Thursday, September 15, 2005

Book response - The leader's Journey

Book Response 09/09/05

The Leader’s Journey

1. The essence of the book
Theme: The Journey is long, so you better learn how to allow transformation of being a part of life.
Purpose: This book has the purpose according to the authors, to offer a practical pathway to transforming the lives of pastors and congregational leaders across the country.
Goal: Through practical principals, lead people to personal transformation.

2. The main thoughts
The author leads the readers to a deep travel into his heart. It is very true that we are reluctant to accept change. Maybe because it is part of our nature as we blame others for our failures. But when we overcome our fear of change we can look at the situation and see that changing our behavior may cause those around us to change little by little. This is the main point on page 8.
Chapter 2 starts and the emphasis is still on spiritual discipline. The best example of this is, and will always be Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ mission was achieved in most part due to His connection with the Father. A good example of that is the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The author says that spiritual disciplines are the “antidote” to combat the opposition of evil forces.
The main point of chapter 2 is informing us of how the external pressure that a leadership position demands will try to take us from doing the right thing. Also, how we as leaders need to be focused on the will of God despite any opposition that might appear. To illustrate this, the author uses Jesus’ example of leadership, that in spite of others opinion He could stand firm in doing the will of God.
Chapter 3 basically starts a new topic in the book. How the leaders lead, live, and react to the “living systems” that they are leading. Also included, is the issue beginning in our families, we all live in systems that are connected, people connected, emotionally connected. The authors teaching for this chapter is that we, as leaders, are responsible for keeping the balance in emotional matters. Otherwise, the community will be in anxiety. In this case, the anxiety that will arise will be the chronic one, which is a reflection of the lack of emotional balance and is transmitted from “person to person, institution to institution and generation to generation.” (Page 36)
On page 46 the author says: “When the leader stumbles in life or becomes anxious, the anxiety spreads quickly to those who are dependent upon him or her”.
Basically chapter 4 teaches several leadership insights that are very useful in different ways if applied. For instance, learning how emotional triangles operate, how to see them, and how to manage ourselves wisely in them. We can learn to recognize the evidence that anxiety is rising in the system. Learn to observe the symptoms of an anxious system and to understand the forces that keep them in place.
According to the author this learning applied in the system can make it function better. The understanding and the ability to put into practice transforms leadership more effective in the community.
Chapter five closes this very psychological section with some tips of how we can become calm leaders. The authors emphasize in this chapter that we as leaders must develop our own and unique list for calming ourselves.
Here, the first step is having self knowledge and the willingness to learn to see the anxiety, and work towards the achievement of calmness. On page 70, the author quotes the words of Richardson that says: “[to achieve calmness] requires us to understand better where, with whom, and in what circumstances, and in what ways we become anxious. Developing greater clarity about our own symptoms of anxiety and how we live them out within the system is critical to being more objective about the larger situation.”
Then, we arrive in part 3 of the book. This section works as a “where it all begin” type of thing. Family is just the foundation of society. If this important element is out of balance, all other areas of our relationships will be affected as well.
Family plays a fundamental role in any leader’s life. It explains how anxiety arises within it, and may shed light on some leadership problems.
According to the book, many problems and difficulties that families experience are the result of chronic anxiety in the family system (pg 110). Learning how to understand and respond thoughtfully to chronic anxiety can turn the situation into a process of self changing and transformation.
Many leaders fail when they turn to cultivate relationships and connectivity with their families. Because they are surrounded by people doesn’t mean they are exercising relationship with them. Many ministers become so overwhelmed with projects that someone’s personal need can feel like an annoying interruption.
We can never forget that God has placed relationships at the center of the spiritual universe.
Last part of this book, chapters 8 and 9 is a larger picture of the first and second chapters. In the last part the authors will emphasize the importance of the development of spiritual discipline in the process of transformation.
Again transformation is the key word, and it will only be achieved through the Holy Spirit, in a process from inside out. On page 130, the author quotes Douglas Rumford in what I see as the “climax” of the book, that says: “Our search for something more out of life usually begins with externals…We’ve confused activity with effectiveness, holding certain positions or titles with personal prestige, accumulating money with security, and sexual encounter with genuine intimacy. We’ve been so caught up in these pursuits that we haven’t really considered what goals we are chasing – and what will happen when we actually catch them”.
The very last chapter is about the means to better achieve the goals of spiritual transformation. It is not about what kind of spiritual disciplines we should apply, but instead, it will focus on the importance of the community in the process of learning.
Pastor Jim Herrington, explains through his own leadership example at Harbor Church, how to establish a learning community center. The purpose of this community center is to make the participants aware of the living system concepts. In this process of learning, new leaders are naturally born through this mastery.
New communities are formed with better trained leaders. Communities filled with grace and truth that embraces the information, practice, and reflection cycle.

3. Key emphasis
Anxiety has spread through all over the places. Today everybody is anxious. Unfortunately, this is true for our modern society as well as for our churches. People in the church are extremely anxious about life and things of this life. However, the words of Jesus are to act otherwise. The Christian community seems to not understand or even trust very much in Jesus’ words.
Pastors and general leaders are not apart of this sad, but true anxiety. Many of them are already burned out and stressed out, and cannot respond to their duties as before. The burden over their shoulders seems bigger because as leaders they are a “model of dependence on God”. For this reason, they should not show their anxiety to others, keeping all their emotions to themselves, what is really damaging to the soul. Leaders are people also, that exert influence. In doing so, they cannot pass to others their anxieties.
But the question that arises from this is, how can a person – even leaders – be exempt from being anxious? Perhaps this is a question without answer, but if a person cannot be exempt, at least they can be transformed and with this transformation reduce the levels of anxiety, through techniques that might help to identify the problem and work on it in order to have a better quality of life.
How to understand anxiety and work through it is certainly the emphasis of the book. Of course the author clarifies that not all kinds of anxiety is bad, but only when it gets chronic.
In order to reduce the levels of anxiety, the author suggests some practical steps. But before any steps can be taken to reduce the pace, the leader should learn how to monitor his feelings. This is very important in the process of slowing down the pace.

4. Contribution of the book and big points scored
In my particular opinion, one of the scored points is the passage in chapter 2 that talks about Jesus and all the situations around him, including his family, friends, the crowd and also his enemies. The word “despite” is frequently used because this kind of circumstance can remove the focus from a person and in some ways these situations can be a blockage for what God has committed His people to do. Therefore, “despite” his family, his friends, the crowd and even his enemies – and the author states very clear that Jesus had not ceased to love them – He could not compromise His heavenly task and in moments of pressure and choice, He always did what was right, the will of God.
Part 3 of the book points its focus to family relationships and issues. The authors scored big points in doing so, whereas, many leadership books ignore this part.
The richness of details about the living system is another scored point, especially when it comes to the congregation. We are emotionally wired together with our brothers and sisters in the family of God. Our behavior and choices affect each other in ways of which we are often unaware.

5. Value
It is extremely necessary and important that the leader observe and learn about himself and his reaction under pressure. Only in this way, he can be prepared to control his emotions knowing that he is directly involved in the building of the community emotional reactions.
That is the great value of this book, giving directions for a self discover of the being, and through this allow the leader for personal transformation.
The answer found by the authors for pastor’s lack of spirituality and abundant life is in the challenge of transformation. A deep transformation that involves three aspects of a life lived as a disciple of Christ. First of all, is to understand that something needs to change inside, coming from the heart. And this change leads toward a growing obedience to Christ. Secondly, as a community, the people will need to be graceful and truthful with one another, in order of having confidence among parties, community and leaders. And thirdly, never underestimate spiritual disciplines, on the contrary, have it as a very important daily moment with Christ. Making Jesus a “dynamic, ongoing presence every moment we live” (page 12).

6. Criticism
Personal transformation is the main focus of the book. Starting with an honest look at the inside of the heart and an overview of all that is around us, using the life and teachings of Jesus as our standard and model we can effectively reach this goal.
On page 5, the author says that the pastoral community is in trouble because they are “falling” to the same mistakes of the community. I agree with this also because it is fact, and when I’m speaking the word fact, I mean that this is truly happening. However, even though it is a fact, we can never forget the necessity of Pastor’s accountability or a Pastor to pastorate other pastors in order to have a better leader in the community.
A Pastor is not a super human; he is a person equal to any other person of the congregation, with only one difference he has to support a burden over his shoulders bigger than any other person at the congregation.
My position is supported by the authors when on page 10 they say that ministers are vulnerable people who experience pain and struggle. Even though they have problems as any other person, unfortunately they suffer in silence, for fear of being perceived as weak or not qualified for their calling.
One thing that caught my attention was that this book had several technical terminologies especially in psychology area. Such as a thinking system, watch process, emotional reactivity, emotional triangle, anxious system, etc.

7. Questions
One question that I would ask is:
From the cover page, to the end of this book, the word system appears. And always the system is kind of dominating life. My question, though, is: Is there how to change the system? Will we have always to change ourselves in order to overcome the system?
A question to the authors would be:
How their presuppositions influenced them in the composition of the book?
Why did they have the idea to write a book with this type of content? Who invited who to participate in this work?

8. Response and Reflection
I want finish this response, reflecting about the importance of this book. Every year hundreds of books are written about leadership. Most part of these books, only emphasize the duties of the leader and how to become more and more effective. These books simply points towards results and use outlines and “steps” as the ways to achieve success in ministry.
What is amazing about the book The Leader’s Journey is that personal transformation is the main goal of it. The authors realized that will not have effectiveness in ministry, if the human being, who is behind the actions, does not be transformed. The transformation suggested by the authors will come through two different perspectives. First of all, through the life and example of Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. There is no how to think about personal transformation if you are not longing to practice spiritual disciplines in a daily bases. Intimacy with Christ will allow us to respond differently to the diverse situations that we face every day. Disciplines develop the reflexes in our souls. All the human efforts are not enough to win the battle against the flesh. The sinful reaction in our human nature will be devastated, unless we have the power of the Holy Spirit of God. Only He can enable us to react differently of what we are used to. After making spiritual discipline as a habit, we no longer have to react as we once did. The Spirit that dwells in us will empower us to overcome the sinful nature.
Secondly, we need to understand, live and minister to the living system that is around us. It is extremely important to understand why people react the way they react. Most important question would maybe why we react the way we react? Identify the problem in us, and them looking for a personal changing, will bring changes to the community as well.
The idea of the book is simple, knowing me better, allows me to minister better. Ministering better, I will have healthier people at the congregation. Healthier people at the congregation, transforms in better citizens in the cities and then in the world. And citizens that were being transformed by the gospels will valuate personal relationships in a better way. In following this “chain”, we will fulfill the commandment of God that is to treat our brothers as we would like to be treated.
It will be right at this point where families come in. The section about family is extremely important for the development of the thoughts of the book. In the process of self discovering, many will see within the family, the cause for anxiety and stress. Once again, identifying those “elements” in a small community that is called family, allows the person to move toward a larger community, and so on.

This book was extremely meaningful to my life and I would extremely recommend for all leaders and Pastors in general.
Rodrigo Serrão

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