As I’ve continued to reflect on the importance of our “leading from the inside out”, from the deep place of what the Bible calls our heart, I have learned a few things of late from my daily walks about “pace.”
The pace of leadership can be grueling—whether you are leading in the local church, in your workplace or your family. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies: we try to pack too many calls, task and initiatives into the time God has given us. We move so fast that we have no time to check in with the LORD to see if we are pursuing something good at the expense of God’s best. This hurry is what many describe as “the tyranny of the urgent.” (A quick plug here for Charles Hummel’s pamphlet of the same title.) Oftentimes, we sacrifice the quality of what we do because we are simply responding to, or creating, that urgency and hurry which deafens us to the voice and the pace of God himself.
I take one of my two dogs with me every day I walk. They are strong dogs who love to pull hard. When I let the leash out all the way, they end up distracted, running to either side (depending on the distraction) and it’s very difficult to get back on track with the direction in which I am leading them.
Orvis.com says this about the blessing of short leashes:
“Short dog leashes give you better control over your dog than standard or long leashes. These are perfect for dogs who always pull, or those who can be unpredictable around other dogs or people. Short leashes are also beneficial when you walk your dog in an urban environment, where there is always a lot of car traffic nearby and the sidewalks are crowded.”
The leaders I know, including myself, pull pretty hard. We can be jumpy, distracted, lose track of the direction God has laid before us, even pursuing the “lesser goods” and distractions to our kingdom assignments— and can act just like dogs jumping at a squirrel.
With my own dogs, I’ve learned that a short leash has worked wonders in keeping them “in pace” with me and the direction we are walking. As I have observed this wonderful new phenomenon, it has occurred to me (in that loud thought I have come to recognized as God’s voice speaking) that I’m like my dogs. It may not be a very flattering analogy, but as a leader, I also need to be on a short leash with the LORD.
At one of our recent Clergy Leadership Training Institutes, our speaker introduced us to the video Living at Godspeed. He was addressing the pace at which we lead and the burnout—and sometimes moral failures—that result from leading and living under the tyranny of the urgent. The point of this documentary was to learn to slow down, live and minister to others at the same speed Jesus did, and with same daily reach he had at that speed (walking at about 3 mph).The documentary ends with this verse from Jeremiah 6:16:
This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it…”
Five commands in this verse: Stand, look, ask, ask and walk. But it isn’t a call to leave your context and move to the country. As followers of Jesus Christ, and as leaders, it is a call to a different way of life. Jeremiah ends 6:16 with this promise, “and you will find rest for your souls.”
As leaders, we need rest for our souls. At GAFCON 2018 in Jerusalem, I had the privilege of sitting with an Anglican leader whom you would recognize if I gave his name—one of the most outstanding and faithful missionary leaders in the whole Anglican Communion, one of the most inspiring Biblical expositors whom you will ever hear, a great pastor and leader of his clergy and his diocese. He shared with me how he takes a day in the middle of the week to stop, disconnect from the phone and the internet, study, pray, reflect and receive rest for his soul from the LORD so that he can continue to walk faithfully in the way God has called him to lead. Like a short leash, it keeps him walking at the same pace as Jesus, whom he follows so closely and in whose name he leads!
I was reminded again of John Stott’s “rule of life” that he observed and shared with us at The Falls Church a few years before he went to glory. He also took a time out to study, reflect and pray: an hour a day, a morning a week, a day every month, and one week every year. It was a remarkable discipline, a short leash that kept him not only deeply committed to Christ, but enormously fruitful with all that he wrote, taught and preached.
Like you, I am a work in progress. I am trying to walk at Jesus’ speed. It’s not easy. For me, it takes a short leash so I won’t run ahead or lag behind. It takes time out to remind myself as Jesus said in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” How can we slow down and put this into practice? Prayer is one discipline that will help us. Both Daniel and David prayed three times a day (Dan. 6:10 and Ps. 55:17). Another psalm says we should offer a prayer of praise seven times daily. “Seven times a day I praise you, because of your righteous judgements”. (Ps. 119:164). This verse is actually one of the foundations the Daily Office which you can find out about through our Anglican Traditions video series on the new Book of Common Prayer 2019, including not only morning and evening prayer but short prayers for set times the rest of the day and Compline at the end of the day.
I’m beginning to ask myself at what points in the day can I observe the LORD’s short leash for me—to stop, look, ask, listen and then walk again. As I shared last week, the “ancient path” of the Daily Office has been a great help, and I plan to dive deeper to pace myself at Jesus’ speed.
How about you?
If you are in the ordination process or in your first five years of ministry, please join us October 22-24, 2019 at Trinity Anglican Church in Thomasville GA for “Foundations in Leadership” with Archbishop emeritus Robert Duncan, Canon Mark Eldredge, Rev Jay Haug (Living Without Lust Ministries) and myself as we rediscover and apply those “ancient paths” to our lives, our families and our ministries!
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.