A God’s eye view from the balcony

Posted Jul 25, 2013 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Chris Braudaway-Bauman


Chris Braudaway-BaumanLooking at the church and the world, at one another, and at ourselves with a God’s eye view is a primary purpose of clergy peer learning and support groups. I was reminded of this commitment when Rita Brock and Quinn Caldwell invited delegates at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ to reflect theologically on the familiar Gospel story of Jesus’ transfiguration—the time when Jesus climbed a mountain with his disciples and changed before their eyes. “All of a sudden,” Quinn recalled, “Jesus was shining like the sun, and his clothes were like lightning, and the clouds rolled in, ... and he was beautiful.”

Or maybe, as Brock and Caldwell suggested, what was beautiful was not that Jesus was changed by God, but that Peter, James, and John were. Perhaps they were the ones transfigured. Here on the mountain, after all the time they had spent with Jesus, the disciples were suddenly able to see and understand Jesus in a way that hadn’t before. They saw things in a new way.

“God’s vision.” This was the theme of the General Synod. Church members from across the country gathered to consider what it could mean for us to look at the world as God looks at the world and to order our lives accordingly.

This is the same perspective clergy are invited to take whenever they gather in a community of practice. Like Jesus and the disciples, pastors in peer learning and support groups take time regularly to step aside, to go to the mountain top, where they have the opportunity to examine their lives and ministries and perhaps to see them in a new way.

Ron Heifetz, Marty Linsky, and Alexander Grashow, authors of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, speak of the importance of leaders taking time to step off the “dance floor” and “get on the balcony.” To be on the “dance floor” is to be engaged in constant activity, attending to the many tasks of stewarding an organization. On “the balcony,” leaders have a chance to step away from the movement, to pause from the headlong rush to examine priorities and to observe the patterns and dynamics which are difficult to detect while one is swept up in the action.

Peer learning groups enable pastors to step away from the fray for a time to engage intentionally in prayer-filled practices of reflection and conversation with colleagues who serve in similar settings, speak the same language, ask relevant questions, and take the time to listen to one another. In the company of others, pastors are able to look at events in new ways, to process situations, explore relationships, examine reactions, and consider faithful responses.

On “the balcony,” there is an opportunity to look both more closely at subtleties and more widely, to take in the whole picture, including what others perceive that we may not have. In stepping outside the flow of action for a time, it may be more possible to ask, “What’s really going on here?” Or in climbing the mountain with Jesus and his disciples, to consider more fully, “What is God doing here?”

From this perch, pastors endeavor to look at the church and the world as God looks at them. We put on God’s spectacles. Matters which are blurry come into focus and we can find the next step forward. We see people more as God sees them—shining and beloved. We see the world as God sees it, find where the Spirit is at work, and lift up the beauty.

When we come back down the mountain into the valley, we might find ourselves and the world transfigured by God’s love. We move from the balcony with new vision, with renewed energy, with larger joy, ready to rejoin the dance of ministry with grace.

Christina Braudaway-Bauman is the director of the Pastoral Excellence Network at Christian Theological Seminary.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry.  To request permission to repost this content, please contact wsordillo@cts.edu.

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