8 Benefits of Silence and Solitude in a Leader’s Life

We leaders live in a world that bombards us with incessant visual stimuli and noise. And it’s easy to become addicted to such noise without even realizing it. Our so called time saving technology such as smart phones and high speed internet access relentlessly remind us that we can get more done in less time so we have more time to get even more done. As a result we are addicted not only to noise, but to hurry. As John Ortberg writes, “Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.”[1] Leaders desperately need what the ancients called silence and solitude to help us lead at our best. I suggest 8 benefits of building this discipline into your life.

John Ortberg tells a delightful story in Leadership Journal that describes how a pastor or a leader’s life can sometimes get out of whack.

Some time ago, a newspaper in Tacoma, Washington, carried the story of Tattoo the basset hound. Tattoo didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut his leash in the car door and took off for a drive with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice.

Motorcycle officer Terry Filbert noticed a passing vehicle with something dragging behind it, “the basset hound picking them up and putting them down as fast as he could.” He chased the car to a stop, and Tattoo was rescued, but not before the dog had reached a speed of 20-25 miles per hour, rolling over several times.

Leaders often live like Tattoo, our days mark by picking them up and putting them down as fast as we can.

Hurry and noise and incessant busyness are enemies of a healthy spiritual life.

I can attest to that. Yet, God does not want us to be controlled by nor conform to the noisy, hurried life that our culture and churches often push us towards. Some of the greatest spiritual leaders and influencers of the past said much about this practice.

Henri Nowen, who taught at Harvard, Yale and Notre Dame, and wrote 20 books said, “Without (silence and solitude) it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life.”[2] He also wrote, “It is a good discipline to wonder in each new situation if people wouldn’t be better served by our silence than by our words.”
 (The Way of the Heart)

The late Dallas Willard wrote, “(this one) is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life, and it must be returned to again and again as that life develops.”[3]

Blaise Pascal, the scientist and Christian thinker of the 1600’s wrote, “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own room.”[4]

Austin Phelps, a pastor in the 1800’s noted, “It has been said that no great work in literature or in science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude. We may lay it down as an elemental principle of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained by one who did not take time to be often long alone with God.”[5]

The Bible also speaks often on silence and solitude.

  • There is. . . a time to be silent … (Ecc 3.7)
  • Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. (Ecc 5.2)
  • Be still, and know that I am God…” (Ps 46.10)
  • Moses and Paul, some of the most recognized figures in history were transformed in times of extended solitude.
  • Jesus lived in a world of inner solitude and frequently experienced outer solitude. He was busy but was never in a hurry. Silence and solitude was Jesus place of strength.
    • Before he began his public ministry he spent 40 days in silence and solitude. (Lk 4)
    • Before he chose the 12, (He) spent the night praying to God.(Lk 6)
    • When he heard of John the Baptist’s death …he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. (Matt 14.13)
    • After feeding 5000 …He went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. (Mt 14.23)
    • He often… withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Lk 5.16)

Before I suggest 8 benefits, here’s a quick definition of each, as they are both cousins to each other. They both go hand in hand and without silence, solitude has little effect. In essence they are practices of NOT doing something–not interacting with society and people–withdrawing from human contact, voice, noise, phone, tv, radio, newspaper, etc… for a few minutes or a few days. The following definitions combine thoughts of Dallas Willard, John Ortberg, and Richard Foster. When I speak of silence and solitude below, I will speak of them as one thing.

  • Solitude: The practice of temporarily being absent from other people (in isolation or anonymity) and other things so that you can be present with God. Its not loneliness nor is it getting away from people just because we don’t like them. It’s more about what we do with our bodies.
  • Silence: The practice of voluntarily and temporarily abstaining from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought. It’s about what we do with our tongues, what we say.

Silence and solitude is a tool God uses to restore our souls by breaking engagements with the world. It is really more of a state of heart than a place. Granted, it does include awayness from others, but as you mature you can even be in a huge crowd and experience the rejuvenating power it offers. On the other hand you can become a hermit and never experience its power.

Here are 8 practical benefits of silence and solitude.

1. It (they) break the power of hurry, our addiction to a ‘have-to-do-this’ mentality.

 Willard explains it this way. The person who is capable of doing nothing might be capable of refraining from doing the wrong thing. And then perhaps he or she would be better able to do the right thing.[6]

It helps create an inner space for us to become aware of what we are doing and are about to do.

2. It helps renew our souls. 

Francis de Sales who in the late 1500’s developed sign language to teach deaf about God wrote, “There is no clock, no matter how good it may be, that doesn’t need resetting and rewinding twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. In addition, at least once a year it must be taken apart to remove the dirt clogging it, straighten out bent parts, and repair those worn out. In like manner, every morning and evening a man who reallly takes care of his heart must rewind it for God’s service . . . Moreover, he must often reflect on his conditon in order to reform and improve it. Finally, at least once a year he must take it apart and examine every piece in detail, that is every affection and passion, in order to repair whatever defects there may be.[7]

The Bible speaks pointedly to this idea.

  • Be silent before the Lord God! (Zeph 1.7)
  • My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken. (Ps 62.5-6)
  • For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.’ (Is 30.15)

3. It reminds us that life will still go on without us

It interrupts the cycle of constantly having to manage things and be in control. It breaks us from a sense of being indispensable.

4. It clears the storm of life and mind for wise decision making and planning.

Luke 6:12-13 tells us that Jesus spend time in silence and solitude when deciding whom to choose as the disciples who would travel with Him. And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him; and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.

 5. It creates inner space to hear the voice of God.

God spoke to the prohet Elijah right after he had come from a power encounter with the Baal worshippers on Mount Carmel. He had fled because he heard that Queen Jezebel had placed a price on his head. He hid in a cave and God asked him what he was doing there. Then God told him to leave the cave and that He would speak to him. Elijah saw a storm and then wind and then an earthquake and then fire. Yet God was not in any of those. Rather, God spoke in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19.2).

We are usually surrounded by so much outer noise that it is hard to truly hear God when he is speaking to us.[8] Silence and solitude frees us from life’s preoccupations so we can hear God’s voice.

6. It allows us to disconnect from the world and deeply connect with our soul.

Henry Nouwen said, “In solitude, I get rid of my scaffolding.” And what is scaffolding? It’s the stuff we use to keep ourselves propped up be it friends, family, tv, radio, books, job, technology, work, achievement, our bank account, etc.[9]

 7. It helps us control our tongue

James 1.19 says, My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry….

Silence and solitude can free us from the tyranny we can hold over others with our words. When we are silent and yield to the advice in James, it becomes more difficult to manipulate and control the people and circumstances around us. When we practice silence we lay down the weapons of words. It often reminds us that we don’t need to say as much as we think we do. We find that God can manage situations just fine without our opinions on the subject.

 8. It helps us with the other disciplines

When we include silence an solitude it enriches prayer, Bible reading, and fasting.

What would you add to this list of benefits of silence and solitude?

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References:

[1] John Ortberg, The Life You Always Wanted, p 84

[2] Richard Foster/James Smith, Devotional Classics, p 95

[3] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, p 161

[4] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p 358

[5] Whitney, spiritual disciplines, p 194

[6] Willard, The Divine Conspiracy p 359

[7] Ortberg, The Life You Always Wanted, p 94

[8] Foster, Devotional classics, p 95

[9] Ortberg, The Life You Always Wanted, p 92

Are Your Critics Really Trying to Get Close to You

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about how to view problems in ministry and leadership through a different lens. A concept developed in the late 50’s and 60’s by a psychologist, Murray Bowen, has shed some brilliant light on the subject for me; so brilliant, in fact, that I wish I understood this concept 25 years ago. Had I learned it and applied it then, I could have saved myself a lot of grief as a pastor and as a father as I respond to critics. The concept is called family systems. Don’t let the title fool you, though. It’s not all about your immediate family. This concept has profound implications for leadership in the church.

One of the best writers on the subject, Peter Steinke, a Christian psychologist, wrote the book How Your Church Family Works. It’s a great primer on family systems that directly applies to churches.

At the core of family systems is understanding emotional process and specifically, how we manage our anxiety, a term used for any negative emotion. In one of Steinke’s chapters he writes about those who criticize us. When I read his two paragraphs I paused and said to myself, “Wow. I’ve never heard it put that way before.”

Read it below and tell me how it hits you.

Pursuit behavior is any behavior that overfocuses on another person….

By far the most difficult form of pursuit behavior to recognize is criticism. How can those who act adversarially be said to be in pursuit? We feel alienated, not close. But the criticism is characterized by overfocus. The “stinger” and the “stung” are emotionally connected. Whenever a gnawing critic gets inside our brain cells and we can’t expunge him, we are connected, even if negatively. Whenever someone gets under our skin, we are infected with anxiety. If we are reactive to a pursuer, the pursuit behavior achieves its goal: connection. Strange as it sounds, the critic wants to be close. After all, if we can’t be close through play, ecstasy, touch, and nurture, our only option to accomplish closeness is through angry outbursts, specious charges, or harsh accusations. People feel close to us when they know we are thinking about them. What we think is not as important as that we are thinking of them. We play into the hands of the criticizer when we react to their invasion rather than define ourselves to it. (p 88 of How your Church Family Works).

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

10 Ways to Respond to the Church Critic

How to Deal with Criticism

27 Questions to Ask Before A Pastor Takes a New Job

When a pastor considers a move to a new church setting or any leader considers a new job, he or she should do whatever is possible to define reality.  As Max Dupree, leadership guru and writer said, “The first job of a leader is to define reality.”

When I’ve considered a new ministry change, I’ve sought answers to key questions. And over the years I’ve compiled this list of 27 questions (actually 30) to ask a search committee and/or your future boss. If you’re moving into a non-ministry setting, you’ll want to tailor your questions to your unique setting.

  1. Why me? What about me interested your committee?
  2. What stories of God’s moving do people still tell?
  3. What’s not going well that needs changing or needs to go?
  4. What are the burning issues?
  5. What are the biggest obstacles facing the church?
  6. What’s missing?
  7. What significant events, both successes and traumas, have marked your church’s history?
  8. How has your church responded to traumas and crises?
  9. How would your community describe the church?
  10. What do you most hope that I will do?
  11. What are you most concerned I might do?
  12. What are the major obstacles I will face?
  13. What ministries are struggling? Which ones are shining?
  14. What will be deemed a success under my leadership?
  15. How do you see the church in 1, 3, 5 years? What kind of growth do you expect?
  16. Describe how you see our working relationship?
  17. What should I focus on? What should be my priorities?
  18. How is the current staff moral?
  19. What is your expectation for my spouse?
  20. What were the previous pastor’s strengths and weaknesses?
  21. How was his or her relationship with the staff and board?
  22. What do you wish he had done differently?
  23. What problems seem to recur in your church?
  24. Does the church have any deep, dark secrets?
  25. Have any sins persisted in the staff or leadership?
  26. How would you describe the church’s tolerance for change?
  27. What has caused recent people to leave?

What questions would you add to this list?

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What to Look for in a Good Friend

God made us to be in relationship with each other. We were made for community and we all want good friends. But what do good friends look like? What do they do or not do? In the most intimate of the 13 letters the Apostle Paul wrote that help form the New Testament, Philippians, we see a portrait of what to look for in a friend. Consider these 5 behaviors that a good friend will consistently live out and ask yourself if you model them as a friend yourself.

In Philippians 1.3-11, Paul gives us this template for what good friends do. A good friend will…

  1. Remember the best in you (v. 3).
    • When Paul prayed for his friends in the church in the city of Philippi, his thoughts of them brought him great joy. He chose to focus on their good qualities, rather than upon  their limitations and weaknesses. He remembered their best.
    • What emotions and thoughts rise up in the minds of others when they think of you…joy, happiness, and peace or fear, worry, and anxiety?
  2. Give their best to you (v. 5, 7).
    • He said that he had them in his heart. He fully gave himself to them by giving them the deepest thing about himself, his heart. He used the word koinonia, which means deep partnership, as he described their strong, intimate relationship. Paul was not a relationship skimmer. Rather he gave himself fully to these special friends.
    • How would others describe you? A relationship skimmer or one who is willing to risk and go deep in friendships?
  3. Encourage the best in you (v. 6).
    • He was confident that God would finish the work that He had begun in them. He emphasized that truth and sought to bring out their best. Good friends will bring out your best. Liz Wizeman who studied 150 leaders and wrote Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter discovered that there are two kinds of leaders: multipliers and diminishers. Multipliers bring out the best in others by amplifying their strengths, encouraging them, and empowering them. Diminishers do the opposite. They drain you by having all the answers, micro-managing, and being self focused. Good friends will always seek to be a multiplier in your life.
    • How would others describe you: as a multiplier or a diminisher?
  4. Pray the best for you (v. 9).
    • Paul fervently prayed for his friends. He prayed that they would love Jesus and others more, would learn more about God, and would live out the truths of God’s Word in their conduct and character. Good friends will pray that those three things will become reality in their friends.
    • When you last prayed for your friends, what did you pray for them about? 
  5. Expect the best from you (v. 10-11).
    • Good friends will hold you accountable. They will tell you what you may not want to hear because they will expect the best from you. They won’t let you settle for what is just ‘good.’ They will challenge you to do and be your best.
    • What friend in your life holds you accountable? Do you have a friend that knows you will expect the best from him or her?

Good friends are rare. But when God gives them to us, they are worth their weight in gold.

What question above most resonated with you? Is the Holy Spirit prompting you to become a better friend?

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5 Essentials Google Discovered that Create Effective Teams

Google is ubiquitous. As the largest search engine, it has become a common term in our vernacular as, just ‘Google it.’ A couple of years ago Google assigned a team to discover ingredients for effective teams. Five key learnings surfaced from that study. In this post I’ve summarized them with a key question for each because they apply to ministry teams as well as to workplace teams.

Key ingredients that create effective teams.

  1. Impact: Team members believe that their work really matters.
  2. Meaning: Team members view their work as personally important to them.
  3. Structure and Clarity: Team members understand clearly their roles, plans, and goals.
  4. Dependability: Team members meet Google’s high bar of excellence including on-time delivery of projects.
  5. Psychological safety: Team members feel safe enough with fellow team members that they are willing to risk and be vulnerable with each other.

Which one do you believe was the most important quality? If you picked psychological safety, you were right. Although all were important, feeling safe with fellow team members mattered the most.

As I thought about that, it makes sense. Psychological safety seems to be the most interpersonal ingredient. If a job only entails spending time in front of a computer all day on a project that requires not interface interaction with others, it probably wouldn’t matter as much. But interpersonal relationships profoundly affect our emotional health and our spiritual health. That’s why the Bible talks so much about healthy relationships.

Here are key questions to ask yourself about each of these qualities as it relates to the teams you lead.

  1. Impact: When was the last time you asked your team members if they felt their work/ministry really mattered?
  2. Meaning: When was the last time you communicated to a team member how important their role and ministry was?
  3. Structure/clarity: Does each team member have a clearly stated job description and goals for the year that you co-created with them?
  4. Dependability: How well do you model excellence and the attributes you hope they will emulate?
  5. Safety: On a scale of 1-10, how safe do you think your team feels with you? This assessment is an excellent way to discover how safe your team feels.

Next week, pick one of these qualities and take 30 minutes to evaluate what you can do to improve that area.

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