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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

I Sure Wish There Was Another Way

Written by: on March 2, 2017

Introduction

Shelly Trebesch, author of Isolation:  A Place of Transformation in the Life of A Leader, states, “Our studies indicate that leaders need 3-4 renewal times over a life time.”[1]  I started doing the math and felt a little better about the path I am on.  When framing “life” in terms of “renewal” and “transformation”, it sounds therapeutic and inviting.  But that is the furthest thing from the truth when you throw in the word “isolation”.

Two times that isolation and transformation hit my life was in 2005 and 2013.  2005 I navigated through a failed transition of a mega-church in Nashville.  2013 was what Trebesch called, “Isolation due to sickness or an accident – here leaders are set aside from ministry because of sickness or some type of injury…”[2]  June 23, 2013 I was diagnosed with bi-lateral pulmonary embolisms and pneumonia.  This episode in New Jersey (while on vacation with our family) almost took my life and then incapacitated me for almost three months.

 

Summary

Trebesch clarifies the operative words of her title:  isolation and transformation.  She likens “isolation” to the wilderness or desert.  “During a desert or wilderness time, one is removed from his/her normal, daily routine or home and isolated from friends and family.  A person in a desert time may not feel the presence of God, and it may seem that he/she is alone in a dark and foreign land.”[3]

The word “transformation” is what we all want, but seldom want to pay the price to get there.  I agree with Trebesch that, “Seasons of isolation bring character transformation.”[4]  I sure wish there was another way to accomplish that.

In simplistic terms, Trebesch states that the journey to transformation has the following components:

  • There are two types of isolation – voluntary and involuntary
  • There is a four-fold process that a leader goes through during isolation:
    • Stripping
    • Wrestling with God
    • Increased Intimacy
    • Release to Look Toward the Future
  • Three Fruitful Results of Isolation Experiences:
    • Inward Transformation
    • Spiritual Transformation
    • Ministerial Transformation[5]

Analysis

I felt like I was reading my life during the two above mentioned moments in my life of 2005 and 2013.  Now being years the other side, I know that Trebesch is telling the truth.  As she said so aptly, “It is crucial to note that God never leaves anyone in isolation indefinitely, and when one enters isolation, God’s faithful character provides everything needed to endure the experience.”[6]   I will clarify that while you are in it, it feels like an eternity that you question if it will ever end.

Of special note to me was the reference to leaders leaving their positions.  My dissertation on transitioning of the senior leader played heavily into this.  “During a season of isolation, leaders are no longer the pastors of the church, the president of an organization, or the campus minister.  The Lord removes the various identities that ministry places upon a leader and strips the leader to the core of who he/she has been created to be (the identity that the Lord places in him/her).”[7]

At times, one’s identity can come from what we “do”, not who we “are”.  A senior leader can have a successful run at leading an organization, but at best all of us are interim.  I have had the privilege to work with several retired ministers and heard their heart on the feeling of emptiness.  They weren’t bad people, they did not know what to do with the isolation that they felt.

Trebesch states, “After the ministry identity is removed, feelings of insecurity, depression, and emotional pain may follow.  Leaders in this state question who they are and long to have the external identity again.”[8]  That is when something rises up in me and says, “I Sure Wish There Was Another Way”.

 

[1] Shelley G. Trebesch, Isolation:  A Place of Transformation in the Life of A Leader, (Altadena, California:  Barnabas Publishers, 1997), 33.

[2] Ibid., 31.

[3] Ibid., 9.

[4] Ibid., 15.

[5] Ibid., x.

[6] Ibid., 49.

[7] Ibid., 37.

[8] Ibid., 37.

About the Author

mm

Phil Goldsberry

9 responses to “I Sure Wish There Was Another Way”

  1. Thanks for sharing your two experiences with isolation. I hear you about wishing there was another way….
    1. If you had to repeat one of those experiences again, which one would you choose?
    2. How is this book making it’s way into your research?

    • mm Phil Goldsberry says:

      Aaron:
      1. As hard as it may sound…..both! The lessons were entirely different.
      2. This book is going to be crucial. Trebesch did a great job on isolation, especially in light of when a leader is taken away from his environment. It will definitely be a winner.

      Phil

  2. Phil,

    I sure wish there was another way as well. After all the experience, would you go back and do anything different during the isolation or the exit out of the isolation? Would you stay instead of leave? Would you be vocal or would you be silent?

    One of the concepts that I found interesting in the book was to stay in community even while in isolation. I am convinced that our five year journey of education with this close group of community has enabled me to do ministry effectively. The best place of isolation that I have found is on the beach of a desert island with a chair and community. It seems to help me stay centered. The conversations there are very honest and raw. What about you?

    Kevin

  3. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Kevin:
    There are times I wonder what would have happened if I would have fought in Nashville. I had a close group of friends outside/inside the church that knew the in/out of the circumstance. They just loved on Pam and I and it was the catalyst for us to embrace the next stage of life.

    The close five-year community has also been my sanity too. It’s not the “partners in suffering”, it’s the honesty and transparency that keeps you rooted in reality. Sometimes it is just the “kick back” moments that bring sanity.

    Phil

  4. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Phil,

    When you navigated what you call “a failed transition,” and experienced that isolation, were you tempted to leave the ministry? Did that event cause you to doubt your call at all? Can you point to one or two things that enabled you to successfully experience the isolation and learn lessons from it?

    I ask this because I had one tough period of looking for a new position for five years (I was still employed in ministry through it), and being deeply discouraged. I’m grateful God’s faithfulness kept me moving forward.

  5. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Phil,
    As you suggested throughout your blog, there’s always the issue of identity that leaders must embrace. While isolation strips us of various identities, it is also a critical stage in our spiritual maturity. I’m always reminded of how Jesus was called into isolation after His baptism, but He also separated Himself at different points throughout His ministry. Personally, there are always those moments of stripping in my spiritual growth. Some of those moments are tolerable, while others are challenging. Nonetheless, God orchestrates the process.

    Garfield

    • mm Phil Goldsberry says:

      Garfield:

      Thank you for the comments. Jesus is the greatest example that propels us to deeper understanding. As has been said many times in the past, God is truly more concerned with our character than our comfort.

      Phil

  6. Phil,
    Great blog. You said, “The word “transformation” is what we all want, but seldom want to pay the price to get there.”
    In your years of ministry, how do you keep a perspective of transformation even during the trials?
    Jason

    • mm Phil Goldsberry says:

      Jason:

      The key is to never lose sight of the “call” and not live by the “burden”. Burdens come and go but the call never leaves.

      Phil

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