Book Review: "Pursuing God's Will Together"
I've read several of Ruth Haley Barton's books and here is the conclusion I've come to: some people write book after book and publish them all and some people write several books worth of material but edit it into one dynamic volume.
In Pursuing God's Will together she addresses a key concern in Christian leadership both in local church settings and in parachurch settings. The challenge is whether or not our leadership is decorated with spirituality, or whether we are pursuing spiritual transformation and yielding our leadership to guidance of God's Spirit. She sets this these before the reader with one very pointed question:
If we are not pursuing the will of God together in fairly intentional ways, what are we doing? Our own will? What seems best according to our own thinking and planning? That which is merely strategic or expedient or good for the ego? (11)
The weight of the book is placed on the concept of intentionality - intentionally pursuing personal spiritual transformation, intentionally pursuing a shared community of transformation, intentionally pursuing a shared set of leadership values, and intentionally pursuing a decision-making process that places the burden of direction on each leader's response to the Spirit.
Ruth's writing style is gracious and precise, engaging various human dynamics that can't be ignored in the reality of leading other people. The spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence are key, with Barton going so far as saying "We only want people at the leadership table who practice solitude and silence as a place for hearing God's voice relative to the decisions they face and who are open to incorporating this into their leadership discernment as well." (70) Barton's use of the fictional "Grace Church," a composite of leadership teams with whom she has consulted in the past, gives some gritty context to the practices she recommends in the book.
The high points of the book are found in the practicality of the leadership process she suggests. Granted, practicality is not synonymous with easily implemented. What Barton recommends is not just a change of process, but a change of culture and a welcome one at that. Leaders reading this book will need to take a few breathers throughout the book as they are challenged by Ruth's insights and direction.
The challenge of a book like this in today's ministry & leadership discussion is that it seems to fit well within models of Christian organizations that are predominantly corporate in structure. The process Barton recommends is not contingent on hierarchies of leadership, and in fact she recommends discussion with people at every stage and strata of the organization, but readers who have missional leanings will struggle with the formal leadership positions she references and the issues that are both created and remedied by the process of discernment and response to the Holy Spirit.
However, this does not mean that missional churches can't learn anything from this book. In fact, the process Barton outlines might actually be easier for decentralized anti-clergy Christian communities to implement given the fact that the whole process is based on the speaking of the Holy Spirit rather than the democratic process and votes around oaken tables.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is working through the minefield that is Christian leadership and struggling to maintain an ear to the ground to hear the Spirit's guidance. It is a welcome deep breath in the field of Christian leadership, and well worth the time you will take to process it with your leadership team.