Their current programme is here.
Sheldon (Society of Mary and Martha) Devon - specifically aimed at clergy couples, but available to others too.

May God help you thrive.

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