As district church planting director for my denomination I was really enjoying the ministry! Talking with leaders, both pastors and others, who showed some interested in see an new church planted was not a chore, it was invigorating. And then, quite involuntarily, God threw a curve ball. Move to Hungary? As a Christian and Missionary & Alliance person I was very supportive of missions, but I was 50 years old and figured my time for that was well behind me. During the next few months I did go through an abbreviated time of isolation. It was a paradigm shift (culture and ministry) that I was assessing. Long story short, God made it unmistakably clear that I was to go. The process was important. I clearly heard God’s call which would later be reaffirmed beyond doubt to me and to others, but I also heard that I should not go because I was too old (from my own denomination no less) and that missions was better left to the professionally trained missionary.
After serving for eight productive years in Hungary I went through another isolation period. I decided to move back to the US, take an employment opportunity which would allow me to scale back my ministry and also give me the opportunity to build a retirement fund. What looked like a wonderful opportunity turned into a nightmare. The result was an isolation period that left me not knowing where to turn to nor what to do. I decided to take some proactive measures. I began a doctoral program and quite interestingly, the overseas ministry grew beyond my expectations. I am still in transition. But I have hope. At 64 years of age I did not think that I would be ‘starting over again.’ But, in many ways that is what I am doing.
Reading Shelley Trebesch’s book was like reading bullets out of my biography, not that I have always navigated the isolation process with flying colors! But she identified the dynamics that one does experience. Previous to this book I would not have identified my transition from church planting ministry to mentoring and discipleship as a transformative period. But it was! During my second period of isolation the ministry that grew was not church planting, but mentoring and discipleship. This caused me to take a look at what God had done in my life and was doing. It seemed as if the church planting had been stripped away revealing a deeper identity regarding mentoring and discipleship. This did and is giving me revitalized hope for future ministry.
I really appreciated Shelley’s six ways to embrace isolation for positive results:
- Be honest, not only intellectually but emotionally
- Remember God’s work in your life, his call, his purpose, his promise
- Hope, perspective
- Get a mentor
- Listen for God
- Embrace isolation
I want to elaborate on two issues that I think bear affirmation. Shelley encourages getting a mentor. She encourages one to interview several and determine who you can respect and listen to, who can identify with you and connect with you. This must not be downplayed! Both expertise and relational capacity and connection must be present! And if only one of the two is present, make sure it is relational capacity! If push comes to shove, you can find expertise in another. The need to talk through, to bounce ideas, to verbalize hurts and dreams uninhibited is crucial. Relational capacity and trust are paramount requirements for a mentor for this purpose.
Second, I want to affirm Shelley’s focus on how a leader must move from a performance or positional identity to an identity that comes from our being. Not that we end up ‘being’ without working or doing, but that our ministry begins to flow from who we really are rather than from an egocentric performance identity, a false aspirational identity. Indeed, this only takes place after our aspirational identity is broken and counted a failure. Then we can begin to function out of who we really are and our new transformational self based on the image of Christ in us.
In conclusion, Shelley’s theme of encouragement to the leader to be prepared for isolation because it will take place is very apropos. It has happened a number of times in my life and is taking place even now.