How I changed focus
The presence of God has become the main thing for Duncan Clark – but that wasn’t always the case.
I’ve changed. I’m not the leader I once was. In my 20s I was focused on my PURPOSE.
My goal was to discover why God had given me the gifts, skills, personality and opportunities I had been given. I wanted to ensure that I lived from a sense of calling; that I was clear about my assignment, and that I was purpose-driven.
In my 30s I began to focus on my PERFORMANCE. I wanted to be the very best leader I possibly could be, and I wanted to be better than those around me. I became consumed with numbers and statistics. Those numbers and statistics informed my identity; how I felt about myself.
In my 40s something shifted. I began to focus on PRESENCE. His presence. My primary goal became creating a way of life and leadership, as well as a church culture, where the pursuit of the presence of God became my ‘one thing’. I started to create healthy rhythms where I would arrange my life around practices and activities that fostered a deeper intimacy with God.
To be clear, I still have a definite sense of purpose, and a God-given assignment. I still work hard, and want to maximise the gifts and opportunities I have been given. But there has been a less-than-subtle change in how I try to live and lead.
PERFORMANCE-DRIVEN leadership has its benefits. It gets the job done. The organisation advances. It elevates the leader into the limelight. The leader gets the applause. It creates energy, momentum and movement.
But there’s a dark side too.
When I was solely performance-driven I found my mood go up and down depending on the stats. I found my drive for excellence easily tipped over into perfectionism, and I became easily irritated when my performance (or the performance of others) wasn’t faultless. I found that I would be drawn into comparison and competition with other leaders and other churches. I would get the job done, but my heart suffered.
Learning to live a PRESENCE-LED life has changed me. It’s changed how I lead. I’m learning to stay in my lane and love the assignment I’ve been given rather than comparing my calling to the guy who has a greater influence than me. I’m learning to lead from a posture that is devoid of fear, panic and striving. I’m learning to be the non-anxious presence in the room. I’m learning to lead from sonship rather than slavery. I’m learning to live from a foundation of gratitude and thanksgiving, rather than complaint and grumbling.
If you’re looking to make a similar shift, can I suggest a few things that have helped me:
1. Create life-giving rhythms
I came to the helpful realisation that ‘I become what I repeat’ – that my heart would be shaped by my habits. And so I became very intentional about building devotional rhythms into my life that connected me to the loving presence of my heavenly Father. I appreciate that a daily quiet-time is not as ‘fashionable’ as it once was, especially for those who want to be more spontaneous, but I found that it was unlikely that I would just drift into living a presence-led life, and that it would take the creation of intentional daily, weekly and monthly rhythms on my part.
Prayer, silence, journaling, meditating on Scripture, started to take a prominent place in my new healthy habits.
2. Befriend silence
As a leader, I use a lot of words. I write a lot of words. I speak a lot of words. I give the lead in team meetings. I speak to groups. I give talks on platforms.
Even though I'm more of an introvert than an extrovert, I still talk a lot. I've learned that the more I am called upon to use words, the more stillness and silence I need. Some days it's a struggle because my mind is prone to wander, but as part of my devotional rhythm, I've learned to spend 5-10 minutes in silence and allow myself to become aware of the presence of God within me.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech”.
3. Choose thanksgiving
On this journey of change, one of my primary lessons has been the importance of living from a posture of gratitude. We “enter the gates with thanksgiving”.
The access-point into the presence of God is thanksgiving. I've learnt to be very intentional about starting my day listing the things I'm grateful for and acknowledging God's goodness in my life.
I know it's a basic discipline, but it's so easy to drift into a life of grumbling. I've found that speaking out words of thanksgiving disarms the enemy (because he wants me to believe my Father is stingy); it breaks discouragement and dispairs from my life (because I start to focus on the good things I've been given as a gift); and it prevents me falling into the comparison trap (because I find delight in the assignment I've been given, rather than comparing the assignment with an assignment somebody else has been given).
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name”. (Psalm 100)
If you are seeking to lead a presence-led life, I would love to hear from you. Let me know what has changed for you. I want to hear from you too.
Who is Duncan Clark?
Duncan is Senior Minister at Elim Coventry and a member of Elim's National Leadership Team. He is married to Helen, and they have four children, Ben, Hannah, Daniel and Ruby. Check out pastorduncanclark.com for further details.
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