It’s impossible for me to tell you how exciting it is to witness a life being transformed, with dreams emerging, passion flowing, and eyes opening. The experience rivals watching the birth of my children, which makes sense as transformation is much like a birth. Messy, some pain, but the promise rules the time and space.
This week, I am involved in a gathering of people who happen to be minister types: clergy, priests, pastors., oh my! They are a strange lot… I should know. They fascinate me as they talk about their call from God, some boldly, some hesitatingly, some with a whisper. The group I am working with this week come from a variety of traditions: Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists South of God, community churches, and, yes, even Episcopalians.
The event is called a Spiritual Leadership Development Intensive and is meeting over the course of a week. It has clergy with varied experience: some who are just getting started, fresh to their first congregations; some who are mid-career; some nearing the finish line; and others who are retired, looking for their next chapter. They come voluntarily, not sentenced by their adjudicatory boards or bishops. No, they come looking for something: clarity, fresh winds for their sails, inspiration, a word, perhaps. But they have come of their own volition.
The ingenious format for this gathering is the product of my friend and colleague, Dr. John Scherer, who has been doing this work for almost forty years. John began his work as a Lutheran pastor, but he morphed into a leading consultant in the field of applied psychology and organizational development. In the past, John’s work was mostly in the business sector, engaging folks from the corporate world, inviting them to discover the spirit that is within each person in the work they do.
I attended an event thirty years ago, in Idaho, with a bunch of corporate types, me as the lone priest among the heathen. It was a life-changing experience for me as I clarified some of the things that were driving me to do what it was I was doing, as well as to face up to some of the parts of me that were getting in my way. Literally in the shadow of a white-supremacist militia camped in the beauty of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, I found a freedom that I had somehow lost along the way.
It was so powerful to me that I invited John to Tyler, Texas to do his thing with my Leadership Foundation of New East Texas, a project funded by the Pew Trust. Within my mix of Latino, black, and white leaders, who were training to lead in our quiet but conflicted East Texas town and region, John introduced some of the parts of this process, notably the notion of presence showing up with 110% of who you are. The effect on my group was marked as we were about the task of building the capacity of each of our participants.
And a few years later, I asked him to come to Atlanta to my new parish and offer a shortened version to some of the leaders of Coca Cola, Lockheed, and other major Atlanta corporate players who were members of the congregation. It happened to include my brother and his emerging group of healthcare consultants that became Galloway Consulting. John’s ability to invite engagement at a deep level was remarkable and his presentation skills were on full display there in Atlanta. John always delivers the goods, right on time for most folks.
John has worked with a variety of organizations with the intent of connecting folks to the deep Spirit within them. He has a bold approach that pushes one to come home to your true self. He is not hawking a typical self-improvement guru line, but rather, an abiding sense that you have everything that you need right inside of yourself, right now. The surprising good news that he delivers is that you don’t need to change yourself, but rather, come home to your Self. It’s a rich process of diving deep into who you are and rediscovering the passion and gifts within.
John offers five questions that form the structure for the work.
The first is “What is confronting you?” The work begins in the present, in that “now” moment, asking you to face the main thing that is confronting you in your life. He uses the imagery of a tiger as the creature that is engaging you presently. Playfully, John asks “If you are confronted by a tiger in the jungle, what would you do?” Naturally, your first instinct is to run. But, that is not a wise move, for the tiger is trained through the evolution of a predator to run you down and eat you for supper, a tasty treat. Counter-intuitively, you must face the tiger, not running, but looking directly at the person, issue, or situation that is confronting you. Adding reality to the mix, John reminds one that facing your “tiger” does not mean that you are going to survive, but at least you have a shot.
This “tiger” image captures the feel of the whole event: playfully serious, and seriously playful. It is so profound that I have a photo of me confronting my Tiger sitting on my desk from an event twenty-five years ago, It makes me smile as I glance at my figure, leaning into the exercise, and my “tiger”, sans my gray hair. There’s always a tiger prowling.
The second question is “What are you bringing?’ which invites you to explore your history, the blessings and curses that you have gathered in your life journey. This is the question that asks you to come clean about your presumptions, biases, and assumptions about the lay of the land in your world. How are you conditioned to see “this” and not see “that”? What are you missing in the scan of the situation that is facing you?
The third question asks “What is running you?” This may be the toughest question to face as you look to discover your default position, that is, how are you programmed to live your life, unaware of the standard operating procedure that drives you. You are asked to look at how you were trained, consciously and unconsciously, to live life. Who taught you to be the “somebody” that you are? Who is the “person” that you present to the world in order to get what you want, or crave? And, what part of yourself have you put in “cold storage” because you fear it would render you unacceptable, or lead to rejection. The polarity work of Barry Johnson is introduced as a way through the forest of tension that exists within each person, as one is given a model of working with the polar opposites that have vexed our lives and leadership. The promise is to become more aware of how you have been living in an automatic mode, with the promissory hope of becoming able to expand your repertoire of behavior intentionally.
The fourth question asks “What calls you?” This is a promising opportunity to look deeply within and see the particular and peculiar gifts that are inside of you. Some gifts will be familiar, while others you will discover, perhaps for the first time. Still, other potential gifts are locked away, dimensions of your Self that scare you and evoke anxiety and fear when considered. The quest is to become aware of who you are and your deep needs, the needs of others that compose your world, and a connection to a greater purpose that is worthy of your best energy. This is what John calls the “sweet spot”, and when you are there, you know it. The “sweet spot” in your Goldilocks moment: it feels just right!
Finally, the fifth question poses the challenge: What will unleash you? I love the feel of this question, and anyone who has labored under the constraints of a system that holds you back from your full-tilt Self, knows what “unleash” means. It’s exciting just to say the word. This involves the commitment to move from what was an “automatic” life to an authentic life that includes all of the richness of your true Self. This is what is meant by transformation, which is the goal of the process. It includes some letting of what was, accompanied by the pain that accompanies new birth. Transformation requires the deep desire for a new possibility, along with the willingness to “not know” the exact shape of the future. Finally, one is asked to lean into this new way of being with openness. What I am witnessing in these participants in the SLDI is a sense of liberation, a newly discovered sense of freedom, that one person described as “taking flight”! God, I love this work.
John has designed an experiential way of engaging these questions that is not a mere “head trip”. It involves the whole person: heart, mind, and soul. The process demands a lot from the participants, including honesty with one’s Self and others; a willingness to enter into intimate, collaborative dialogue; an exercise of curiosity; the courage to ask the deep questions; and a trust in the process.
As I said, John has been offering this process for executives for years in the corporate world. But about a year ago, we began to talk about a process that would be designed specifically for those who exercise leadership in the faith community. A team of clergy and lay persons began to meet every Saturday for almost a year to think through how we might fashion this experience, tuning it for this rare breed of person known as clergy. This current week, we are proceeding through our initial cohort group, testing and trying out the design, to make sure it is the best we can provide. It’s been a dream of John for years, and I sense his excitement it rolled down the runway, taking off into open air, as we bring this idea to flight.
As for me, it fits a lifelong passion for personal and leadership development for clergy. It began with my awareness of Interpreter’s House, a three-week process for clergy, designed by Carlyle Marney, my theological mentor. Marney was assisted in this work by a young Harvard graduate student, Jim Fowler, who was chasing his dream of understanding the mystery of faith and how that develops through time. It was in this funky mix of listening to ministers tell their stories around a fireside that the nascent forms of faith development emerged.
It was that relationship to Marney that initially drew me to Jim as he came to Atlanta to teach at Emory. As I was pursuing my doctoral work under him, I joined the staff at the Center for Faith Development at Emory University. Using Marney’s idea, but employing our faith development theory, we developed Pilgrimage Project as a week-long process for spiritual growth and awareness for clergy. I later developed a transition process for clergy who were moving from seminary to their first parish. This was in the Diocese of Texas, with my colleague, the Rev. Kevin Martin. I have been using pieces of all these modalities in my coaching of clergy over the years. In many ways, the SLDI work feels like coming home, again.
Getting a chance to work with John Scherer and the team gathered of Mike Murray, Kathy Davis, and Terry Rogers, is a dream come true. This group is an incarnation of the word “collaboration” and brings to reality the spirit of creative interchange.
The dream for this Spiritual Leadership Development Intensive (SLDI) is that it will provide a fresh modality and process for continuing education for clergy. It is not the typical seminar of new, trendy ideas, nor a workshop of training in a technique. Rather, it is an intentional, experiential engagement that clergy can decide for themselves to enter, for clarification and discovery of their gifts for leadership and ministry.
Our independence from any denominational agenda allows us to be free to focus on the development of the person in whatever way the Spirit is leading. It is my prayer that it will evolve into a process that will be life-giving for the Church and the world.
If you are interested in future events with the SLDI, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. John Scherer’s book, Five Questions, is available through Amazon.