Canopies of Restoration
When someone asks me what I’ve learned as a CEO of two ministries, I quote Bobby Clinton’s The Making of a Leader (NavPress, 2012): “Leadership flows from being.” For good or ill, who I am is how I lead.
Many of the leaders Clinton studied lived the narrative known as “The Hero’s Journey,” in which a regular Joe (or Jane) is living their regular life and—kapow—circumstances compel them toward a bigger-than-they-are calling. If Jane accepts the crucible, she invites metamorphosis that can enliven self and others.
Similarly, through my own unexpected journey, I’ve found three life-giving rhythms worth sharing. These three root me in being—and becoming—more of the leader, friend, wife, mom, sister, neighbor and servant through whom God can shine for good.
There I was – a wife of a youth worker, a mom of three kids and a management consultant. And then the phone rang with an invitation to speak at a national conference. This speaking invitation eventually led to serving as CEO of one of our nation’s largest women’s ministries (MOPS International). It came so unexpectedly that my husband and I refer to the change process as “God’s cosmic tweezers.”
As part of accepting the role, I started seminary, which required me to write my first Rule of Life, a prayed-over plan of spiritual disciplines by which I hoped to thrive. My first version included 10 activities I felt were noble, from reading through the Bible, to exercising 20 minutes a day, to serving as a room parent for my daughter, to dating my husband, to praying over a picture of each staff member and logging their prayer requests on 3 x 5 cards.
That summer, as often as I could, I sat in my back yard in a white Adirondack chair, toes in the grass, hanging out with Jesus.
Like our hero, Jane, I embraced the stretch. After I applied all I’d learned as a Christ-follower and Fortune 50 strategist, the recession came, imploding ministries left and right. I praised God that MOPS did not implode; Best Christian Workplaces Institute instead said we were “poised for a breakthrough.” But while the ministry perched for a breakthrough, my soul inched toward a breakdown.
That summer, as often as I could, I sat in my back yard in a white Adirondack chair, toes in the grass, hanging out with Jesus. I read of his life pattern in these excerpts from Hebrews 12:1-3:
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured… Consider him who endured… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
While I’d served with everything I had, Jesus’ serving intrigued me: it was both sacrificial and renewing. As I sought God in the sunshine, basking in Scripture, I took out my Rule of Life and simplified it to just three practices: Remain, Relate, and Restore-y:
- Remain in Jesus – Annually now, I pick up Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (IVP Books, Revised/Expanded, 2015) to spot my spiritual “season.” I choose disciplines that help me stay close to Jesus now, and plan these into my daily, weekly, and quarterly schedule.
- Relate to God, my family and my faith community – In my doctoral research on how we serve, give and grow spiritually, I learned that we grow best in community. It’s countercultural to break outside our individualism so I use my weekly planner to prioritize four relationships: 1) God, 2) family 3) faith community, and 4) my mission field.
- Restore-y where and how God calls me, uniquely, to serve – I seasonally fast and pray to ask God to show me my part in his restoration plans—only my part. By nature, I’m a possibility thinker, but I ask God to show me my boundaries. As I choose limits, I notice I live more from overflow, less from overwhelm, and I invite those around me to live more fully from their signature, “restore-y” roles.
So, it’s true: Leadership does flow from being. And remaining, relating and restore-y-ing guide me toward being, and becoming, a leader God blesses to bless. Rooting may appear unseen, impractical even. But God multiplies my digging deep to establish canopies—of shade, food, rest and restoration—for me and those I lead. God creates the flourishing; my job is to simply return anew.
Dr. Naomi Cramer Overton is President and CEO of Stonecroft Ministries. She smiles about family, researching (Fuller Theological Seminary) and leading (World Vision, Compassion International and as CEO of MOPS and now Stonecroft Ministries). Since 1938, Stonecroft has inspired, equipped and encircled hundreds of thousands to find new life in Jesus, where they are, as they are.