Every Leadership Team experiences highs and lows, peaks and valleys. Peak: The day you host your first gathering! Valley: the first time someone leaves your community. Any time you gather a committed group of people you experience the pendulum of life, the best and hardest parts, together. This is the beauty of community and presents its own gifts and challenges for those in leadership.
The truth is, most of life isn’t spent on peaks or in valleys. We reside, mostly, in the in-between places on a journey that is punctuated with deeply meaningful, joyful, scary, difficult, exciting experiences.
As a church planter it is important to be honest with your Core Leadership Team about what they will face in the tight-knit community of a church plant. In fact, I don’t think you can over-prepare someone for the deconstruction of expectations and experience they may face or the sometimes-unpredictable nature of church planting. Which is why it is necessary to openly reflect on your journey as a Core Team (CT) together.
One of the tools I use to help my CT do this is a basic Peaks and Valleys diagram. To do this exercise you simply draw a few mountains and valleys on a piece of butcher paper. You might find it helpful to do this exercise at regular intervals, like semi-annually, or at a major turning point, when you need to remember who you are.
As you begin this exercise spend some time as a team coming into God’s presence. Lectio Divina is a helpful practice to move into a listening posture and be grounded in the Word (great options include Isaiah 40:28-31, Zeph 3:17, Joshua 1:9, many parts of Proverbs 3, or 2 Timothy 1:6-10).
Praying for Indifference is essential in not allowing this time to be hijacked by my or anyone else’s agenda. Jesus teaches us this prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying “Father… not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Ultimately, we want to discern what God is drawing our attention to. We don’t want to create artificial highs and we don’t want to shy away from naming the true lows. We need an ability to set aside the outcomes we desire and receive the Spirit’s wisdom.
In Pursuing God’s Will Together, Ruth Haley Barton teaches this prayer writing:
“…we have to come to a place where we want God and God’s will more than anything – more than ego gratification, more than wanting to look good in the eyes of others, more than personal ownership, comfort, or advantage. We ask God to bring us to a place where we want God’s will, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else…
Grounded in the discernment of the Spirit, we’re ready to identify concrete experiences in our community. Ask each team member to write down what in your time frame has been life-giving to them in relation to your community. Where have they experienced joy, excitement, encouragement, refreshment and fun! Write as many things as come to mind.
Much of the fun of this exercise is hearing people tell these stories so leave lots of time to celebrate these memories together as a CT. Some of these are more intimate moments of discipleship and personal spiritual transformation in our walk with Jesus. But some are events multiple people experience together, these tend to be the moments where we saw our vision move forward in a profound way, where we engaged in an adaptive change, or where we saw evidence of having created the culture we are pursuing. After everyone is done sharing, talk as a team about what 3 moments would rate as your collective “Peak” experiences (keep the other moments in mind for later use).
There is so much joy in those peak experiences and they are fun to celebrate and remember, but we also must face the places of desolation in our communities if we are going to learn to lead in healthy ways and cultivate mature leaders with a holistic understanding of life in Christ.
When I think of desolation I think of the travelers on the road to Emmaus or the disciples huddled together with the doors locked after Jesus’ crucifixion. These are moments when you know everyone was thinking ‘this is not the way it was supposed to be.’ ‘How could it be so different from what we imagined?’
The Ignatians help us understand desolation in more common experiences as that which turns us in on ourselves, cuts us off from community, drives us down a spiral of negative feelings, makes us want to give up on things that used to be important to us, or drains us of energy.
We as leaders must face the places of desolation in our communities if we are going to learn to lead in healthy ways and cultivate maturity - Taeler Morgan Click To Tweet Ask each core team member to write down those experiences in community that have evoked these feelings or questions. Come back together as a group and share these stories.
It can be helpful to remind people that they do not need to try and console, justify, or fix each other’s experiences. You may even need to stop people from doing this – it is such a temptation! All we want to do at this point is hold space for people to remember those experiences and for others to listen.
At the end of this time it is helpful to move into a time of prayer, placing these experiences before God, acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit as they happened, and asking for the continued work of the Spirit to redeem them and bring wisdom, healing, and new life to those people, places and relationships. Then pick a couple that represent the most difficult places of your team’s journey – these are your valleys.
So now you have 3 mountain tops, 2 valleys, and a list of additional experiences that were formative but fall somewhere in-between. At Gather we chart those chronologically, placing them on the ascents or descents in consensus ranking of how they impacted the community. Keep in mind, not everything on a “descent” will be negative. These might include lesser high points that happened, chronologically, after a peak experience. After charting these you will have a visual representation of your communities journey.
Other than having a highly personalized piece of art, what is the value of this exercise? First, it reminds us that we are on a journey. The mountains and valleys metaphor, chronological ordering, and storytelling emphasis reinforce the value of this trek and, implicitly, the value of movement.
We started in one place and, several months later, have arrived somewhere else with all the new experiences that accompany such a path. We are people of movement, we value movement even above comfort, and so we learn to expect movement as well because we are on a journey.
Ask your CT: What is one word you would use to describe our journey?
Second, this exercise helps our CT discern the presence of God in our life together, remembering that God is present throughout our highs and lows. When we begin to internalize that we become able to see God’s redemptive promises in even the deepest of valleys. Our personal experience and understanding of the redemptive nature of God enables us to tell a more compelling story about a God who is making all things new and inviting us to join him in that work.
Ask your CT: how do you see God’s redemptive work in this reflection?
We join God in that work in so far as we are able to live and tell a beautiful, provocative, questionable story. This exercise helps us give shape to the story of our community, which can help us better discern how God is already at work and envision how we may be called to partner with Him for the good of those to whom we are sent. In this way, it is not just about the journey of our community for their own sake but also about the shaping of our community for the good of those we dwell with.
Ask your CT: What do you hope for our future?
Wendell Berry once observed that “It may be when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.” I like to know things. But there is something deeply freeing about reflecting on your journey and recognizing that, in the most life-giving and the most desolate moments, the times you knew and the times you didn’t know, God was present, active, and in control, and will continue to be as we move forward on to the peaks, valleys, and everything in-between.
 Barton, Ruth Haley. Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, p63.
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