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Are You Going Fast… or Far?

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. I love that African proverb, and not just because of the community of leaders, I mentored while there. I’m slowly learning that in the journey of life, it’s not just how fast you go but with whom you go. Soul work is not only slow work, but shared work.

For years I often traveled too fast, and worse—I too often traveled alone. In my “hurry sickness,” I pushed too hard. I pushed others and most of all I pushed myself. I’ve come to realize that the best part of my day is now the first part, which is the slowest part. I love slow starts because they allow me time to both metabolize the Scripture through meditation and also to ponder how best to invest my day in and with others.

Last week I enjoyed several days of deep connection with God and some leaders close to me. One of the things we did was to take turns answering the question: “What makes you afraid . . . or anxious . . . or concerned?” We deliberately sat extra close as we answered those questions, not once, but five times. As a result, each time we went deeper and when we finished, we were closer than ever!

Rarely do men ever go deep. By nature, our sin nature, we are too often fearful, prideful and competitive. We don’t want others to know that we struggle with feelings of inadequacy or that we are often clueless about what to do to get unstuck. As a result, we stay stuck. Stuck in sin patterns. Stuck in unhealthy attitudes. Stuck in damaging habits. Stuck carrying burdens we were never intended to carry alone or at all. The Scripture tells us, “. . . let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up . . .” (Hebrews 12:2).

We all carry some dead weight. In his insightful book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, Peter Scazzero shares a story referenced by another author, Annie Dillard: “. . . some British explorers in their search for the North Pole in the 1800’s knew it would be a two-to-three-year journey, yet each sailing vessel carried only a twelve-day supply of coal. Instead of bringing more coal, each ship made room for a 1,200-volume library, a hand organ playing fifty tunes, china place settings for officers and men, cut-glass wine goblets, and sterling silver flatware. They carried no special clothing for the Arctic except for the uniforms of the Queen’s Navy. When the Eskimos came across their frozen remains, the men were all dressed up, pulling a lifeboat full of sterling silver and chocolate.”

How many of us go through life and leadership carrying unnecessary, even ridiculous stuff? Might you be carrying one or more of these?

Perfectionism – unrealistic and even crazy expectations for yourself and others.
Hypervigilance – the fear of taking a break or even enjoying a sabbath rest lest you lose control.
People pleasing – being too quick to help or even too quick to apologize in an effort to impress.
Critical, cynical attitudes – the self-righteous view that no one can do anything as well as you can, not even 80% as well!

Never underestimate your own capacity for self-deception. That’s why we dare not go too fast. Soul work is slow work. And that’s why we dare not go alone. We need what Paul Tripp calls an intentionally intrusive community.

I’m preparing now to launch two more “soul work” groups. One group will be for pastors who are tired of merely talking about community and who are now ready to finally immerse themselves in healthy and even vulnerable connections. The other group is for some high-capacity leaders in our church, men ready to do life together as they grow through the challenges of their careers and explore their life calling.

As I ponder the mentoring pattern of Jesus it was clear: Go small, go slow, go deep. Our lives will never be any better, richer or more fulfilling than our relationships. In fact, we’ve probably all heard that our degree of effectiveness and happiness will tend to reflect the average of the five friends closest to us.

So, who are the five people closest to you whom you have welcomed to do life with you? Make no mistake, “It is not good for man to be alone!”

Grace and Peace,
Alan Ahlgrim
Director of Soul Care Covenant Groups
The Center for Church Leadership