Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Doing and Being

Written by: on March 20, 2015

There is a tension in our lives following Christ between living by faith and doing good works. In our lives, we are called to be obedient, and to love as Christ would. This requires action. It is the long debated challenge of James: “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’” (James 2:18). At the same time, Paul writes that our actions without love (without God), are worthless. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:1-3)

Christians are continuously challenged by this tension. In many churches, leaders and members are expected to do good works, some with higher and higher expectations of productivity; to show fruit. However, the reality of our lives in Christ is it is not I who does good things, but Christ in me. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20). I don’t do it, Christ does. I don’t love, Christ does. But I am His vehicle.

So we wrestle with this tension. For better or for worse, in our human forms, we are better able to grasp the tangibles of life, the things which we can see and do and measure, and we struggle to recognize the spiritual, the transcendent work of Christ in our lives. Far too many of us focus on the things which we think we can control: our actions. We get busy doing the work of the Kingdom. We may very well work from the knowledge that God has given us gifts and talents thus we are equipped to do His work. But if we are primarily focused on the work, it is far too easy to lose sight of our very reason for doing, or better, our reason for being. Caught up in activity, even very good activities, we lose sight of our Father. We come to trust in our own ability, and hold to values of self-reliance and individualism.

And then one day, whether by choice or by circumstance, we realize that we are not where we thought we were. Shelley Trebesch [1] writes about the periods of spiritual isolation that comes in the lives of believers, particularly leaders. Trebesch uses personal, historical, and biblical examples of times of isolation in the lives of leaders to demonstrate that these periods are intended to bring about transformation. Isolation is defined as those periods of time in which an individual is partially or wholly removed from ministry (or perhaps their walk with God) in order to deepen their relationship with God. [2] This is sometimes voluntary, when an individual chooses to take a leave and commit to solitude with Christ, and sometimes it is involuntary, when life circumstances force a pause. [3]

One of Trebesch’s themes is that the transformation that comes from isolation brings us from a place of doing to being. It moves us away from arrogance into humility. It moves us from leading roles to servants. Isolation is that experience of loss and grief as God re-defines who we are. We may lose sight of our ministry, our purpose, and even God. We may feel alone and wonder where God went. In those low times, God is able to step in and transform us. He shapes our heart from self-reliant to reliant on Him. He helps us to move from that place of seeking or needing recognition and validation from others, to knowing that He already knows us.

I have struggled writing this post. Trebesch’s book was familiar, brief, and in some ways refreshing. But part of me was thinking as I read, “Been there. Done that. (And hope I don’t need to do it again any time soon.)” It was not new. I know these things. I know how God uses times of isolation. And honestly, while comfortably sitting on the other side (at least for now), I love the result.

Here is my real struggle: I struggle with the doings of church and ministry. Apart from Christ, I can do nothing (John 15:4). Everything I do, the love that I hope to share, the conversations that I hope to have, the work that I hope to do, must be grounded in Him, otherwise it is without meaning. I am a noisy, clanging gong. When I sit in leadership meetings, it often seems to come back to, “what are we going to do?” In my church we have been teaching about the cost of Christ’s sacrifice – the cost of love. We have considered what it might mean to fight for love, that no matter what, we fight to love because apart from Christ, apart from love, apart from knowing His love, nothing else matters. We TALK about love and faith, but then we separate it and turn it into an activity.

And I know I frustrate others, because I keep saying that love is not an activity; it is who we are in Christ; it is Christ in us. I say that if we focus our hearts on Christ and seek Him, the “doing” will come. It’s not that we will not act, or that we should not have a plan or a direction, but that the action will come out of our being in Christ.

And then the question will come, “Yes, but what will we do?”

Honestly, at times even Trebesch frustrated me with this. As she argued for allowing space for God to transform us, to seek Him and to be ok with the silence and the struggle, she provided activities to do while in the midst of the process. At the same time, I appreciate that many of us need to feel like we are doing something to help facilitate the process. Or we get caught up in our thinking and need to do something so that we don’t feel so lost in the desert. These activities can be helpful, but we have to be cautious not to rely on them as the answer.

I get this tension. Faith without action is worthless. Action without faith and love is also worthless. The question becomes, which comes first? Or is there a first? If Trebesch is correct, that a result of isolation is transformation from doing to being, then I posit that we must first pursue God. As we make our plans for good works, we must first bury ourselves in prayer, seeking the Holy Spirit, and recognizing that these are not our plans, but His. These are not our lost sheep, but His. This is not our church, but His. This is not my life, but His.


[1] Shelley Trebesch, Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader, Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1997.

[2] Ibid, p. 10.

[3] Ibid, 30-34.

About the Author

Julie Dodge

Julie loves coffee and warm summer days. She is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Concordia University, Portland, a consultant for non-profit organizations, and a leader at The Trinity Project.

11 responses to “Doing and Being”

  1. Miriam Mendez says:

    Julie, I hear your heart in your post! You write, “We TALK about love and faith, but then we separate it and turn it into an activity.” As you said, we focus so much on the doing, that we forget to simply “be.” Yet, as I write this, I wonder if we can separate “Love” from doing. You mention that love is not an activity—but did not God “do” something to show us his love—God sent Jesus. Did not Jesus “do” something to show us his love – Jesus died on the cross. I guess it’s a tension—doing for the right reasons—for LOVE—not simply doing to show off our talents, gifts, and abilities. Doing for the love of others and doing for the love of God. As you said, “this is not my life, but His!” Thanks, Julie for a very heartfelt post!

    • Richard Volzke says:

      I do not believe you can separate love from action, because without action, how can as humans understand love? Love without any display of that love is hollow and meaningless. As you have said, God sent His son to show us the ultimate act of love by dying for our sins. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). No person in human history has or can ever give as much, and save so many.

    • Julie Dodge says:

      Thank you Miriam. And you are so right, Christ indeed DID something. He died for us. He came back for us. If we don’t do anything, that’s not love either. If I sit and watch the burning building – I don’t call 911 or grab a hose or make sure everyone is safe – but I tell everyone I was praying for the situation. I’m not so sure that’s love. Sure – seeking God is good, but there is also that time to act. But as I think we agree, we need to act out of love because it is God at work in us, not us with a great master plan.

  2. rhbaker275 says:

    I processed many of the same thoughts as you have shared in reading Trabesch’s “Isolation.”

    Of course, the DMin program required a huge commitment and consumes a great deal of time, but in reality when I look at the weekly activities our small (under 50) congregation has on our calendar, I am overwhelmed! If I take an honest look at it, many of the activities are about me…ourselves. Would you agree that we bring much of the stress and conflict upon ourselves through self-centered “works” and always feeling pressured to support inward ministries?

    I think we do need to be isolated, alone with God if it means being stripped to who we really are – as you note “being” and humbled to acknowledge our unworthiness. To become intimate with God does require us to be stripped and to wrestle with – bread down the barriers that keep us from being who God wants us to be.

    • Julie Dodge says:

      I appreciate your comments, Ron. And yes, sometimes that stripping and breaking down is essential – not just for us as leaders, but as churches. Are we doing all this stuff because it’s supposed to be the right activities? Are we growing individually and as a church in our walk with the Lord? How do we know? And is it possible that sometimes the activities are perfect – but we are just tired. I think the challenge is intentionally entering into that quiet space with God to hear His voice and let Him shape our hearts. Even then, we may go through periods of silence, but even knowing that God is there even in silence, can go a long way in helping us discern His path.

  3. Michael Badriaki says:

    Julie, great post. I feel like we are at Starbucks and I want to share with you that I struggled with this week’s reading because although I have seen some of the benefits that might emerge out of isolation, I do not like isolation. I had a hard time with Trebesch’s idea ” … that the transformation that comes from isolation brings us from a place of doing to being”. I wholeheartedly believe that it’s God’s love that always holistically assures and affirms my being as opposed to isolation. I am loved and forgiven!! This is why I love your statement, “love is not an activity; it is who we are in Christ; it is Christ in us.”

    Thank you!!!

    • Julie Dodge says:

      Well maybe we need to go to Starbucks, then!

      So here’s a cultural/contextual theology question for which I don’t have the answer. As you wrote in your post, you grew up in community where people lived and shared and “saw” one another in a way quite different than western culture. Do you think Trebesch’s analysis is shaped by her western culture? Or do you think that the same principles of isolation apply across cultures? Her writing mirrors St John of the Cross, but he also was a western figure. I’m curious about your thoughts on this…

      And really – coffee.

  4. Julie,

    Thanks for your honest post. Appreciated that a lot.

    I too am not a great fan of this week’s reading, though I also see its importance. But she is speaking to full-time ministers, not to tentmakers like you and me. That is why I struggled with the reading on one level. Personally, I see the Body of Christ being a lot larger than just those who work full-time in churches and seminaries. So although I agree that it is important to talk about “Isolation” experiences, I also think it is important to talk about the whole enchilada, not just about the “chosen few elites.” That is just the sense I took away from the reading.

    The missing ingredient from fruitful ministries today, in my view, is humility. When humility is gone, what does one really have? I wonder about this often. “Successful” churches and ministries sometimes make me squeamish. What is success in the Kingdom of God? It is not necessarily “Bodies, Bucks, and Buildings.” But so often, that is how success is measured. My wife and I recently went back to our little, struggling, imperfect church. We went back for many reasons that I do not have time to get into here. But one of the reasons I am glad we are back is that the pastor is truly humble and open to growing. To me, that is the sign of a truly successful place of worship. And, yes, she has had her share of Isolation — but that is also another story.

    • Julie Dodge says:

      Interesting thoughts, Bill. I didn’t get so hung on the Christian leader focus, because I’ve seen this happen in the lives of all kinds of people who just want to know God. I was talking with a colleague in the hall this week about it, and she talked about her time when she walked away from God. She acknowledged it as that choice. And then what brought her back. And it sounded a lot like what Trebesch highlighted. That said, I thought at times she was a bit simplistic. But I love the result of transformation – humility – that same quality you respect in your pastor. I also wonder how much of this process is part of normal human development, and that if we go through our maturing in God’s grace, perhaps this just happens to all of us? And as Erikson so noted, when we struggle with different developmental challenges, we just aren’t as … happy. Our insecurities drive us. So I wonder if this is just one way that God helps us all grow up (throughout our whole life), and we have to make the choice of whether to trust Him and walk with Him through that life long refining/growing process.

  5. Julie appreciate your openness regarding this weeks reading. As you stated everything we do must be done in love. And as you stated we often talk about love and faith but then we do separate it and turn it into an activity and yet even when those activities are helpful we have to be cautious not to rely on them for the answer. Isolation is a very realistic thing and a very helpful thing. I recall sitting across the table from many Chinese leaders who had been in prison, some up to 20 years, they each spoke of the fact that they were running too hard too much “doing” and not enough being. God used the imprisonment to call them back to their first love. That love of been with Jesus not trying to work for Jesus.

    There is an incredible tight rope walk and tension that both the Bible and the ministers of Jesus must learn to walk. Though Trebesch listed out things to do to increase the productivity of isolation I took the list more as a forewarning that all children of God will go through and here are some helpful things to do when you find yourself in isolation times.

    The balance between doing and being is such a struggle that even when we speak of pursuing God and “burying ourselves in prayer, seeking the Holy Spirit, and recognizing that these are not our plans but his” we have just gotten into a list of doing. Then we have theologians/authors who will print books on the best way to bury ourselves and prayers or of the top 10 list to seek the Holy Spirit.

    I find it a bit odd that we in our generation try to help others through the example of the Saints of old as to what they did, yet they did not have a list nor a book on isolation to guide them. They simply walked with God and now we try to pick apart that walk so that we might follow the same steps, as if there was some type of formula to the being in the doing.

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