As we run fast towards the end of the year, I am so grateful for messages of encouragement and thanks as I prepare to hand over to Daz Farrell as our new EMD for 2021. It has been such a privilege to serve this movement and to have offered my gifts and abilities in service to Jesus and His Kingdom.
Many have asked me in the last couple of weeks how I have sustained myself for the long haul with so much change happening and so many competing priorities in the midst of complex systems. If you managed to catch my keynote for Collective (Faith or Folly) you will have heard my story of seasickness and being unexpectedly tossed by the turbulence of waves and forces of strengthening winds.
This photo is a poignant reminder for me.
I share it not to be offensive, but to suggest that the demands of ministry can sometimes leave us lagging behind, feeling not up to the task and even sickened and barely functional due to the unrelenting and well-meaning expectations projected towards us as servants who genuinely care. Please don’t misinterpret me. While I can relate to the straggler in this photo, I am not seeking pity or suggesting that ministry is always like this for me or others! I am however, advocating for those in ministry; when at times you can barely keep up and so find yourself gut-wrenched with feelings of inadequacy and a desire to make a difference – what do you do?
There is a strange interplay between ego and success and humility and fruitfulness. The more we think we’ve got things under control, the less we actually have.
We’re supposed to be experts and mature, but what if our reality doesn’t match the expectations of others? The gift of vulnerability has to be exercised carefully or others might take advantage of us. In life, we all unravel at some point(s) and in those moments our pain becomes a precursor to a new spiritual awakening and growth spurt. We must embrace our pain in order to really learn and develop. Pain avoidance or mitigation short circuits true maturity or inner growth.
In our Aussie culture, it is presumed that the intelligent and the powerful are built for success and everyone else can ‘just get over it’, so to speak. I think this is a lie.
Here are three intentional ways to learn and develop as a spiritual leader.
1 – The authentic posture.
In her wonderful book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown comments on authenticity:
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are … Authenticity demands wholehearted living and loving – even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it. Mindfully practising authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy and gratitude into our lives.” 
In our public life, there remains an expectation that we must always be positive, self-assured and upbeat. The posture of authenticity challenges the mindset that ‘it’s all good’ when we know internally that our reality is very different. The authentic life is real, honest and transparent. It doesn’t present an imposter to the world but seeks to humbly hold one’s space with integrity and grace.
Each year there are constant opportunities to lean into authentic living. Each challenge, each relationship and each season can be accrued in wisdom to build self-awareness and real leadership. This is a deep journey of love, learning and transformation. Our spiritual growth, emotional intelligence, God’s exceptional love and deepening friendships make a real difference in this space.
2 – The inquisitive mind.
I used to be incredibly anxious about ‘not missing out’ on new ideas, new techniques, new research, new understandings, new authors, new models, new programs, new strategies, new biblical insights, new cohorts, new networks, etc. Finally, I realised my mind was far from inquisitive, but more orientated to not wanting to miss out! As the youngest in my family system, this was my formative experience. I’d miss out if I didn’t get in quick and if I didn’t position myself ready for action. My motivation was flawed; I wanted to expand my mind for ancillary, less non-altruistic reasons that ultimately left me wanting more. I had an information and performance addiction.
Years later (having processed my family of origin insights) I have come to understand that the accrual of information does not transform one’s life. Information is simply data to be consumed. A deeper wisdom journey has emerged where I now seek to learn, watch, listen and read into areas that holistically pique my interest and match my strengths and passions.
An inquisitive mind seeks to map a schedule of learning that assists self-growth, beauty and creativity and ministry fruitfulness. This is a joy and discipline. Those who lead should aspire to be ‘qualified and trustworthy to teach others’ (2 Timothy 2:2).
3 – The retreating soul.
My most precious life and ministry mentor taught me that the soul needs care and tending. He explained that ministry demands are like the rising and falling of the tide. Sometimes the tide flows and surges in unrelenting ways; continuing to press against our time, resources and energy. We then wash up on the beach exhausted. At other times there is an ebb or lull; special moments to catch our breath with renewed space and rest to ‘run and not grow weary’ and celebrate the love of our Abba.
Each soul has limitations. There have been times in ministry where I thought my soul was like a self-charging battery, ever able to function heroically, without recharge. Oh, how delusional was I.
Soul space and soul care need retreat times in environments that nurture and stimulate the whole person. Notice the orientations? Time and environment. I have learnt to prioritise retreat time in my diary that intentionally is about nurturing and developing my soul. I have also learnt that the environment is either conducive or detrimental to resting spaces for insight and wisdom. Our created world is full of wonderful environments, free from distractions or incessant noise, that enable or facilitate soul growth and care.
In conclusion, these three learning orientations form a part of the new narrative and language for spiritual leaders. In many ways they are chapters in a wisdom book. It is a short book, but each chapter takes a lifetime to explore and unpack. I so hope you give yourself permission to explore them.
With grace and care,
Dr. Andrew Ball
Churches of Christ in NSW & the ACT.
© Fresh Hope Resources 2020.
 Brown. B. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. © 2010 Hazelden. p. 50.