One of our core themes in The Leadership Institute is holding the cultivation of the inner life (of prayer and communion with God) and the outer life (of ministry and leadership) in healthy tension. It’s easy to give attention to one and neglect the other.
One writer who spoke often on these themes was Elton Trueblood. Let me share a couple of paragraphs from him this morning (and forgive the lack of inclusive language. Trueblood was an inclusive soul who wrote at a time when the language hadn’t caught up).
“The man who supposes that he has no time to pray or to reflect, because the social tasks are numerous and urgent, will soon find that he has become fundamentally unproductive, because he will have separated his life from its roots. It will not then be surprising if, in his promotion of what seems to him to be a good cause, he becomes bitter in his condemnation of others. Without the concurrent cultivation of the inner and the outer life, it is almost inevitable that a man deeply involved in social action should become self-righteous.” (Elton Trueblood. The New Man for Our Time. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970, p. 60-61.)
Fundamentally unproductive. Ouch! In our urgency to reach the unreached or care for the countless real needs around us, do we become so driven that we no longer actually have life to share?
A plant that has become uprooted will not live for long. A Christian leader who doesn’t have time for regular communion with God will find that his or her ministry may remain very busy, but will become increasingly unfruitful.
Ministry that ceases to be deeply rooted in the One who called Himself “gentle and humble in heart” will gradually become harsh and self-righteous. We cannot live in communion with Christ without taking on the nature of Christ—the fruit of the Spirit.
“To work without praying and without listening,” continues Thielicke, “means only to grow and spread oneself upward, without striking roots and without an equivalent in the earth.” (Trueblood, p. 67.)
In the mid-1990s, one of my favorite places to go for my monthly unhurried day with Christ was the L. A. Arboretum in Arcadia. I had a favorite bench under a huge, decades-old live oak tree. One winter, there was a violent windstorm in the area. When I visited next, the oak had toppled. The root system was shallow, and the trunk was somewhat hollow. It became a warning for me.
Will I give enough attention to the health of my soul in Christ to remain deeply rooted in the midst of my broad ministry engagements? A tree with immense above-ground development, but a lack of proportionate underground development is in danger of falling. So with Christian leaders.