Book Review: Pursuing God's Will Together by Ruth Haley Barton

This book, with the way of life and the way of leading churches and ministries that it commends, is radically good. I couldn't agree more with the first sentence of Robert Mulholland's endorsement: "This book needs a warning label: 'Content may be disruptive to your understanding of Christian life, leadership and community.'"

The book is designed to be a guide for groups involved together in leading Christian churches or organizations. Although it could easily take years for a committed group to come to the place of experiencing together some of the things Barton describes, any group with the courage to take on the task of going through this book and facing the issues it describes will quickly taste the goodness of the kind of spiritual leadership in community which it commends. Barton writes not only as a theorist who has worked hard to develop a sound approach to discernment, but also as a practitioner who has ingrained these principles and practices in her own organization and as a guide who has helped many others find their way through them.

Two-thirds of the book are dedicated to how individuals who make up a leadership group can become a community that is capable of knowing and doing the will of God together. As Barton emphasizes, it is futile to expect that discernment will genuinely happen in a community of undiscerning individuals, regardless of how sound the process may be. On the other hand, if a group is made up of discerning people, discernment will begin to happen even with very imperfect processes. The final third of the book is dedicated to a process that groups can go through as they face decisions which require discernment and what it would actually be like for them to experience doing God's will together after having discerned it in such intentional ways.

Having been involved in leading Christian ministries over the past sixteen years, and having had the privilege of working alongside many wonderful and godly people along the way, my honest reaction to reading this book is both a grieved realization that I have never experienced anything like what it describes (and neither have the large majority of my colleagues) and a deep longing to one day be part of a community dedicated to living together in the ways Barton discusses which would keep us open and available to God, so that when we come together around the common purpose of our shared ministry, we could seek to know and do God's will in such deep trust toward God and one another.

For anyone involved in leading any kind of Christian group (perhaps even right down to our families!), I cannot express sufficiently how highly I recommend Pursuing God's Will Together.