Leading from Our Soul : Pause

Glenn Innes wraps up our series on ‘Leading from Our Soul’ with a personal story of the importance of sabbath, that pause that refreshes.

Yesterday I saw a tweet from a pastor saying how tired he was and expressing how hard the past year has been and the toll it has taken. He is right!

This year has not been normal and for church leaders it has been exceptionally trying. Three things stick in my mind as being particularly challenging. The first is that lockdown happened immediately before Holy Week and our usual Easter celebrations, perhaps the high point of our church year. Instead of planning services filled with reflection and rejoicing we were busy learning the ins and outs of Youtube, video cameras, sound equipment and, of course, Zoom. That substitution took a toll, whether we noticed it or not.

The second thing that seems to be happening is also related to timing. Just as the summer break appears on the horizon and plans are being made for some rest, it seems as though gathering as the church in some form is back on the cards. In conversations I am having, and within my own self, there is a level of anxiety about how we make this happen, when we should make this happen and what it will involve. This fear threatens to steal the rest that was planned and much needed.

That rest is needed because throughout this time, church leaders (and many others), have been busy in so many new ways. Whether naturally creative or not, they have lived as creatives for the past few months ; whether digitally savvy or not they have become technological whizzes ; they have become community organisers and food distributors. This is on top of the usual load of caring for the flock, preaching the gospel, organising the church, leading teams. This has all been exhausting. 

The question I have is – ‘Is this the only way for us to do this? Is this the “new normal”?’

I hope you can join me in saying ‘no and no’.

I have learned many things throughout this lockdown. Perhaps the most important came as a kindness from God before lockdown even began. I was preaching on Sabbath and had that moment where I realised I was preaching something I wasn’t living out. I left church that day convicted. We decided as a family that we would finish all our work on a Friday evening and there would be no more work until Saturday evening, phone time would be reduced, we would make space for the things we enjoyed, the good things God has put in our lives.

We are not perfect with it but it was beginning to feel life-giving before lockdown. During lockdown it has been life-saving. Having a time when we turn away from what we are doing for God and toward enjoying what He has given us has sustained me physically, mentally and also spiritually.

Let me encourage you, find time to rest this summer and find time to rest this week, and next. It’s not just God’s law – it’s a good idea!

Glenn, his wife Karin and daughter Zoë arrived in Portobello in the summer of 2018 after 10 years in Aberdeen where Glenn was involved in church planting. Prior to that they were in Vancouver, Canada where Glenn did his theological studies at Regent College. Glenn has a passion for mission and for the local church. Most particularly he wants to see those two things co-exist as God’s people begin to join God on mission in this world. Glenn loves spending time with his family, riding his motorbike and following the fortunes of Aberdeen FC.

Leading from Our Soul : Pace

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 have been sharing from their personal journeys in leadership something they have learned that has been key for them to live and lead in a sustainable way. Stella Campbell shares here around ‘pace.’

A few weeks ago, I heard Jon Tyson use the phrase ‘sacred pace’, and it resonated deeply within me. At the end of February, beginning of March, our church family encountered a number of very painful and difficult situations, all whilst the threat of Covid-19 was beginning to rise. As has been my practice throughout my ministry, I had booked time off in retreat and was looking forward to a few days out of the parish, to recover and reflect and to prepare for Easter. There was a question mark over whether or not to go when Sunday 15th March rolled round. But my gut feeling was that if I was going to be able to lead well in the coming season, I needed time apart, at a different pace.

One of my favourite places for retreat is Pluscarden Abbey, outside Elgin. I was introduced to the Benedictine rule of life and daily rhythm during my divinity studies. It feels like stepping into another world, where time runs more slowly and there is space to think more clearly. It is a place which has often allowed me to connect deeply with God and to discover the path that He is leading me on in that moment – both personally but also as a church leader (often the two are interconnected).

And this time was no exception. In the silence and solitude, in conversation with my companions, and in walking and praying, I grasped a better understanding of what I was being called to in the coming season and found myself led to Psalm 33 : ‘We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

To wait upon the Lord, to put our trust in Him, must mean, among other things, to allow our pace to fall in line with His. Usually that means slowing down for me and being intentional about listening carefully and not running ahead with my own thoughts and ideas. This is something of the ‘sacred pace’ I mentioned earlier.

The pressures of the outside world were hard to keep at bay, and it became apparent that I did need to return home from Pluscarden sooner than expected. But somehow, I felt ready to come back and face the world that was being turned upside down.

As the lockdown has progressed, there have been moments when I have again chosen to step out of my usual pace and allow a catching up of my soul with everything else. We have gone through so much in the last 13 weeks – personally and otherwise. So much trauma and grief, as well as facing big questions about where we go from here. It is only in slowing that some of that can be processed and prayed about. And for me, it is only in waiting upon the Lord, that I truly can have confidence in making decisions and guiding others going forward.

Whatever your normal pace or rhythm is, and no doubt it will have been impacted by lockdown, what would it look like for you to develop a ‘sacred pace’? A pace that allows you to run the marathon set before us, with perseverance, rather than simply sprint for a little while and run out of steam. A pace that allows you to wait upon the Lord and His counsel. A pace that allows you to serve faithfully and with joy.

Stella is minister at Skene Parish Church in Aberdeenshire. Originally from Northern Ireland, Stella enjoys a walk beside the sea. She loves good conversations with friends over good food, a cheeky trip to the cinema and you will often find her buried in a book.

Leading from Our Soul : Presence

In a recent trustees meeting, my friend Kenny shared this Scripture passage from Joshua 3:1-5 : ‘Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before…” Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

The Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God dwelling in the people’s midst, first under Moses’s leadership and now under Joshua’s. Joshua is standing with his people at the edge of a vast unknown land and they are about to go in a “way they have never been before.

Sound familiar? How many of us as leaders feel that we find ourselves currently facing a similar vast unknown of life after Covid-19, taking tentative steps on an unfamiliar path, wondering desperately if we are leading our people in the right direction?

Can we learn something from Joshua here? Remember, Joshua was the one who would stay behind in the tent of meeting in God’s presence long after Moses had come out. And what does he do now? He encourages his people to “consecrate themselves” to prepare for their journey into the new and unfamiliar. This typically involved prayer and fasting, a sort of rededication of their lives to God and His purposes. Joshua again seeks the presence of God and leads his people in that.

My own years of leadership could best be summed up in this prayer: “Father, I don’t know what to do. Help!”
Unfortunately, that prayer often came after I tried following my own ideas, which then at times preceded burnout or near burnout.
I was blessed to have a pastor who called me out on this unhelpful pattern in my life and leadership and challenged me to put some life-sustaining rhythms in place. ( Thank you, Jon! Neither of us will ever know what disaster you may have helped to prevent in my leadership! )

As I began to learn more about spiritual disciplines and rhythms, I came across this quote from Henri Nouwen which pierced deep into my soul and became, in a way, my north star by which to navigate my little boat of life and leadership:
‘In the spiritual life, the word “discipline” means “the effort to create some space in which God can act”. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.’

This has become key for me, not just in my personal life, but in my leadership. All my decisions come out of that place of sitting in God’s presence. And when life is extra busy, I try and become more intentional in “creating some space in which God can act.” And when I don’t do this, I feel it immediately. I lose focus, I lose awareness of His presence. I look up and am not certain which direction He has headed off in. I am more insecure, unwilling to step into the unknown.

But when I am creating that space to be in His presence, then I am at rest, even in the busyness. And I am not as afraid of the unknown path, because even though I can’t see that far ahead, I can see Him. And His presence is enough.

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.