Introductory Note:

As applications come in for the next cohort of the Renovaré Institute, a student asks Director of Education, Carolyn Arends, “Is there any chance we’re going to eventually find out some terrible secret about one of the leaders in this program?”

Carolyn takes the question as a jumping off point for writing about spiritual practices that help keep leaders immersed in honest, accountable relationship with God and with their fellow disciples. These “rhythms of God-connection and relentless transparency” are imperative not only for those in the ministry spotlight, but for all of us who hope to be credible witnesses of the Kingdom of God.

Renovaré Team

Car­rie was a new stu­dent in the Ren­o­varé Insti­tute, a two-year Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion pro­gram I over­see. She’d asked to meet over Zoom.

I antic­i­pat­ed dis­cussing the typ­i­cal stu­dent enquiries about home­work and logis­tics. But the catch in her voice told me her ques­tion was about some­thing more serious.

She swal­lowed hard and asked, Is there any chance we’re going to even­tu­al­ly find out some ter­ri­ble secret about one of the lead­ers in this program?”

I hadn’t antic­i­pat­ed her ques­tion, but I imme­di­ate­ly under­stood it. There had been a dev­as­tat­ing spate of fall­en Chris­t­ian lead­ers in the news and the rev­e­la­tions had left her heart­sick. If a skele­ton was going to come out of one of our men­tors’ clos­ets, she’d rather stop the learn­ing before it began.

Togeth­er, we unpacked the ques­tion. Car­rie wasn’t ask­ing if our teach­ers and the authors we read were per­fect. She just need­ed to know they weren’t liv­ing split or self-con­tra­dict­ing lives.

She under­stood the fail­ure of some­one who pro­fess­es to fol­low Christ does not inval­i­date the claims of Christ Him­self. But our pro­gram emphat­i­cal­ly affirms the pos­si­bil­i­ty of trans­for­ma­tion, of becom­ing increas­ing­ly whole and holy through coop­er­a­tion with the Spir­it. So, Car­rie need­ed to know if the peo­ple mak­ing that claim could be relied on to embody it.

I con­fess I wasn’t sure what to say. I deeply respect the authors we assign and the lec­tur­ers we invite, and they are, to a per­son, the last folks I’d expect to have hid­den lives. But the sober­ing fact is only God knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:10).

Still, after a pause and a prayer, I told Car­rie I thought our teach­ers were a rea­son­able risk for two reasons.

First, each of the folks we’ve asked to teach about Jesus have sought to emu­late the lifestyle of Jesus. They’ve paid atten­tion to how often, in the Gospels, we see Jesus step­ping away from His pub­lic work to con­nect with His Father. They’ve endeav­ored to move toward the slow, rela­tion­al pace in which He con­duct­ed His demand­ing ministry.

As a result, these teach­ers have woven such deeply entwined cords of soli­tude, silence, wor­ship, prayer, and fel­low­ship into the fab­ric of their lives that it would be dif­fi­cult for them to become unrav­elled with­out either them­selves or their com­mu­ni­ty notic­ing. These habits and rhythms don’t make them bul­let­proof. But they sure help.

I’ve noticed this same prin­ci­ple in the life of my (now retired) pas­tor Bri­an Buh­ler. When Bri­an was 35 he received his first post as a senior pas­tor. He invit­ed author and pro­fes­sor Mark Sen­ter III to come preach at his church. Fol­low­ing Mark’s ser­mon Bri­an pro­nounced the benediction.

Proac­tive­ly cul­ti­vate the rhythms of God-con­nec­tion and relent­less trans­paren­cy that will make you a cred­i­ble wit­ness for others. 

As peo­ple were min­gling,” Bri­an remem­bers, Mark walked up to me, plac­ing his hands on my shoul­ders. And then he spoke these words. Bri­an, I don’t know you at all, but I can see that you have gifts for pas­toral min­istry. Don’t ignore the spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines. If you do, no one will know for 20 years. But in 20 years every­one will know.’”

The folks I can trust are peo­ple who, like Bri­an, under­stand their nat­ur­al gifts will only take them so far. They’ve put the nec­es­sary dis­ci­plines in place to keep them healthy in the long run, for the sake of their souls and the good of others.

The sec­ond rea­son, I told Car­rie, that I have a high con­fi­dence lev­el in the integri­ty of our men­tors is because of the supreme­ly high val­ue they place on trans­paren­cy. They under­stand self-decep­tion is a real and present dan­ger. So they’ve imple­ment­ed rou­tines like the prayer of exa­m­en (a dai­ly review before God’s lov­ing gaze), spir­i­tu­al direc­tion ses­sions and the cul­ti­va­tion of gut-lev­el hon­esty in their clos­est friend­ships. They’re quick to apol­o­gize and the first to acknowl­edge their own struggles.

They don’t pre­tend they nev­er stum­ble. But they do all they can to walk in the light” (1 John 1:7).

My hope in this col­umn is not to com­mend the lead­er­ship of the Ren­o­varé Insti­tute, but to urge you, dear read­er, to proac­tive­ly cul­ti­vate the rhythms of God con­nec­tion and relent­less trans­paren­cy that will make you a cred­i­ble wit­ness for oth­ers. Guar­an­teed, there are Car­ries in your life who des­per­ate­ly need to see a lover of Jesus who can say, with­out irony, Fol­low me as I fol­low Christ” (1 Corinthi­ans 11:1).

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Faith Today.

Pho­to by Jyotir­moy Gup­ta on Unsplash

Text First Published December 2021 · Last Featured on January 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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