DMINLGP

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

Thriving in the Desert

Written by: on February 8, 2018

Our church no longer has a printed church newsletter.  Instead, we have an online newsletter on our website called “The Latest.”  In that newsletter we talk about things that are happening in the church, highlight ministries, and sometimes we even have book reviews.

Upon reading Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader by Shelley Trebesch, I came to the conclusion that this was a book that many Christians could benefit from.  That is why I asked for a few copies to be available in our church’s bookstore and I will be publishing the following article on our church website.

 

THRIVING IN THE DESERT

 

A recent internet search on leadership books produced titles like The Power of Positive Leadership, Fired Up, Leadership: Essential Selections on Power, Authority, and Influence, Shift: Creating Better Tomorrows: Winning at Work and in Life, Leadership Gold, Empowering Leadership, and Be A Boss.

 

A similar search for books about Christian discipleship produced titles of books including: Radical Christian Discipleship, Kingdom Disciples, Brave New Discipleship, Moving Mountains, Soar!, and Discipleship on Fire.

 

It seems to be a given that books on Leadership and Discipleship need to have titles that are positive or inspiring.  For this reason, I was surprised when the Christian leadership book Isolation by Dr. Shelley Trebesch was recommended to me. Many of the words used in the titles of these books (Soar, Power, Winning, Brave, Transforming, and Radical, are attractional words that make you think of success.  Yet, the word “Isolation” sounds like something that happens to you when you have a disease. It did not help that the book, published in 1997 to a very small publishing company, had the overall appearance of a book that you would see in a discount bin for 75% off.

 

Yet, as I delved into this powerful little book, I was amazed at how much meaning and depth was packed into a mere 76 pages.

 

As Christians, most of us have had “mountain top” experiences when we had a supernatural sense of God’s closeness.  Those times are filled with joy and excitement.  Yet, there are also times in our lives when we feel like we are in a spiritual desert.  During these times our hearts are heavy, and we may even feel like God cannot hear our prayers (or worse…is ignoring us).

 

When we face times of feeling like we are stuck, injured, or abandoned by God, the word “isolation” seems appropriate.  Yet, while most books that I have read view times of isolation as something to avoid at all costs, Dr. Trebesch makes a case that these times can be a critical part of our development as leaders (and as followers of Jesus).

 

In Isolation, Trebesch highlights the Biblical examples of Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and Paul as they each came out of a season of isolation and did mighty things for God.   Trebesch draws upon the life of pioneer missionary Amy Carmichael, who was severely ill for over 20 years.  Carmichael, who wrote extensively when she had to leave the mission field, gives us a perspective on how someone could grow spiritually while being (seemingly) unproductive.   A similar example was provided by the life of Chinese pastor, Watchman Nee.  Referring to Nee, Trebesch writes:

 

“The isolation profoundly influenced his theology, his relationship with God, and his identity as a Christian.” (Isolation, 46).

 

One of the most memorable illustrations given in Isolation is when the author’s grandfather invited her to help him strip and restore an old chair.   During this process, layer after layer of paint and stain was stripped away by chemicals and hard work.  The process was difficult and tedious.  Yet, when all of the old paint was stripped away, the bare wood exhibited a beautiful appearance.  In the same way, God sometimes sees fit for us to be stripped of our old, comfortable life in order to be molded into a person who has a much stronger faith.

 

Have you ever faced times of profound spiritual dryness?  Do you seek to grow as a follower of Jesus?  Are you a Christian who is seeking to be a greater influence for the Kingdom of God? Then I recommend that you pick up a copy of Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader by Shelley Trebesch.

 

 

 

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

About the Author

Stu Cocanougher

15 responses to “Thriving in the Desert”

  1. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yes Stu, I agree. This was a little book crammed with powerful concepts. Isolation is not a popular topic with leaders, but oh so real. I also found the illustration of her stripping the chair enlightening, but found myself worrying about the toxic fumes that could hurt her developing brain. I hope she wore a mask. Clearly, by her writing, no permanent damage done. The things therapists worry about in our isolation…
    Your pitch at the end should increase sales for her too. Thanks for the thoughtful and enjoyable post.

    • Stu Cocanougher says:

      The furniture stripping analogy is a good one for therapists. You see, it is MUCH easier to put another coat of paint on furniture than to strip it. It takes less time and a lot less effort.

      In the same way, it is easier for someone to “put a coat of paint” on past hurts, brokenness, etc. rather than to honestly deal with the past.

  2. Lynda Gittens says:

    Yep, Stu,

    Her illustration of stripping the paint reminded me of how hard it was to strip paint before they made the product to make it easier.
    The touch-up isolations are a lot more comfortable.

  3. Jim Sabella says:

    Stu, what a great thought to make this book available to others. Also, I appreciate your bringing out the point that some advise believers to flee from isolation at all cost and yet it can be a time of deep refreshing and learning about oneself, one’s relationship to God and to others. Enjoyed your post.

  4. Mary says:

    Stu, that’s really great that you are able to share this powerful book with others. I thought that too. What an important message for life in a short, accessible book.
    Shelley Trebesch is aiming at church leaders, but what about anyone with influence?
    Should our goal be a bigger ministry or more Christ-like life?

  5. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “Should our goal be a bigger ministry or more Christ-like life?”

    It is a well worn assumption that having a Christ-like life and having a bigger ministry are mutually exclusive. I am sure that there are good examples that might prove this.

    Yet, would the opposite be true? If someone has a ministry that is not growing, can we assume that that person is MORE Christ-like?

  6. Kristin Hamilton says:

    I think you are right, Stu, that this book is a very useful way to introduce the concept of isolation and wilderness experiences to people. It’s hard to believe that there is hope in desperation and Trebesch does a good job of showing that she has traced the hope through the darkness and is able to reflect on that hope. For people who are ready to dig even deeper, I recommend “The Dusty Ones” by Dr. A.J. Swoboda (a professor at PDX Seminary), and Mansions of the Heart, by Thomas Ashbrook. One can never have too much support in the dark night!

  7. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Living long-term in the desert, in a dry place, you realize you need to adapt to survive. Conserve water, think about how you’re using it (ie. flushing a toilet instead of hosing off a sidewalk). It’s easy to be so caught up in the hardship that you miss the beauty that’s only found in the desert. Like your video (beautiful), Joshua trees don’t grow in Indiana. Part of the dark night of isolation is learning how to adjust to a new reality, adapting.

    And I second Kristin’s recommendation of The Dusty Ones!

  8. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Stu what a great way to use this book to introduce isolation to others at your church. This article provides a good summary to the book. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  9. agar says:

    Stu, that’s really great that you are able to share this powerful book with others. I thought that too.

  10. Living long-term in the desert, in a dry place, you realize you need to adapt to survive. Conserve water, think about how you’re using it

  11. I think you are right, Stu, that this book is a very useful way to introduce the concept of isolation and wilderness experiences to people.

  12. agario mods says:

    For people who are ready to dig even deeper, I recommend “The Dusty Ones” by Dr. A.J. Swoboda (a professor at PDX Seminary), and Mansions of the Heart, by Thomas Ashbrook. One can never have too much support in the dark night!

  13. What an important message for life in a short, accessible book.
    Shelley Trebesch is aiming at church leaders, but what about anyone with influence?

  14. Our church no longer has a printed church newsletter. Instead, we have an online newsletter on our website called “Jasa Pasang CCTV Jakarta The Latest.” In that newsletter we talk about things that are happening in the church, highlight ministries, and sometimes we even have book reviews.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *