Shelley Trebesch—Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of A Leader
Shelley Trebesch’s expertise in organizational leadership development is reflected in her professorship at Fuller Theological Seminary, and her role as consultant, mentor, and seminar leader to Christian organizations around the world. In this work, she demonstrates the necessity for Christian leaders to experience periods of isolation focused on God, allowing Him to shape and transform their lives, their ministries, and their relationship to Himself.
Trebesch defines the isolation process in Christian leadership development as, “The setting aside of a leader from normal ministry involvement in its natural context usually for an extended time in order to experience God in a new or different way.”  She identifies two basic ways isolation experiences are initiated—voluntarily or involuntarily. “Voluntary Isolation refers to isolation experiences which are basically expected, which happen to a leader by his or her choice, which the leader usually has some control over and which usually involve expected shaping activities.”  Leaders may opt to enter voluntary isolation as a “self-choice for renewal; self-choice for education or training; or self-choice for social base purposes in which the presence of God is practiced in the mundane routines of the day.”  “Involuntary Isolation refers to isolation experiences which are basically unexpected, which happen to a leader not by his or her choice, which the leader usually had little or no control over and which usually involve negative shaping activities, ”  such as “sickness or injury; imprisonment; organizational discipline; and war or natural disasters.” 
During voluntary and involuntary isolation, Trebesch relates, “leaders undergo four processes: stripping; wrestling with God; increased intimacy wit God; and release for the future.”  Stripping the leader of their ministry identity is usually the first step in the isolation process. Trebesch asserts that “The Lord removes the various identities that ministry places upon a leader and strips the leader down to the core of who he or she has been created to be, the identity the Lord places in him or her.”  The stripping process uncovers the leader’s deep need for God as they question their values and who they are. For leaders who are willing to go through this process, an honest wrestling with God occurs next.
In the wrestling state, leaders turn to God for answers to their identity questions. They realize that all life culminates in an honest, intimate, relationship with God. “During this time God affirms leaders for who He has created them to be, not for what they can accomplish in ministry. This severs the ties to having identity through successful ministry, and leaders realize satisfaction in being in the presence and loving arms of Jesus.”  For a Release to look toward the future one must wait until God leads him or her out of isolation, so as not to hinder the refining/transforming process. At the proper time, the Holy Spirit permits exit from the isolation period and a return to ministry.
According to Tresbesch, “Isolation produces three kinds of transformation: (1) inward transformation; (2) spiritual transformation; (3) ministerial transformation.”  Leaders undergo inward transformation through the brokenness experienced in isolation. Spiritual Transformation is evidenced in leaders who have a deeper, more intimate relationship with God and engage in life and ministry with true spiritual authority. Ministerial Transformation results in leaders who listen to the voice of God and trust God’s leading in the isolation process. “These transformed leaders turn to the true Source and Sustainer of ministry—Jesus Christ—trusting in His creativity to inspire effective fruitful ministry.” 
This small book offers a wealth of information about staying attuned to God’s purposes. It reminds leaders that the sovereign God is in charge of all ministry. He molds, shapes, and transforms leaders to be all that He created them to be to carry out His agenda in ministry and not their own. He sometimes has to place leaders in the crucible of isolation to refine and transform them and rid them of the dross that hampers His ministry manifested by human leaders.
The practical value of this book for leaders is Trebesch’s assumption that 95 percent of leaders will likely experience a season of isolation; it has happened to leaders in the Bible and throughout history. So, Trebesch has done a thorough job in preparing leaders for its occurrence by providing them with the tools to understand its purpose and process. It is essential to know that God is behind the isolation process and He will empower leaders during the difficulties of isolation and bring them out of it in due season. The primary purpose for the isolation process is for leaders to develop a deeper relationship of intimacy with God and be transformed by Him as He frees them from the things that prevent them from being all they were created to be.
Additionally, Trebesch informs leaders how to heighten their development in isolation, by being proactive in embracing all that God has for them while in isolation. That means determining in advance to go deep with God and know His purposes during isolation. It entails being honest with God regarding the burning questions of the heart during seasons of isolation. Examining motivations for ministry and barriers to its fruition. Trebesch advises leaders to also, “Use the isolation period to reflect on your spiritual gifts and natural abilities—Who is God creating you to be as a leader?”  She encourages leaders to go deep into God’s Word and reflect on who He is. Listen for the voice of God. Be aware of God’s presence continually and have hope in Him. She emphasizes that it is important to seek God and seek transformation while in isolation. Set goals for personal growth and spirituality while in isolation. Trebesch’s book is valuable for all leaders sincerely seeking God’s transformation in their lives and ministry.
- Shelley Trebesch, Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of A Leader (Altadena, CA.: Barnabas Publishers, 1997), 10.
- Ibid., 32.
- Ibid., 30.
- Ibid., 31.
- Ibid., viii.
- Ibid., 36.
- Ibid., 42.
- Ibid., 49.
- Ibid., 54.
- Ibid., 59.