Leading from Our Soul: Pressure

This new blog series is for anyone in leadership, whether you pastor a church of 200 or lead a cafe team of 5.
For most leaders the past few months have been intense, exhausting, constant, bewildering – and we know there is only more change to navigate and lead others through ahead of us. So how do we make certain that we are not leading from the final dregs of whatever energy, wisdom, grace and compassion we have left but leading from souls that are connected to the life-giving breath of God?
In this series, a few different leaders will share from their personal journeys in leadership something they have learned that has been key for them to live and lead in a sustainable way. Scott Brennan kicks us off.

There is a word in the Bible that has spoken to me for many years. It is the word pressure. I’ve been involved in leading churches for the last 20 years and pressure is something I know about.

If you are anything like me, that pressure results in stress, it causes me to doubt myself, to wonder if I am cut out for this role?

Pressure is not automatically bad. I love Iona marble. It is more beautiful and tougher because it has had to endure pressure.
This word pressure in NT Greek is thlipsis. It can be translated as tribulation or suffering.
A good example is Romans 5:2-4 which says:
we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings (thlipsis), because we know that suffering (thlipsis) produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I am very aware of the pressure that is on leaders at the moment. We are meant to come up with solutions to Covid-19 pastoral care, we are meant to have solutions for the Church’s decline in Scottish secular society.

It is a pressing time. I find it interesting that the word Gethsemane means oil press.
The Garden of Gethsemane had an olive grove and they must have pressed the olives to get their oil. Jesus often met his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was a place of fellowship and shade from the midday sun. However, it is also where Jesus sweats blood.

How did Jesus handle this?
First of all, he entered a place of prayer. He wrestled with the Father, seeking answers but finally submitting his will to the Father’s will. Luke 22:42 says:
Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.
I have often felt like this. The pressing and the pushing are part of the process.
The next verse says, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
To glory in pressure, we must seek the presence of God, and that can include the ministry of angels.

Secondly, Jesus sought the support of Peter, James and John. In Matt 26:38:
“He said to them, “My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.
Even Jesus sought the comfort of soul friends. Leaders need people to walk with them. The danger is we go it alone and that is often our experience.

I have three observations:
1. Pressure is part of the glorious work of God, it shapes and moulds us
2. We need intimacy with the Father, Son and Spirit which means we have to set aside time in silence and retreat to listen
3. We need soul friends to help us navigate the ups and downs of life.

If we do not change our rhythms and expectations, we will suffer burnout. Better to build in new habits now and build reserves for the future.

Scott leads Lighthouse Central in Prestonpans where he lives with his wife Faith and their two sons. He has a passion to see transformation of both the individual and community. When he’s not out talking to people about how much Jesus loves and values them, he can often be found with a paintbrush in hand, sometimes retreating away on a remote island.

Slowing Down to Notice

Jon Timms wraps up our series on “Creating Space for Life in the Midst of Lockdown”, sharing a new spiritual practice that he has learned and come to see as a gift during these past weeks of lockdown.

There isn’t much I like more than getting outside on an adventure. It doesn’t really matter where. I love exploring rugged coastlines, winding forest trails, epic mountain grandeur or the cafes, street food and nooks and crannies of the city. Most weekends begin with my family perusing maps or getting packed up for a day’s adventure. Thankfully we live in place that the readers of Rough Guide travel books voted ‘The Most Beautiful Country in the World’. There is a lot of choice here in Scotland.

I find that when my heart feels alive in these places I feel a deep connection to God. These are gifts that lead me into prayer and worship and cultivate intimacy with Jesus.

So what to do in lockdown?

The restrictions mean that we can’t stray too far from our front door. I begin to sweat and feel the onset of cabin fever.

But this has been something of a gift that I didn’t know to ask for. Slowing down to notice means that you’re awakened to beauty that usually flies past in a blur.

We take the kids and the dog out on a daily walk. And like most of you we take the same or similar paths most days. Ours is a little trail next to a stream dotted with trees one side and a field of crop the other. We can then either take a left and head into the woods or a right onto the salt marsh, dunes and beach.

The start of lockdown had us meandering past bare trees and fallow fields; the forest floor looking desolate from the recent logging activities. As the days and weeks pass small shoots begin to appear on the ends of branches – signs of life reappearing after winter’s deepening; the forest floor began its change from dead brown leaves to vibrant green ferns. We noticed more deer in the woods (for a party that includes 4 children under 13, to see the noise sensitive deer is quite an accomplishment), we listened for the woodpeckers and the shy but elegant flight of the heron.

In short, repeating regular patterns meant we began to notice, we were able to see the natural world around us change with the seasons, something you miss if you’re forever chasing a new experience. The small shoots become huge trees in all their fullness. The small ferns grow into their own little fern forest among the giant pines. Birdsong is louder and makes a perfect symphony with the rustling treetops and the waves of the sea.

This beautiful wander around the area near where we live leads to a greater wonder about the one who makes all this happen. Creation in flow is the Creator’s gift to us, if only we’ll take our foot off the accelerator long enough to notice. We were made for Eden, and if we’ll open our eyes, ears and hearts to the sacredness of the ordinary, perhaps we’ll glimpse echoes of a former glory, and whispers of a glory still to come.

My new spiritual practice is that of slowing down to notice. I’m taking this into other areas of life too……and as our phased return to normalcy approaches, perhaps our new rhythms could come with us.

Jon leads Discovery Church alongside his wife Emma in Dunbar, East Lothian, where they live with with their four children and Barney the dog. Jon loves wild places and open spaces, beauty, surfing, mountains, music that sings to the soul, playing his guitar, craft beer, good coffee and a roaring campfire with family and friends. He particularly loves journeying with his kids as they discover life, beauty and adventure for themselves.

Treasure Hunting

Emma Timms continues our series on “Creating Space for Life in the Midst of Lockdown”, sharing some of her family’s rhythms and practices that are shaping and forming them and keeping them going during this season.

We are 8 weeks in and we are tired, our tolerance levels are running a bit low. World-wide pandemics really take it out of you!

Me, Jon and the kids. (The dog seems fine…)

We are zoomed out, getting a bit fed up of being all together all the time, sad from the loneliness and the struggle we see around us and the big stretch of uncertainty ahead of us. We are missing family, friends and our normal adventuring.
So that’s the first thing I guess – confess your struggles. Yes, there’s a lot to be grateful for – stirrings in the Kingdom and our safety and health. But it’s also a hard time and owning that and admitting it brings a lot of relief. When we bring things into the light, we bring them straight into the presence and peace of Jesus.

So we are struggling but we aren’t sinking.

There are six of us in our home – kids aged between 6 and 12 – so there is an obvious and expected level of noise and busyness. We have lived a lot of years trying to cultivate healthy and sustainable rhythms as a family and they are paying off more than ever now. Our weekly Sabbath, a whole 24 hours of rest and delight. My morning * Breath prayer and nightly * Examen grounding me and helping me daily deal with what’s happening externally and internally (especially with the lack of regular space and solitude in the day), breaking the build up and blow up cycle of un-dealt with frustration and hurt. So I definitely recommend finding a rhythm that works for your personal circumstances and committing to it. Start easy and be kind to yourself, let these formational practices bring life and freedom, not guilt and duty.

And if I could be so bold, I would love to suggest something to you to start with or add in:

Treasure hunting.

Start becoming an avid seeker of the gold treasure hidden all around your everyday, ordinary life, and if you have kids bring them on the adventure too. The more you seek, the more you find. The more grateful you become, the more things make you grateful. It’s amazing.
Here are some concrete ways we do it:
• Every day I ask that God will give me eyes to see Him and His gifts through my day. You know the saying – “See him in anything or miss Him in everything.”
• Every night at the dinner table we go through and each person says what they are grateful for from the day and then we do it again casually as we put the kids down.
• On our walks we look for things that are interesting or beautiful and we point them out to each other.
• In my nightly Examen I linger in the gratitude section and I practise remembering and saying thank you.

In this time of coronavirus when so much is different this is my simple offering of what is helping us.

1) Own what’s tough and bring it into the light
2) Start small and commit to life-giving rhythms.
3) Treasure hunt for the gold in your everyday life.

We have a bit to go ahead of us, but let’s come out of it a people more honest, grounded, humble and grateful than when we went into it.

Happy treasure hunting!

Emma x

Emma and her husband Jon lead Discovery Church in Dunbar where they live with their 4 children and Barney the dog. Emma teaches Pilates and has recently been leading others in Pilates combined with Contemplative prayer practices, such as Breath prayer and the Examen. When not in lockdown, you will often find Emma wild swimming.

* If you would like to learn more about different prayer practices such as Breath Prayer or the Examen, check out the ‘Toolshed’ at prayercourse.org.

Order Out of Chaos

Fiona continues our “Creating Space for Life in the Midst of Lockdown” series, sharing the helpful practice that has emerged for her during this time.

In common with a lot of artistic people, I oscillate between order and chaos. I work best with the discipline of a deadline, and when I’m stressed I find myself with an overwhelming urge to clear the decks and begin again. But I spend much of life lurching from one event to the next, squeezing one more thing into my diary because it sounds like a really interesting opportunity and often miss what God is doing.

Order and chaos.

It’s a myth that all creative people are disorganised. In fact their whole lives are taken up with creating order, making sense, deriving meaning from the chaos they observe and experience. The oscillation is just part of the deal.

But since lockdown all the appointments, engagements and events have been taken away, and creative adaptability has become a highly prized commodity. I’ve had to rethink my pace of life, and I’ve found it hugely liberating to impose some rhythm and structure on this more settled existence.

Over the past year, God has taken me on a journey of bringing order out of my chaos, gently helping me to find focus about my work. He’s shown me how to celebrate achievements rather than critically pick over all the details of what I could have done better. He’s brought clarity to my ambitions and plans, as I’ve sought to discern the right from the good.

It’s been great, and I was celebrating how far I’ve come (see, I’m learning…) and then lockdown hit. Enforced clearing of the diary. Inability to jump in the car and whizz off to the next gig. Hour after hour of sitting at a table in my bedroom.

Could there be more to learn? More intimacy to be found?

From before the beginning of lockdown I decided that I could help the artistic community by posting an encouraging thought each day, something that would be helpful for people adapting to a new season of work and creativity. I decided to publish it on all the Foolproof social platforms, and include a word, a verse, a photo and a couple of sentences. What has emerged has been an online chronicle of my lockdown journey with God. Each day I invite Jesus to show me something and give me a word. As I process this through by writing the thought, I find Scripture comes to mind, sometimes obscure, sometimes on the nose, always pertinent to where my heart is, a timely reminder of God’s love, presence and sovereignty.

I’ve tried to be honest, to allow people to eavesdrop on my conversation with the Lord, not to shy away from the challenge of the days when I grieve or feel angry, when I need help. But also to proclaim the joy and the gratitude that I experience in other moments. And so, from the chaos of my thoughts, feelings, and responses, God is creating order for me, and graciously allowing that to be overheard by others.

Feel free to listen in if you like, or start your own online chronicle.

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Fiona Stewart is a writer and performer based in Glasgow. She is the Creative Director of Foolproof Creative Arts, an arts charity that aims to resource the church and develop Christian performers. She is also a regular contributor on BBC Radio and hosts two podcasts, Hollow + Substantial, and The Outspoken Bible.