When Prayer Is Hard (George Macdonald)

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My prayer-bird was cold – would not away,
Although, I sat it one the edge of the nest,
Then I bethought me of the story old –
Love-fact or loving-fable, thou knows’t best
How, when the children had made sparrows of clay,
Thou mads’t them birds, with wings to flutter and fold
Take, Lord, my prayer in thy hand, and make it pray.
George Macdonald

Prayer Is Sharing In God’s Power (Henri Nouwen)

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“Christ is the one who in the most revealing way made clear that prayer means sharing in the power of God. Through this power he turned his world around. He freed countless men and women from the chains of their existence, but also stirred up the aggression which brought him to his death.

Christ, who is fully human and fully divine, has shown us what it means to pray.

In Him, God became visible for the fall and rise of many”

-Henri Nouwen

My Clenched Fists (Henri Nouwen)

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Dear God,

I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!

Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?

Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?

Please help me to gradually open my hands

and to discover that I am not what I own,

but what you want to give me.

And what you want to give me is love,

unconditional, everlasting love.



Henri Nouwen

A Tribute to Max De Pree (Dr. Nathan Hatch)

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A note from Leighton followed by a tribute from Dr. Nathan Hatch of Wake Forest University:

I met Max DePree when he was chair of the search committee for a seminary president some years ago, and I was asked to serve as an “outside” member of the committee.

What I contributed was very minor. What I learned from watching this wise man lead and chair was major!

I commend to you his books Leadership is an Art, and Leadership Jazz
Most of us are privileged in life to meet a few people who lift our spirit, capture our imagination, and inspire us to become better at what we do and who we are. It is hard to say exactly how exactly they convey this gift, this charisma, but they do and for that we give thanks.

Max DePree was one of those beacons for me. I got to know him just at the time I was making the transition from active teacher and scholar to actual leadership as dean, then, Vice President, then Provost at Notre Dame. I was privileged to get to know Max, and to read his writings at the same time. I talked to Max about Fuller, and, as I joined the Fuller Board, came to experience one of his magnificent legacies in the health and dynamism of this body. I heard him give a seminar on not-for-profit boards to the trustees of Wheaton and I invited him to lead a retreat for leaders at Notre Dame. I took council with him in a time of personal stress and confusion; and found him wise and grace-filled. His advice, in person and imprint, shaped my thinking in powerful ways.

A number of lines from Max remain etched in my mind:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”

“Leaders don’t inflict pain, they bear pain.”

“Leaders owe a covenant to a corporation or institution.”

“Have we stopped hiring people better than ourselves?”

“Do we have a nose for stale air?”

“When was the last time I called to say thank you.”?

“Leadership is an art, a belief, a condition of the heart more than a set of things to do”

Why was Max’s vision of leadership so powerful? One reason was that there was such congruence between what he said and wrote and how he lived. T. S. Eliot’s once said of Charles Williams: “Some men are less than their works, some are more. Charles Williams cannot be placed in either class.[ He was] the same man in his life and in his writings.” Max was the same in his life and his writings.

In the introduction his recently published book of sermons, As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” Eugene Petersen writes: “ The Christian life is the lifelong practice of attending to the details of congruence—congruence between ends and means, congruence between what we do and the way we do it, congruence between what is written in Scripture and our living out what is written.” The congruence of Max DePree’s life commands our attention.

Max’s life and advice were also compelling because he envisioned leadership as an art. Talking about it was not in rules and dictums. Preparation for leadership, he wrote, does not come from books. What he offered was elusive hints and suggestions, colorful illustrations, provocative questions and powerful metaphors.

“Why isn’t a college like a symphony of Beethoven?”

“Success is fragile, like a butterfly. We usually crush the life out of it in our efforts to possess it.”

“Leaders and followers are all parts of a circle.”

“In a way, leadership is as delicate as Mozart’s melodies. The music exists and it doesn’t. It is written on the page, but it means nothing until performed and heard. Much of its effect depends on the performer and the listener. The best leaders, like the best music, inspire us to see new possibilities.”

A metaphor does something that the precision of a definition or an explanation doesn’t do: it insists we join the speaker and participate in the creation of fresh meaning. Metaphor activates our imagination.

Max Depree didn’t announce to us how to be a leader. He invited us to explore creatively the difficult and elusive calling of leadership: to build up people and organizations, which he saw as living and organic. Such a task was sacred because it involved the lives of invaluable human beings—“the sacred nature of personal dignity”– and was responsible to build around them institutions that could be havens. “A good family, a good institution, or a good corporation can be a place of healing.” He invites us into this task and expands our thinking about what it will entail. Max sought to infuse human organizations with life and vitality. And that was more like the work of artist or musician than that of a task-oriented or bottom-line manager.

I have suggested that Max was compelling because of the congruence of his life and message and because of his invitation that leaders take up their positions like an artist, with all the sensitivity, creativity, caution and solemnity that befits a holy calling.

A third, and related, reason that Max’s own leadership was so compelling has powerful relevance to our own day. How does someone with firm Christian belief go into the marketplace and lead organizations in all their complexity and diversity. In our own time, orthodox Christians have been much better building their own churches, schools, and not-for-profits than they have in infusing secular organizations, public and private, with salt and light. We are often better at retreating or combatting than in participating.

Max was called to lead a company, once family owned, that in his time became a public company. This drew him naturally into the role of breaking down sacred/secular distinctions. He came to model how a Christian leader speaks, acts, and leads in a secular organization. His deft approach eschewed any easy answer such as bringing a chaplain into the workplace. He was more concerned with the organic culture of the whole organization; and whether it operated in ways that allowed full human flourishing.

The principles that infuse Max’s writings—the responsibility of leaders to followers, the covenants and promises that leaders should show employees, the call to equity, fairness, and non-discrimination, the challenge of giving all people the freedom to expand their knowledge and creativity—these principles are an excellent primer for how to operate in the world with conviction and authenticity. These principles also point to how business can be a worthy calling, one that allows people and communities to flourish.

Max’s winsome approach had appeal far beyond the walls of the church. He demonstrates that the gospel is anything but narrow and crabbed. When graciously applied to human organizations of all kinds, the leaven of faith can bring life and wholeness to the core institutions of our society.

I am grateful that Max sees such promise in all human organizations, businesses, governments, not-for profit agencies, colleges and seminaries. His life and message call us, not to retreat wholesale from the world, however post-Christian it has become. Instead, we are to engage it with humility, longsuffering and patience, and with courage and hope. Max DePree wrote about his own experience at Herman Miller, taking everyone seriously, treating each person with dignity and respect. And he worked to mold Herman Miller into a humane organization. He also challenged not-for-profit organizations like Fuller Seminary to make music like Mozart or Beethoven. What a splendid calling. And what a powerful legacy.

Dr. Nathan Hatch

President, Wake Forest University


Photo cred: Modern Servant Leadership

Witnessing Is Seeing and Telling (Leighton Ford)

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“I can’t talk to anyone about Christ because God just doesn’t seem real to me

This is a genuine obstacle. Sharing Jesus Christ is not basically talking about a moral code, our church, or Christian philosophy. It is introducing people to a person. And we can’t introduce someone we ourselves have never met.

Timothy, Paul’s young protege, was apparently very timid. Paul shared with him the secret of his own confidence: “I am not ashamed because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim 1:7, 8, 12).

Witnessing is taking a good look at Jesus and telling what we have seen. The better I know him, the less ashamed I am.

The Holy Spirit enables us to know Jesus Christ, to have the same relationship to him the first disciples had. The Holy Spirit has been called “the applied edge of redemption”; he takes what Jesus Christ did for us twenty centuries ago and applies it to the reality of our lives today.


Leighton Ford


Adapted from Good News Is For Sharing (Revised edition, 2017, Leighton Ford Ministries).

Can We Ever Have Completely Pure Motives? (Leighton Ford)

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There have been moments in my own work when I have been preparing to speak to a group. At such times I have found that as I get quiet I also become troubled. The inner voice of God’s Spirit speaks to my conscience and reminds me of pride, or laziness, or impurity, or failure to pray or prepare. At moments like this, all I can say is, “My God, I come before you with mixed motives and an impure heart. I am a sinful man. Forgive me for Christ’s sake. Fill me with your Spirit, and use me just as I am”.  Then I stand and speak and minister, confident that only God knows my heart well enough to sort out the pure from the impure. I give him all I know of myself and ask his forgiveness where necessary. If I were to wait until I was one hundred percent sure that my motives were pure I would never speak or serve or minister! I would be completely paralyzed. Only one person was totally devoted to another’s cause, and that was Jesus Christ, my leader. Since he has graciously called me, forgiven me and included me in his family, I seek, however imperfectly, to serve his cause.


Leighton Ford


From Transforming Leadership (1991, IVP).

Peter on a ‘Different Way’ of Leadership (Leighton Ford)

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What follows is (part of) an imagined interview with Peter which seeks to bring out the key elements in Jesus’ style of transforming leadership development.

Interviewer: Thanks very much for agreeing to take the time to talk with me. I know you are a busy man and I will try not to take too much of your time.

Peter: You are welcome, and not to worry – I’ve got all the time there is. I really don’t think of myself as busy anymore.

I: Right. Now, Peter…on earth we are going through a transition right now. Many of our older leaders are getting ready to come and join you, and we have quite a crop of young ones coming along. We know the Lord left behind a first generation of leadership that has never been equaled. We want to find out how he did it…

P: Of course. But I have to make two things clear at the outset. First, he never called us leaders. He never used that word. “Disciples,” yes. “Apostles,” yes. Most often “servants”. Never leaders. Second, I am not so sure I would go along with you in thinking we were such a great crop. The raw material Jesus chose wasn’t that promising to start with. We missed the mark a lot. I know I made more than. My share of mistakes. I’ll let the others speak for themselves, but you know we didn’t always get along that well…

I: Peter, your words in 1 Peter 5:1-6

have been quoted again and again as a classic statement of the values of leadership. Give me a bit of background as to what was in your mind when you wrote that.

P: …I guess we were in a situation like yours. Many of us older ones had been around a long time, and we knew we weren’t going to be there forever. Our senior leaders, our elders, had been working a long time. Some of them were just plain tired and ground down and had lost their motivation. A few, I felt,  had lost the heart of their work and were just doing it because they were paid to do it. Some who had been in office a long time really were lording it over others.  They wanted everyone to bow to them and serve them and do what they said, and jump at their every order. At the same time, we had a crop of young turks coming along who felt that the older leaders had lost their vision and served their time and ought to step aside and let them take over. They had some great new ideas, but they were impatient, aggressive even, and if they could they would have pushed the older men into retirement.

Now, that’s not the kind of leadership I saw in Jesus…not what he taught us to be. We all had the same tendencies, but he taught us to think a different way.


Next week: Peter speaks of what it means to be a called leader.

Leighton Ford



Taken from Transforming Leadership by Leighton Ford. ©1991 by Leighton Ford. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426.





What Makes A Good Leader? (Leighton Ford)

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What makes a good leader, especially a transforming and empowering leader? The study of this issue has become complex, sometimes even confusing. As noted in chapter one, some students of leadership have focused on the traits of outstanding leaders, some on the situations which produce leadership, and others on the process by which leaders go about their task.

In my reading, I have been helped most by those who have talked with leaders, or those who follow them, to seek out the reasons for their effectiveness. So it occurred to me that it would be valuable if at this point we could include a case study of a leader developed by Jesus. The man whom I most wanted to consider was Simon Peter. Several reasons make him the prime candidate. Most obviously, he was Jesus’ own number one choice for a disciple. Also, he is mentioned and quoted by name far more than any of the other disciples – more times, in fact, than all the rest put together. Also, my primary reference…has been Mark’s account of Jesus, and we know that Mark was very close to Peter and used Peter’s preaching and recounting of Jesus’ story as the primary source for his Gospel.

Even more important, Peter was clearly Jesus’ own test case for his leadership development. After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, Peter emerged as one of the three most prominent leaders of the early church. Further, in his own writings Peter showed that he had absorbed and was passing on certain keys to leadership that he had learned from Jesus.

What follows is an imagined interview with Peter which seeks to bring out the key elements in Jesus’ style of transforming leadership development.

Later this week: Peter ‘speaks’!

Leighton Ford


Taken from Transforming Leadership by Leighton Ford. ©1991 by Leighton Ford. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426.


Is There Really A ‘Private Life’? (Henri Nouwen)

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We like to make a distinction between our private and public lives and say, “Whatever I do in my private life is no one else’s business”. But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for ourselves but for all people. That is why our inner lives are gifts for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life”


From Nouwen’s Bread For The Journey (1997, HarperCollins)

The Unexpected Power of Jesus (Leighton Ford)

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Jesus came from humble parents. There was little in his lineage or early life to suggest the kind of power his peers found in him. In fact, as one of the ancient prophecies had said, God’s leader would be a “root out of dry ground” (Is 53:2). In years to come the people of his hometown who had known him as a boy would be offended at this background. Whey they saw his miracles or heard his gracious speech they sniffed, “But isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Aren’t these his brothers?”…”We know his family”. That was all that needed to be said by those who dismissed his power.

Jesus’ authority was not something imposed on others, but rather a force he exposed. He was not one to strut around saying great things, pulling off tremendous miracles, demanding attention, even passing judgments (until he felt it necessary, towards the end). Rather, his authority was the exposing of an inner spiritual power that was released little by little – through words, actions, attitudes, and his very presence – until finally his character itself seemed to be as wonderful as his greatest miracle.

Jesus’ strength of character is demonstrated in many dimensions of his personality and experience: in purpose, speech, and balance; in spirit, in suffering, and in dedication.


From Transforming Leadership (1991: InterVarsity Press)