Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together


Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (Transforming Center Set). IVP Books, 2012.

Referenced in: Summary

In the introduction, Barton provides some important definitions. First, she says of discernment,

Discernment literally means to separate, to discriminate, to determine, to decide or to distinguish between two things. Spiritual discernment is the ability to distinguish or discriminate between good (that which is of God and draws and closer to God) and evil (that which is not of God and draws us away from God). (10)

Second, of leadership:

There are many qualities that contribute to good leadership, but it is our commitment to discerning and doing the will of God through the help of the Holy Spirit that distinguishes spiritual leadership from other kinds of leadership. (10)

Third, of corporate leadership discernment:

Corporate or leadership discernment is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God as a leadership group relative to the issues we are facing, and to make decision in response to that Presence. Spiritual leaders are distinguished by their commitment to discern important matters together so they can affirm a shared sense of God’s desire for them adn move forward on that basis. (11)

Then she adds:

It is hard to imagine that spiritual leadership could be about anything but seeking to know and do the will of God, and yet many leadership groups do nto have this as their clear mandate and reason for existence. (11)

To help with this, Barton designed this book to be a “one-stop-shop for leadership groups who wish to become a community for discernment.” (13) She divides the book into two main sections, though section one comprises two-thirds of the book. Section One is on Preparation, because she believes “preparation is more important than the process.” She says,

“If leaders and communities of leaders are prepared at the levels put forth in this book, discernment will happen even without a process. Conversely, if leaders are not prepared on the levels described here, there is a good chance discernment won’t happen even when they engage the process; there are too many human dynamics that will get in the way.” (14)

The chapters break down this way:

  • Chapters 1-3 focus on the spiritual preparation of each individual leader, addressing the inner obstacles to spiritual discernment, helping leaders to commit to discernment as the group norm.
  • Chapters 4-8 address the preparation of the leadership group as a community for discernment.
  • Chapters 9-12 describe the process of leadership discernment, giving groups a chance to begin exploring it together.

One helpful piece is in chapter 3, where she says, “five foundational beliefs are the building blocks of a sound discernment practice.”

  1. Spiritual discernment, by definition, is a process that takes place in and through the Trinity. It is the Spirit that interprets the deep things of God to us. (1 Cor. 12:12) Corporate discernment presupposes commitment to Christ, who leads the church at its Head, and the real presence of the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us into all truth. (53-54)
  2. The impulse to discern - to want to respond to Christ in this fashion - is in itself a “good spirit” that needs to be cultivated. A desire to move beyond intellectual prowess and self-effort is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work. (54)
  3. Deep belief in the goodness of God moves us to trust him with the things that that are most important to us. This goes beyond believing in God’s goodness as a general attribute, but very specifically believing that God’s will is the best thing that can happen to us under any circumstances. (54-55)
  4. Love is our ultimate calling - love for God, love of self, love for others and love for the world (cf. Matthew 22:37-40; 1 Corinthians 13; 1 John 4:7-12). She says, “this is easily lost in the press of church and organizational life.” She calls for leaders to ask what love might be calling them to do in their situations. The Holy Spirit can help us discern what love requires. (55-56)
  5. We are committed to doing the will of God that is revealed to us. She quotes Chuck Olsen and Danny Morris that “the question of willingness must be answered before the process of discernment begins: Are we willing to do God’s will before we even know it?” (See Discerning God’s Will Together) (56)

This text is written in a thoughtful, hopeful, pastoral tone, and helps leaders desire, envision, and practice the kind of oneness with God’s mission that spiritual discernement affords. Each chapter ends with a series of reflections and exercises for groups to do together.

**For a summary, click here for the Kindle Version, go to right column, and download the free sample. If you don’t have a free Kindle Reader on your computer, there’s a link for that too.

Publisher’s Description

Meetings can sap our energy, rupture community and thoroughly demoralize us. They can go on forever with no resolution. Or they can rush along without consensus just to “get through the agenda.” What if there was another way?

Church boards and other Christian leadership teams have long relied on models adapted from the business world. Ruth Haley Barton, president of the Transforming Center, helps teams transition to a much more suitable model—the spiritual community that discerns God’s will together.

In these pages you will discover personal and group practices that will lead you into a new way of experiencing community and listening to God together.

About the Author

Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center, a ministry dedicated to strengthening the souls of pastors, Christian leaders and the congregations and organizations they serve. [] A sought-after teacher, retreat leader and trained spiritual director, Ruth is the author of numerous books and articles on the spiritual life.

Educated at Northern Seminary, the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation and Loyola University Chicago Institute for Pastoral Studies, she has served on the pastoral staff of several churches including Willow Creek Community Church and is Professor of Spiritual Transformation at Northern Seminary.

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