Ruth Haley Barton
Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry
InterVarsity Press, US, 2018 (second edition)

ISBN-13: 978-0830846450

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership

 

"[W]hile her writing is clear, compelling and to the point, it’s her wise, honest and instructive gems about leading and living with integrity that packs this book’s punch."

Everyone - and I mean anyone - involved in leading, whether an office, a ministry, a youth group, even a neighbourhood book club and especially a board for non-profit organisations, should not just write down the name of Ruth Haley Barton’s book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry. They’d do well to pick up the phone and order it immediately from their local bookshop (not from Amazon - local shops need the support much more).

Actually, even if leadership isn’t your thing but learning to grow as a human being is, this is also a book for you. Not because of its literary cleverness or compelling story line. An author of many books on discipleship and spiritual formation, Barton is the founder and CEO of the US-based Transforming Center. And while her writing is clear, compelling and to the point, it’s her wise, honest and instructive gems about leading and living with integrity that packs this book’s punch. Barton’s got something new to say: that effective leadership and service emerges only from an integrated and intimate relationship with the One who fashioned the Earth, formed our hearts and framed every good endeavour we pursue. 

Then again, it’s not exactly new, since Barton draws from the narrative of Moses found in Exodus, the Bible’s second book, as well as from ancient and contemporary thinkers to make an essential case for nurturing our souls with God. As she guides us through Moses’ intimate relationship with the Almighty, we understand what is at the heart of where our ‘true selves’ live as God intended. “To give ourselves to this process,” she writes, “we must trust that our true self is hidden with Christ in God, to be revealed as God sees that we are ready to live into.”

And make no mistake. This “living into” is not about a brilliant career move. Nor is it about security or success or failure or “anything else the ego wants for us. This is about the Spirit of God setting us on our feet and telling us (as he did Moses), ‘This is yours to do. Whether they hear or refuse to hear, whether it feels to you as if you’re failing or succeeding, you are to speak my words.”

Marching orders accepted, then, each step, as well as each challenge and each conundrum a leader might face on the journey shapes that ‘true self’ that God made them to be but is often eclipsed by false narratives. Through her helpful study questions and notes at the end of each chapter, Barton also guides us quietly into the rhythms of listening to God, facing the loneliness that might come as leaders, and looking for opportunities to inspire others. 

Each are part of the daily doses of silence Barton believes is needed to be present to God’s voice, and to cultivate the life-giving solitude leaders require as their Maker forms them. This is the only place, she says, that teaches us to wait, to discern, to pay attention and to live honestly, within our limits in seeking always, as Moses did, that place where Yahweh is. As we learn to sit with God, allowing Him to form our soul’s character, strength for the journey comes, transformation in small breaths. 

After all, if Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of International Justice Mission, could read Barton’s manuscript, endorse her book and implement her insights - including  30 minutes of silence daily for IJM staff which he writes about in the foreword - it’s obvious from the first page that this is not just another leadership book. Barton calls leaders to move beyond the 'winning team concept' and instead create spiritual community, to take the strategic goals of an organisation and wrestle with the harder questions of calling, presence, care, hospitality and vision. 

In other words, she calls readers to the Promised Land of Moses’ journey - and it’s not what we think. It’s so much better - if we’ll have the courage to follow.