My life changed in 2006 when Bishop Jonathan Keaton invited me to be a district superintendent after thirteen years of pastoral ministry at First United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Never could I have imagined that I would have the opportunity to come alongside clergy in a way that would engage their gifts, encourage their ministries, and empower their congregations to grow in grace and hope. Actually, I was scared stiff! I had served congregations of all sizes but wasn’t sure how all this would all work. Plus, I recognized that I would deeply miss being a local church pastor.
One thing I did know, however. I wanted to lead from my heart. I distinctly remember taking an evening walk in early July of 2006, which had become a daily practice. For several months before I began my ministry as a district superintendent, I realized that I would need to find a way to stay regularly connected with eighty clergy and hundreds of laity. That night I decided to create a weekly blog called Leading from the Heart that would be sent out by email to clergy and anyone else who wanted to subscribe. My hope was that my words might be a source of encouragement and inspiration to clergy and laity alike. More than six hundred blogs later, I want to share a few brief excerpts from my first three blogs.
July 11, 2006
In the summer, I have a practice of taking a walk every night that I am able. As I walk, I vow for this to be a time to let God speak to me through the beauty of God’s good creation. I don’t power walk. I simply wander along, opening my eyes and heart to all that surrounds me. At times, I replay the events of the day and ponder issues of concern. However, I try to quickly clear my mind so that I can make room for God’s presence to surround me with joy.
Tonight, I was walking after 9 p.m., just as the sky was beginning to turn yellow and orange. As I gazed at the sunset, I thought to myself, “These are the most amazing clouds I have ever seen!” Wispy, swirling, dancing, grace-filled clouds, beckoning me to come out and play, reminding me of the promise of a Holy Spirit that blows where it wills, urging me to rest in God’s love and then go out to serve.
Walking, I am listening to a deeper way.
Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.
Be still, they say. Watch and listen.
— Linda Hogan
From July 18, 2006
The ancient Hebrews believed that the heart was more than just a physical organ. The heart was the crucible of a person’s true essence, whether that essence was good, bad, or in transformation. The heart, Lev in Hebrew, was the seat of wisdom, intellect, understanding, moods, personality, passions, and emotions. Most of all, it was within the heart that people truly met God’s word — where real knowledge and conversion took place.
When Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest of all, he built upon his Jewish heritage by replying that we need to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. For Jesus, loving God and others with our entire being is the source of the wholeness of life. It is the way of the heart. Unfortunately, what seems to be missing in much of our world today is even a little heart.
The desire of the head for more and more so dominates the heart that we forget that there is more to our heart than simply a beating muscle. We forget that in order to be a whole person, we need to do more for our heart than simply exercise it. Our hearts become so anesthetized that we can no longer feel. And because we are not able to reach out to our neighbor with passion and grace, we risk a broken heart ourselves.
Thousands of years ago, the Hebrews knew about the possibility of this type of heart. Why don’t you and I have this kind of heart? What’s stopping us? If we allow our hearts to lead us, what transformation might take place in our churches, communities, individual lives, and the world? I invite you to listen to and lead from your heart.
From July 25, 2006
Last week, for the first time in 25 years of ministry, I went to the health club on Sunday morning! I am now officially out of my normal Sunday routine. I did not need to be in church until mid-morning, so I decided to go for a swim. I admit I felt incredible guilt. I was looking around me all the time, afraid I’d run into someone I knew. I thought to myself, “This is not right! I shouldn’t be here!”
As I headed to the women’s locker room to hide, I heard a familiar voice, “Hey, Laurie!” It was Jim, who is Jewish. He broke out into a big smile and said, “I didn’t think I’d ever see you here on Sunday morning. Welcome to my world.” Actually, few people were working out that morning. Of course, I hoped that everyone was in church!
There are as many unchurched people in Grand Rapids as anywhere else in the country. You and I are called to reach people for Jesus Christ and not just stay in our sanctuaries and wait for them to come to us. At our church conferences this fall, I look forward to hearing how you are reaching out to your communities and making disciples for the transformation of the world!
Fifteen years after my first three blogs, I am still committed to leading from the heart. How might our world, our church, and our individual lives change if we all had the courage to follow the way of the heart?