Leadership Lessons from the Soul of Moses based on Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton

Leadership Lessons from the Soul of Moses

Encased in a body that you recognize in the mirror, your soul is the “you” that’s always been there peering back from your reflection. It’s the part of you that infuses all the roles you play (parent, spouse, friend, leader, employee), and it’s what makes those roles uniquely yours. Your soul is the place where you and God meet–or where the empty spot resides when you are sensing God’s absence and wishing things could be different.

Chances are if you live in the crucible of ministry, you’ve given some thought to your soul-ish self, and maybe you’ve even felt the danger of losing touch with your real self in the course of a day’s work. Jesus is the One who introduces the idea that a soul is something we can misplace:

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”  (Matthew 16:26)

This is more than just an academic concern, for the spiritual leader leads from the soul, but it’s easy to lose track of one’s own soul in the care and feeding of the souls of others. Ruth Haley Barton felt the insidious slippage in her own ministry and gathered lessons from the life of Moses as a lifeline back to herself and a vibrant relationship with God. Her gleanings have been re-released in the expanded edition of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (Transforming Resources).

The training of Moses’ soul for leadership did not begin on the day he and 600,000 former slaves departed from Egypt, or even in the harrowing days of appearing before Pharaoh. Moses’ journey began much earlier when he fled his familiar surroundings, took himself out of the action, and landed in Midian to escape the murder charges he would have faced back in his home town. The forging of a life-giving connection with God was a lifelong process for Moses, and it will be also for present-day leaders who are willing to ask the probing question, “How is it with your soul?” and to live their way into a meaningful answer.

Leaders Are Refined by the Word of God in Solitude and Silence.

Barton describes Moses’ childhood as “convoluted” (36) and his unrefined, pre-Midian leadership style as “reactive and out of control.” (38) Fleeing was Moses’ first step into a solitude in which God used the days and years to “deepen [his] wounds into wisdom.” (58) God employed the burning bush to get Moses’ attention, modeling the necessity of “turning aside to look.” (58) In the silence and solitude, God spoke, and it was the Word of God that gave direction.

Today, as we take His Word with us into our silence, He will reveal insights we would miss in a hurried and distracted reading. Just as Moses caught sight of the bush out of the corner of his eye on an ordinary day and had the good sense to turn toward it, our own great sightings of God are likely to come because we’ve taken the time to turn in His direction and then to hear His Word when it comes.

Your Calling May Emerge from the Uniqueness of Your Life Story

Moses was initially derailed by his anger, but, ultimately, it was this passion for his people and his strong sense of justice that allowed him to transcend the person he had been on his way to becoming a leader God could use. Rather than fighting against or undoing your authentic self, you may find that, like Moses, in your leadership role you become even more of what God created you to be.

A Leader Learns Wisdom and Restraint by Waiting

Lesson by excruciating lesson, Moses learned to wait for God’s next word. Barton refers to the spiritual disciplines with the engaging term “spiritual rhythms,” noting how each is balanced by an opposite: work and rest; silence and word; engagement and retreat; stillness and action. The stressors of leadership drew Moses deeper into relationship with God. When a leader has learned to wait for God in the darkness, she is on her way to learning the wisdom of restraint that waits for God’s next directive when the way is not clear.

Wise Leaders Operate within Limits

As satisfying as it is to feel indispensable, it’s an expensive luxury. Moses’ father-in-law set him straight on this, advising him in the wisdom of delegation and exposing his responsibility to train other spiritual leaders. If you are experiencing irritability, restlessness, compulsive overworking, emotional numbness, escapist behaviors, or are feeling disconnected from your soul and unable to tend to normal human needs, examine your life for signs that you are exceeding your own limits.

Sustenance for Ministry is Found in Prayer

Just as Moses stood between God and his fractious people, so the praying leader lifts the concerns of others before God, and contrary to popular Christian culture, this intercessory ministry is the greatest gift we bring to our fellow believers. Barton offers helpful insights that address my own tendency to pray prescriptively, as if it were my duty to advise God of all the possible outcomes, and then to help Him in choosing the best one. As we pray, we are reminded over and over again of our own inadequacy to be for our much- loved colleagues in ministry all that the Lord can be for them.

Leadership Is Often Characterized by Loneliness

Because a leader often sees what others do not see and is called to persevere in the face of criticism and discouragement, the life of a leader is characterized by seasons of loneliness. Moses found companionship in God, and refused to take one step in the direction of the Promised Land without the presence of God. Sustained for the long haul of leadership by a vision of God’s goodness, Moses found too that the loneliness of leadership keeps the leader always seeking.

Whether leadership for you involves guiding a half dozen women in a friend’s living room or standing at the helm of a multinational non-profit, for the believer, leadership is spiritual, and it is soulful work. God invites leaders into the crucible of ministry as a soul-strengthening experience, and then He meets us there in the deep and tender places. True spiritual leadership originates in a soul that is making its home in Christ.

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (Transforming Resources), simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thank you, as always, for reading and for your soul-strengthening encouragement,

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

42 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons from the Soul of Moses”

    1. Oh, that’s such a sweet thing to say, and I would add that maybe that’s what Ruth Haley Barton had in mind as she walked readers through the life of Moses and her exhortation to pay attention to the state of our souls.

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  1. I should have guessed you’d be sharing a Ruth Haley Barton book, friend! Her books Invitation to Solitude and Silence and Spiritual Rhythms profoundly influenced me and bolstered my spiritual journey! Love this review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Outstanding book and review, Michele! I resonated with everything here from when I was in full-time ministry and most especially the last 4 years before I retired. It is hard to describe what happens and how much it impacts you. I was not fully aware until I retired and began to slowly sense a return of who I was before those last 4 years. I could so easily explain why I was experiencing what I was during those last 4 years and why it was a necessary sacrifice. It was only after retirement that I became aware of the extent of the sacrifice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, that’s chilling that you had to rediscover your self after those last 4 years. It’s wonderful that you realized what was happening in your innermost self in time to stop and let God turn things around!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The political side of a church staff and the drama connected with that added to the needs of a congregation of 1,200, overseeing 8 ministries, and being the professional counselor on staff might give you a glimpse of why. More meetings than you can shake a stick at…most in the evening after a full day’s work and requirement to attend twice a month elder’s meetings at 6am before a full day of work (bit to mention church activities on the weekends where staff attendance is expected). There was also the pressure of being a minority on staff…the only woman and Caucasian added to the dynamic. (There were women in support roles.) I served on this staff for 13 years😊

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      2. I can’t even begin to imagine!
        It’s disappointing to me whenever politics and ministry collide, but I guess it should not be surprising since the only people who are available to fill ministry roles are sinners. I can see why you would have had to take careful stock of your own soul in that season.

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  3. This book review is purely awesome. “Fleeing was Moses’ first step into a solitude in which God used the days and years to “deepen [his] wounds into wisdom.” I have felt that it resonated with my life story although I am not a leader. God used the years to deepen my wounds into wisdom and my unique story is what helps me to blog today.

    What a blessed book by Ruth Barton

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There are rich truths in this post that we all need to understand. Sometimes those times of silence seem like a punishment of sorts – yet, God is working mightily through them. Leadership is a HUGE responsibility and takes an incredible amount of training. A lifetime!

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  5. These are some great points about leadership. It is true, leadership is such a huge responsibility and it takes a lot to gracefully lead others with love. Thank you for sharing this and for linking up over at GraceFull Tuesday!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Michele, what a wonderful post!

    You get to review some meaty, thought-provoking books! This sounds like it was a great read. This part below really spoke to my heart, because it’s so true.

    “The forging of a life-giving connection with God was a lifelong process for Moses, and it will be also for present-day leaders who are willing to ask the probing question, “How is it with your soul?”

    Even for those of us not in a ministry leader role, we need to evaluate how our souls are, really, from time to time, don’t you think?

    Great post, friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a wonderful review, Michele – rich with nuggets like this: “The stressors of leadership drew Moses deeper into relationship with God. When a leader has learned to wait for God in the darkness, she is on her way to learning the wisdom of restraint that waits for God’s next directive when the way is not clear.” I recently rolled off of women’s ministry leadership at our church and it sounds like I would resonate with this book!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What an insightful post about leadership! I can only imagine how much wisdom can be gleaned from reading the book this post is based upon! Thank you for sharing it with us this week at Encouraging Word Wednesday. I love this thought: “our own great sightings of God are likely to come because we’ve taken the time to turn in His direction and then to hear His Word when it comes.” Wow. I’m going to let that sink in and soak it up today. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There are so many ways we can miss this: “Today, as we take His Word with us into our silence, He will reveal insights we would miss in a hurried and distracted reading.” May I remember today to seek some silent time with the Living Word and listen for his wisdom. Thanks, Michele.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great truths here, Michele. This resonated with me, “Because a leader often sees what others do not see and is called to persevere in the face of criticism and discouragement, the life of a leader is characterized by seasons of loneliness.” My husband and I have experienced this and seen it in the lives of others. This looks like a valuable resource.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad that you and your husband have each other. I know that my own situation has been rescued more than once by the faithful love and presence of my husband who knows me well — and loves me anyway!

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  11. Congratulations! Your post was my feature pick at #WWBlogHop this week. Visit me at https://www.marilynstreats.com on Tuesday evening to see your feature! All hosts choose their own features from the comments left on their blog so be sure to stop by and see your feaure. I invite you to leave more links to be shared and commented upon. Please be sure to leave your link number or post title so we can be sure to visit!

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  12. Such great wisdom in this post! I will have to let my husband know about this book. As a wife of a husband in ministry, it is so important to allow the Lord to refresh our souls. Looking at the life of Moses is a great way to remember these important truths! Thanks for linking with #BVN!

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