Does Time With God Make You a Better Leader?

Establishing your own Scripture engagement practices

It’s hard to lead people where you’ve never been.

That’s one of the most important lessons I learned in my first decade of ministry as a pastor of a young church in Washington, DC. It’s hard to cultivate a community of authentic relationships if I am not willing to be vulnerable or, at least, appropriately transparent. It’s hard to cultivate a diverse and welcoming community if I am not willing to listen, treat others as equals, and even change the way I do things. It’s also hard to cultivate a community of mature Jesus-followers if I am not committed to my own growth in being a disciple.

The grind of life and ministry is real, and it’s easy to settle into a survival mode of simply getting done what needs to get done, not because I’m lazy or uncommitted, but because there are so many other things to do! It’s tempting to fall back onto an attitude of “do as I say, not as I do” rather than the apostle Paul’s exhortation: “Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). When I catch myself only picking up my guitar when I am about to lead worship, or only opening my Bible when I am about to preach, I know my spiritual life is off-balance and something needs to change.

Participating with God

One of the things that has been helpful for me is the idea of rhythms: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly practices or habits for spiritual formation. For some, this is nothing new: a daily quiet time or devotional in which one might read the Bible, pray, and journal, is but one example. Indeed, I was taught to do this as a teenager.

But practices and habits can easily become stale if I lose sight of the why, the reason I’m doing them. It makes a world of difference to me when I remember that Scripture and prayer are two of the ways I tune myself in to the presence of God rather than simply for the purposes of crossing something off my list, gaining biblical information, or even being ‘a good pastor.’

These rhythms are shifting my understanding of ministry from a frenetic busyness necessitated by all of the needs I see to a purposeful activity stemming from a rootedness in Christ, overflowing from—and part and parcel of—the Spirit’s work in me. Especially in an environment like Washington, DC, where everything is geared toward what we’re doing, I have to first learn how to be—how to attune my awareness to God’s presence.

As human beings, we are created to learn and grow and mature, and this requires intentionality and effort; we do not drift into discipleship or into maturity. One of the foundational agents of change for me has been the Bible, and discovering new ways of engaging with Scripture has helped me cultivate a heightened sensitivity to God’s presence.

Establishing Rhythms

Here are a couple of ways to engage with Scripture that I have found helpful for my own spiritual life—and thus my formation as a leader. As I follow these rhythms, I have been able to better lead others down a now familiar path.

Engage Daily

One Scripture engagement tool is Lectio Divina (sacred reading), a practice that has been used by Christians for over 1,500 years as a way of reflecting and meditating on Scripture. One way of looking at it is as a combination of prayer and reading the Bible. What I appreciate is that it forces me to slow down, to create space for silence and listening, and to dive deep into a short passage. In reading this way, I am seeking not only information but transformation.

There are four parts to Lectio Divina:

  1. Read/Listen. Read aloud a short passage of Scripture. As you do so, listen for the word or phrase that speaks to you from the passage. What is the Holy Spirit drawing your attention to? What is the text saying?
  2. Meditate. Read the passage again. Repeat aloud the word or phrase to which you are drawn. Make connections between it and your life at this point in time. What is God saying to you by means of this word or phrase? What is the text saying to you?
  3. Pray. Read the passage a third time. Take your thoughts, meditations and ideas and offer them back to God in prayer, giving thanks for God’s guidance and resting in God’s love for you. What is God asking you to pray? What do you want to say to God?
  4. Contemplate. Read the passage one final time. Move from the activity of prayer to the stillness of contemplation. Simply rest in God’s presence. Stay open to God. Listen for God. Listen to God. Remain in peace and silence before God. How is God revealing himself to you? What difference will this text make in your life?

Engage Weekly

Every week, my team begins our staff meeting with a devotional time. Everyone takes a turn leading, so it isn’t just the pastors doing all the teaching, and we have time for everyone to share responses or how it applies to their current life situations. In doing this, we all get to hear from different perspectives and cultivate a culture of learning from one another.

Engage Yearly

Each year, I try to engage the Bible in a different way. One year, I may use a devotional, which provides short passages for me to read each day; the next year, I may use an app like Pray-As-You-Go, in which the daily passage is read a few times; another year, I may use the lectionary readings; and every few years, I read through the whole Bible, using a reading plan like Robert Murray M'Cheyne’s. Each approach offers a fresh perspective on familiar material, as if to shine a light on Scripture from many different angles.

I grew up in a church that emphasized the importance of studying the Bible, but I wasn’t taught why I should, only that I should. That approach led to a familiarity with Scripture but didn’t motivate me to continue engaging with it when I outgrew the structures of my childhood. In other words, I learned how to mine Scripture for information but not the importance of reading the Bible for transformation. As leaders in the church, it is easy to communicate information about the Bible; submitting ourselves to the transformation God wants to effect through Scripture is harder and requires more intentionality, but is ultimately more life-giving, more energizing, and more authentic. It is my prayer that you would discover rhythms of engaging with Scripture that lead to life and transformation—for the sake of your own soul and for the sake of those you are privileged to lead.

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Justin Fung
Justin Fung

Justin Fung serves as the Pastor of Liturgy and Spiritual Formation at Christ City Church (christcitydc.org) in Washington, DC, having previously been part of the planting team and one of the pastors of The District Church. His passion is for discipleship and spiritual formation that is evidenced by justice and peace, particularly in multicultural, multiethnic, and multiclass contexts. Justin also serves as a board member for The Centre on Religion and Global Affairs (US), The Church Lab, and the V3 Church Planting Network, and is a speaker for the Growing Young Project. He lives with his wife, Carolyn, and their goldendoodle Asher Russell Rodgers, in the Trinidad neighborhood of DC.

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