Rhythms of Grace: Life-Saving Disciplines for Spiritual Leaders. By David O. Williams. Barclay Press, 2017. 138 pages. $14/paperback.
An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence. By Alan Fadling. IVP Books, 2017. 174 pages. $20/hardcover; $15.99/eBook.
Many clergy and spiritual leaders in the United States suffer from burnout. Friends serving in leadership and ministry roles, whether in unprogrammed meetings or pastoral Friends churches, can also experience stress and overcommitment.
Two recent books offer help for spiritual leaders in long-term service. Both are interesting and potentially valuable to Friends. Both books offer a combination of statistics, personal testimony, contemporary and Bible stories, and suggested practices to improve the situation for spiritual leaders.
The first is An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence by Alan Fadling, a longtime pastor and more recently the founder of an organization in California called Unhurried Living. The other is by a Friend, David O. Williams: Rhythms of Grace: Life-Saving Disciplines for Spiritual Leaders. Williams serves as general superintendent of Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. The book is published by Barclay Press, the Evangelical Friends publishing house in Newberg, Ore., which has taken on interesting new directions under the recent leadership of Eric Muhr.
Williams’s book is brief and to the point, and flows with a graceful rhythm in keeping with the book’s title. He details the perils of “spiritual heroism,” which many Friends in leadership or ministry roles may be tempted by. It is comforting to be reminded that Biblical leaders, such as Elijah, were imperfect yet were able to reconnect with God and continue the work to which they were called. Williams also tells his own powerful story of how he came to realize God is always present with us, which transformed his loneliness into an appreciation for solitude.
Williams reorients the reader to a more grace-filled rhythm of life, starting in solitude with God, moving into action and back to solitude, as modeled by Jesus. Life-transforming disciplines he recommends include physical refreshment, spiritual renewal, and vocational realignment to stay grounded and vital in the work.
Fadling offers a variety of techniques to slow leaders down, so they can take time to commune with God before moving into action. Friends are often aware of the power of contemplation plus action. Fadling’s unhurried approach serves as a timely reminder for Friends today to reconnect with the Source of that life and power we seek. Even as life in the United States today often lends urgency to taking action on any number of issues, this unhurried approach is timeless. For example, Fadling frequently quotes Quaker authors Thomas Kelly and Douglas Steere, who addressed similar urgencies in the twentieth century.
Of particular note to me was the chapter “Prayer as Primary Influence.” Fadling admits he used to pray for specific outcomes for people, and now he prays for the people themselves to coöperate with what God may already be doing in their lives. As a result, “I experience holy energy rising up from within me to do good work.” Friends serving as meeting or committee clerks would benefit from such holy energy rising up within them, too.
Readers should be aware that both books are written for a Christian audience. I believe they have valid insights and advice for individuals who do not identify as Christian as well.
If the issue of overcommitment speaks to your condition, I highly recommend reading Williams’s book and, if you have time for a deeper dive, Fadling’s as well.