Dreams and Visions
Twenty years ago, as a young minister in my early thirties, I hit a wall in my spiritual life. I was exhausted. I was driven. I was disillusioned. I had sucked every last bit of marrow out of the dry bones of traditional quiet times, noisy church services, chatty small groups, and Christian self-help books. When I was honest, I had to admit that I wasn’t changing in the deep inside places of my being.
Those of you who know my story know what happened next. I connected with a spiritual director—someone who was more experienced in the ways of the soul than I was and who seemed to understand what was going on. This part of the journey was good and hard. Good because I was experiencing the presence of God again and knew I was changing. Hard because it required the dismantling of so much that I had come to believe about myself, about God, and about the nature of the spiritual life. It was disorienting, it was frightening and it was spiritually fruitful, all at the same time.
The knottiest aspect of this whole thing was the knowledge that my church was not a place where I could share what I was going through. Somehow I knew that being too open about the doubts, questions and longings stirring within me could mean the death of my “career” as a professional Christian. In addition, I was vaguely aware that some well-meaning Christians might think I was embracing Buddhist practice or New Age philosophy if they discovered I was exploring solitude, silence, and more contemplative aspects of prayer. And yet I was so desperate for more of God and for deeper levels of transformation that I really didn’t care.
Usually, at this point, I launch into teaching and guided experiences on the spiritual practices that have become so crucial to my spiritual well-being but today I want to broach an entirely different set of questions. What if my church had been a place where I could have found guidance for this well-worn leg of the spiritual journey? How might my story have been different if leaders within my church circles could have heard my questions as an important part of my spiritual journey and had been prepared to guide me into the practices of solitude, silence, Sabbath-keeping and spiritual direction I so desperately needed? How many seeking souls are looking outside their churches for the spiritual guidance they need at different stages of their spiritual journey?
Potentially, quite a few. In a recent Barna group survey probing the degree to which people say their lives have been changed by attending church, the findings were disturbing, to say the least. Nearly half (46%) of those surveyed said “their lives had not changed at all as a result of churchgoing.” One of the most significant gaps uncovered by the research was the fact that most people cannot recall gaining any new spiritual insights the last time they attended church. When asked to think about their last church visit, “three out of five church attenders (61%) said they could not remember a significant or important new insight or understanding related to faith.”
We Can Only Imagine
While these statistics are perplexing, we are not driven to despair. In fact, these days we are letting our imaginations run wild. We are imagining churches and Christian ministries whose members are experiencing transformation just by being part of that community. We are imagining leaders who are on a serious spiritual journey themselves teaching and guiding their flocks in a variety of spiritual practices that open them to God’s transforming presence at different stages of the spiritual journey. We are letting ourselves envision leadership groups who are deeply attentive to their own process of spiritual transformation so that they can discern the will of God rather than relying solely on strategic planning and human striving.
We are imagining it and we are starting to see it happen through the Transforming Church™ initiative—a growing movement of clergy and Christian leaders committed to cultivating communities of spiritual transformation that discern and do the will of God, starting with their own journey of personal transformation.
Transforming Churches Everywhere
Becoming a transforming church is not primarily about introducing new programs; it requires a culture shift radiating from the leadership center out. And leaders can’t do it alone—which is why we are committed to providing relationships (through the Transforming Church™ network) and resources (through the new Leading a Transforming Church program) that will equip and empower leaders to take this next step in their leadership journey.
Our passion is to see every church and ministry organization become a center for spiritual transformation… for the glory of God, for the abundance of our own lives and for the sake of others. Will you stand with us as we seek to call forth communities of spiritual transformation through the Transforming Church initiative? Will you join us in praying for Christ’s church and all who lead within it—that we will each do our part to cultivate transforming churches that discern and do the will of God? If so, let us pray together:
O God our Wisdom, who eternally makes all things new;
encourage by your Holy Spirit
those who seek to discern your will
that we may labor together for the building up
of your world and your Church;
counsel us when to act and when to wait;
turn our hearts always toward those in greatest need,
and away from our own preoccupations and fears;
help us never to forget that love and mercy are your
greatest gifts, given us all to offer one another
as we see them in Jesus Christ who alone
is our joy, our way, our truth, and our life.
 Bishop Jeffery Rowthorne, Octave of Prayer for General Convention 2006, Day 5.
©Ruth Haley Barton, 2012.
Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center. A teacher, spiritual director and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Pursuing God’s Will Together, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, and Invitation to Solitude and Silence.
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Hello Ruth, I recently heard about you and your ministry through CIFT in Southern California. I pastor a church here in Irvine, CA. I am really interested in spiritual formation and have been on this awesome adventerous journey, sometimes quite scary. I really enjoyed reading your articles, I would like to hang out with you for a few minutes when you come to CIFT in October. I do retreats for pastors and missionaries in India, you can check out the website I gave: http://www.gemsindiaministry.com Thanks again for your faithful ministry. Blessings
I am so happy to have found this website. It is very much where I am at, except that I am lucky enough to have a supportive church where we are finding ourselves on a communal journey; traditional, yet open to the Spirit.
There is a lot of gentle, but powerful movement below the surface here in Wales UK, particularly in the movement for contemplative prayer, in all sorts of places inside and outside the structures,
Love to all on this blog, elinor
Welcome! We’re so glad to have you!
I encourage each of you to risk stepping out – when the Holy Spirit gently guides you to speak a word of encouragement to someone He puts on your heart – at a convenient time in the service, ‘just do it’. We 50 and overs are learning that what has held us back from being the heart, words and hands of Jesus is what ‘they may think of me’ if it was only me,and not the Lord’s leading. I have found the Lord always places the words in my mouth and allows me to love others in ways that they are able to receive, and I have never been rejected.
God is so wonderfully patient and kind. On your commute to church next Sunday, try what I have been doing – asking the Lord to give me His words, and to touch someone through me at the service. He does, and He will for you too!
Blessings to you,
I’m fairly skeptical of this happening. I’m finding more and more of the Kingdom of God OUTSIDE the church walls that I really don’t have a desire to go back in those walls. Maybe I’ll swing back in time, but right now I don’t see this transformation in any of the churches near me. Every now and then I go back in to visit and see…and I’m trying different kinds of churches that I would never go in before, only to fear that the same church politics and shallow Christianity is there as well. I’m open to more conversation about this. Thanks, Deb
I understand your skepticism…AND I’m glad you keep checking back in to see if and where something new and different might be happening. I often feel skeptical, too, but the phrase in the above prayer “Oh God, our wisdom, who continually makes all things new…” touches me deeply. It awakens a renewed sense of faith that God’s ability to eternally make all things new extends even his own dear church–should he choose to do so. Of course, God does not force himself on his own dear church either which is why it is so important that we find ways to open to God. Together. I pray that we can… and that the Transforming Church initiative can help. In the meantime, keep living into the kingdom of God wherever you can find it!
Deb…Yes, I agree this is happening all over. I have struggled in the past of making sense of “church.” America’s church and the church of the Bible. Two very different entities…yet…in the same name of Jesus Christ. After much prayer and fasting, for me, I have found that God desires me to be a “light” in a dark place. I have discover a part of my purpose is to bring Jesus with me and not expect to get him, He is already in me. John 17. So what are the possibilities of a few in churches seeking, searching, hungering for more God…who will be there to display the evidence that He cares? May I encourage us all, to not give up on God or the people drawn to buildings seeking Him…may a few who are being transformed into His image a little more each day be available, be encouraged, be intentional…we do not need the church to grow, we need the Holy Spirit…however it is in the church we can display His glory to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Divine appointments can happen in churches too! America’s churches have become mission fields. Everyone deserves the opportunity to see someone living faith out loud. Most christians do not doubt Jesus is real…they are doubting if He works. I encourage us who have been blessed to see and hear to go back into the churches and love on people the way Jesus loves on us, that they may see Him alive and in action! Amen!!! I know it can be frustrating and disappointing all to well, but at the end of the day, we are in the end days, these things must come to pass… Matt 28 Many will fall away…Let us stand in the gap for the Kingdom sake. We are positioned by God and Highly favored!!! Daughters of the most High God, If God be for us who can be against us. Be encouraged…He loves us soooo much and He loves the Body of Christ that makes up His true church…His Bride 🙂 Together we can make a difference 1 person at a time. With much love for the Brethren~Debbie
Hello Again ~
Your post joined another one that grabbed my heart this morning. And out of those two, this third one morphed into being –
This is exactly the journey that I am on! I became a believer in 1987 but my soul was so thristy for the peace God promised but I had not learned the HOW TO ACCESS the tools to get there! I was yearning for peace,quiet and communion with God. Last year I was introduced to Mindfulness which I loved but was so desperate to combine GOD in the process! So I starting searching… YOUR book was standing up in our library as our new arrivals often do. I was the first one to take it out and it was the title….that grabbed me!
I am thankful to have a close friend who attends my church who is studying Christian Dirextion so I have had someone to share this journey with..otherwise..like you described I am cautious to share this journey with others as they may think I am headed in the wrong(new age( direction). How I wish we had these tools in our own circles!!
I am waiting for you write some more books on the topic…
Don’t you love that God isn’t content to simply leave us with our stories … that He redeems all of our stuff, and out of all those loose threads of our experience begins to re-weave something of value and purpose!
Thank you for championing the dream that church can be a safe place of gentle redemption, that leaders can be wise, kind shepherds. And that our board/committee meetings can morph from chaotic, power-driven entities into something truly life giving.
I so appreciate who you’ve been in my life, Ruth!
You’re welcome! Thanks for these encouraging words.