Leadership Lessons From the Soul of Moses

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Encased in a body that you recognize in the mirror, your soul is the “you” that’s always been there peering back from your reflection. It’s the part of you that infuses all the roles you play (parent, spouse, friend, leader, employee), and it’s what makes those roles uniquely yours. Your soul is the place where you and God meet–or where the empty spot resides when you are sensing God’s absence and wishing things could be different.

Chances are if you live in the crucible of ministry, you’ve given some thought to your soul-ish self, and maybe you’ve even felt the danger of losing touch with your real self in the course of a day’s work. Jesus is the One who introduces the idea that a soul is something we can misplace:

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”  (Matthew 16:26)

This is more than just an academic concern, for the spiritual leader leads from the soul, but it’s easy to lose track of one’s own soul in the care and feeding of the souls of others. Ruth Haley Barton felt the insidious slippage in her own ministry and gathered lessons from the life of Moses as a lifeline back to herself and a vibrant relationship with God. Her gleanings have been re-released in the expanded edition of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (Transforming Resources).

The training of Moses’ soul for leadership did not begin on the day he and 600,000 former slaves departed from Egypt, or even in the harrowing days of appearing before Pharaoh. Moses’ journey began much earlier when he fled his familiar surroundings, took himself out of the action, and landed in Midian to escape the murder charges he would have faced back in his home town. The forging of a life-giving connection with God was a lifelong process for Moses, and it will be also for present-day leaders who are willing to ask the probing question, “How is it with your soul?” and to live their way into a meaningful answer.

Leaders Are Refined by the Word of God in Solitude and Silence.

Barton describes Moses’ childhood as “convoluted” (36) and his unrefined, pre-Midian leadership style as “reactive and out of control.” (38) Fleeing was Moses’ first step into a solitude in which God used the days and years to “deepen [his] wounds into wisdom.” (58) God employed the burning bush to get Moses’ attention, modeling the necessity of “turning aside to look.” (58) In the silence and solitude, God spoke, and it was the Word of God that gave direction.

Today, as we take His Word with us into our silence, He will reveal insights we would miss in a hurried and distracted reading. Just as Moses caught sight of the bush out of the corner of his eye on an ordinary day and had the good sense to turn toward it, our own great sightings of God are likely to come because we’ve taken the time to turn in His direction and then to hear His Word when it comes.

Your Calling May Emerge from the Uniqueness of Your Life Story

Moses was initially derailed by his anger, but, ultimately, it was this passion for his people and his strong sense of justice that allowed him to transcend the person he had been on his way to becoming a leader God could use. Rather than fighting against or undoing your authentic self, you may find that, like Moses, in your leadership role you become even more of what God created you to be.

A Leader Learns Wisdom and Restraint by Waiting

Lesson by excruciating lesson, Moses learned to wait for God’s next word. Barton refers to the spiritual disciplines with the engaging term “spiritual rhythms,” noting how each is balanced by an opposite: work and rest; silence and word; engagement and retreat; stillness and action. The stressors of leadership drew Moses deeper into relationship with God. When a leader has learned to wait for God in the darkness, she is on her way to learning the wisdom of restraint that waits for God’s next directive when the way is not clear.

Wise Leaders Operate within Limits

As satisfying as it is to feel indispensable, it’s an expensive luxury. Moses’ father-in-law set him straight on this, advising him in the wisdom of delegation and exposing his responsibility to train other spiritual leaders. If you are experiencing irritability, restlessness, compulsive overworking, emotional numbness, escapist behaviors, or are feeling disconnected from your soul and unable to tend to normal human needs, examine your life for signs that you are exceeding your own limits.

Sustenance for Ministry is Found in Prayer

Just as Moses stood between God and his fractious people, so the praying leader lifts the concerns of others before God, and contrary to popular Christian culture, this intercessory ministry is the greatest gift we bring to our fellow believers. Barton offers helpful insights that address my own tendency to pray prescriptively, as if it were my duty to advise God of all the possible outcomes, and then to help Him in choosing the best one. As we pray, we are reminded over and over again of our own inadequacy to be for our much- loved colleagues in ministry all that the Lord can be for them.

Leadership Is Often Characterized by Loneliness

Because a leader often sees what others do not see and is called to persevere in the face of criticism and discouragement, the life of a leader is characterized by seasons of loneliness. Moses found companionship in God, and refused to take one step in the direction of the Promised Land without the presence of God. Sustained for the long haul of leadership by a vision of God’s goodness, Moses found too that the loneliness of leadership keeps the leader always seeking.

Whether leadership for you involves guiding a half dozen women in a friend’s living room or standing at the helm of a multinational non-profit, for the believer, leadership is spiritual, and it is soulful work. God invites leaders into the crucible of ministry as a soul-strengthening experience, and then He meets us there in the deep and tender places. True spiritual leadership originates in a soul that is making its home in Christ.

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

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Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton
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