Today an unsettling number of church leaders, seemingly thriving and successful, have resigned their positions over moral failure, imbalance, exhaustion from overwork, etc.
The dynamics and issues behind these stories are complex. Yet a leader’s falling into ineffectiveness can often be traced to the inconsistency in the leader’s inner life. I believe there is nothing more important to a leader’s outward leadership than one’s care of his or her inner life.
By “inner life” I mean an unwavering commitment to nurturing one’s walk with God through a disciplined, scheduled time of reflection, Bible reading and prayer – all apart from the leader’s public life of ministry. A thriving leader will make time for God apart from and ahead of his or her public ministry.
For introverts, time alone can come more easily than for extroverts. Introverts frequently find energy in the solitude of being by themselves.
Extroverts, whose energy comes from interaction with others, often have to work hard to settle down to a time for self-reflection. Prayer and Bible reading, in the quietness of one’s room or study, apart from his or her workaday world require discipline.
Once we are determined to create intentional blocks of time in our schedules for the inner disciplines necessary to be a thriving leader, the question of how we use this “time apart” will vary from leader to leader. My own practices are but an example.
To center myself, I have found it helpful to pray the “Jesus Prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The ancient prayer is also called the “breath prayer” because each of the four sections of the prayer can be quietly prayed while we inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale. Saying this prayer repetitiously can bring calm, focus and peace to our harried deeper selves. I even say it sometimes in bed to quiet my heart in falling asleep.
Next, in the practice of Bible reading, I use two resources: Either the Common Lectionary (daily Scriptures read by Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians all over the world)[i] or reading through the Bible in a year.[ii] I try to listen to how God may be speaking to me through the Word.
Moving into a time of prayer, I have found it helpful to pray daily through the Ten Commandments as well as the Seven Deadly Sins and their counterparts. I often take time to reflect on how I am doing in each area.
The Ten Commandments:
- No other gods – “No one but you, God.”
- No false god created – “Lord take away my worship of diminutive gods such as achievement, popularity, favor-seeking, etc.”
- No misuse of God’s name (character) – “God, may I represent your name and character well today.”
- Remember the Sabbath – “Lord, help me balance work and rest today.”
- Honor your parents – “Lord, help me love my family and in-laws.”
- Don’t murder – “God, help me not to hate anyone or hold onto anger or resentment.”
- Don’t commit adultery – “Lord, help me practice chastity, inside and out.”
- Do not steal -“God, help me not to take and or use what is not mine today.”
- Don’t bear false witness – “God help me not to talk negatively or falsely about others.”
- Don’t covet – “Lord, help me be content with what I have.”
St. Ignatius has helped me pray through the Seven Deadly Sins[iii] (and their counterparts[iv]), I pray through them one by one, asking God to empower me not to practice the sin but to implement it’s counterpart in my life.
1. Lord, take away any PRIDE in me and help me practice HUMILITY. 2. Lord, I confess my ANGER; replace it with PATIENCE. 3. Lord, remove my AVARICE or GREED; give me a spirit of GENEROSITY. 4. Lord, take away my GLUTTONY or excess and replace it with MODERATION. 5. Lord, eliminate my LUST and give me CHASTITY. 6. Lord, burn away my ENVY and shower me with NEIGHBORLY LOVE; 7. Finally, Lord, chase out any SLOTH in me and supplant it with DILIGENCE in my work.
These types of prayers help me work on areas that may need attention in my inner life. After these daily prayers I have found it helpful to move into areas to pray for each day. Monday – neighbors; Tuesday – my church; Wednesday – family; Thursday – healing; Friday – salvation; Saturday – pastor friends and their families.
As a leader, you will thrive by developing your own style, content, and ways of nurturing your own inner life. My example is that which works for me at the present time. Bottom line: the inner life of the thriving leader is a must to attend to daily.
[iii] Proverbs 6:16-19
[iv] Prayed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century