Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton – book review

Every now and again I read a book which is just SO good, it’s hard to review because all I want to say is “this book is SO GOOD – get it! Read it! And then read it again”!

This book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership is in that category. So if you are in any form of Christian leadership in any capacity, paid, unpaid, running a church or running a small group I would say to you “this book is SO GOOD – get it… read it” … as above.

Okay, now I’ve got that off my chest I will try and tell you something useful. At first glance it seems to be a book on leadership which uses the story of the life of Moses as a series of lenses through which to look at the challenges of staying spiritually alive while seeking to lead others into a deeper connectedness to God. The subtitle is “Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry” and in the first chapter the author poses the question ‘can ministry coexist with one’s personal journey towards growth and wholeness? Well, can it? The starting point for Ruth Haley Barton was that very familiar sense of weariness known to so many leaders, trying so hard to create rich connections for others to God and yet feeling a sense of emptiness and ‘missing God’ for themselves.

Warning: this book is very easy to read, woven as it is around a story. And each chapter ends with a ‘Practise’ a reflection often based around a beautiful poem but this book is a very long way from soothingly sentimental spirituality. Ruth Haley Barton goes straight for the jugular telling us that we cannot afford to live life driven by ‘unexamined inner dynamics ‘ she challenges us to look below the surface of our lives at those weaknesses and wounds that we so often prefer to ignore. Either read the book slowly or read it twice for maximum effect, because the subject matter is incredibly profound and you will either reach the end of the book challenged and disturbed (deciding that you are not willing to do anything about those ’unexamined inner dynamics’) or you will leave the book changed and the chances are that all those people you lead will be mightily relieved by the transformation.

Whilst she does talk about the harm that leaders can do when they don’t lead from their souls, that’s only the start, I promise you will not feel ‘beaten up’ all the way through. (Maybe you might not feel beaten up at all, but you should feel challenged). You will feel fed: she offers a feast of simple practices: nothing fancy, just the plain old solutions such as ‘solitude’, ‘silence’, ‘acceptance’ but she draws these out of such solid biblical reflection on the story of Moses, they have the aroma of warm bread fresh from the oven. Her voice is that of a companion who understands how it feels to be lonely as a leader, how it feels to be sometimes frustrated by those we seek to lead.

Although she talks a lot about exploring your inner life don’t be afraid of any meaningless psychobabble, this is simply an applied Bible study of the very highest order: culturally relevant, highly practical and equally applicable to whatever size of task you are called to lead.  It should be required reading for every ordinand or would be ordinand.  

Every fair review should give at least one criticism: I’m struggling to find one. But there is one chapter, and only one, where the leadership principle feels a bit shoe horned into the Moses story instead of naturally emerging from that story, but I’ll leave you to work out which chapter that was and anyway, it’s still a valid leadership principle.

So if you buy any book on leadership any time soon, make it this one!

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