Attentiveness and Practices in Christian Ministry

By: Cassidhe Hart
July 25, 2014

It was a rare and beautiful moment—200+ leaders of all ages from churches, seminaries, and community organizations stood quietly, breaking up the energetic conversation and brainstorming that marked the day, and waited at their empty dinner tables with their hands on their stomachs, breathing deeply and consciously and attending to the presence of God in their breath. Infrequently do we pause in the midst of our regular lives, much less in the full schedule of a conference, to ground ourselves in the present moment and in our nearness to our Sustainer. My own mind was filled with the common issues articulated that day by my fellow young adults: the desire for spaces of openness, the call to listen to all ages whole-heartedly, the fear of failure that keeps us from being vulnerable and innovative.
When introducing the day’s work to us, FTE staff Chris McCain made these three requests—be present, listen attentively, and be open to new possibilities. Later on during lunch, visionary Elaine Heath spoke about cultivating a loving, prophetic voice. She talked about growing a contemplative stance in the world and named the following as necessary parts of that stance: 1) showing up to myself, God, others 2) paying attention 3) cooperating with God’s already present work 4) releasing the outcome. As I reviewed my notes from these talks, I noticed the similar themes between her list and McCain’s, themes that address my fellow young leaders’ dreams and longings. Show up. Be fully present. Listen carefully. Be open to God’s unpredictable presence and unexpected outcomes. In short, continually hold this question: where are you giving your attention?

The work of prophetic leadership begins with attending carefully the Spirit’s movement—in our life circumstances, in our fellow Way-walkers, and in our own spirits. We must bring our whole selves to the process of leadership—our unlikely dreams, our vulnerabilities, our fear of messing up—and name the parts of ourselves we would rather keep hidden. Only then do we create the sacred, prophetic space where everyone is welcome. We must hear the voice of God in those around us. To listen to someone fully is to recognize and receive the image of God in that person. We must examine and offer up our preconceived images of what being the Body of Christ looks like. If our deepest-held convictions aren’t being challenged, then we may not be truly following Jesus.

The Christian Leadership Forum provided space for all of us to re-focus our attention. Our task now, as we continue to discern how carry the work of the Forum forward, is to further cultivate prophetic attention. None of the activities mentioned above will happen quickly or automatically; they require practice. As young adult leaders, we are often surrounded by talk of skill development, resources and assets, networking and bridge building. These things are all necessary. But the Forum revealed to me a need for daily practices that deepen and sharpen our attentiveness to the movement of the Holy Spirit—practices that lengthen our breaths and ground us in the moment. How can we nurture practices that help a leader to show up, listen well, and open up to the ever-present God of the unexpected?

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