How to Be Present in an Absent World

By Daniel Montgomery

You’re a church planter, frantically trying to get your church started. You’re doing it in a pressure cooker from a time standpoint because you’ve only got so much external resources, money that’s going to run out. On top of that, your leadership is being seriously tested.

You should be the most embodied, present leader for your team and people, but you feel overworked, overwhelmed and disconnected.

How do you practice presence in a world of absence? We live in a very dehumanizing world and we find it hard to be human. What do you do to become fully human and truly connected to those around you?

First off, pay attention to those around you. One of our greatest gifts we can give to others is our full attention. People crave it. Our spouses and children hunger for it. When we are disengaged we are, consciously or subconsciously, sabotaging our own work and the work of others.

We also need to face our pain. Pain avoidance is the source of many modern pathologies: frantic work, frantic living, increasing anxiety levels, increasing depression levels, disconnection. All this surfaces from trying to avoid suffering and pain.

The first step is to slow down, pause, reflect and just be in time. You have to move from the grinding of time to designing a better life and a better version of yourself. Thereturn on investment” is exponential.

For example, a meta study was done on a group of workers who took 15 minutes a day to reflect on their work. Within 10 days they saw a 15% increase in productivity. That’s pretty high impact!

Church planters need to take more time for reflection – pausing, breathing, being connected to our bodies, looking at self, others and work and identifying our pain points and challenges.

Design a Better Life

Of course, this is not something you can do alone. We need to work with others to break down our lives to the big picture “design” issues. Deliberation issues where you deliberate with others. Decision issues. Doing issues. The majority of your life is doing and decision. The majority of our lives, 99.9% of our time, is just grinding. It’s very rare for anyone to take time to think bigger picture with their whole lives.

We must make time to deliberate and design a better life.

It’s important to note that you can’t just do that with just one part of your life, because one dimension of your life can send you spinning. And so we do integrative development on the dimensions of self, others and work.

We all know church planters are a mess. You’ve got to be a little crazy to start a church. We all have pathology, insecurity, issues. We’re all in the spectrum of dysfunction; it’s just where are you in the spectrum?

So we have to ask, “Am I connected? Am I taking time? Am I leading myself first?

Ask yourself, “Do I have a crew I can you talk with about kind my anxiety and fear? Maybe you’re gaining or losing 30 pounds, your marriage is a wreck, you feel insecure, you don’t have a clue how to parent or feel like a failure as a parent. And all the while you’re talking to your core group about your future family ministry.

But who do you go to? Most church planters can’t afford a therapist, but I’ve found that 15 minutes talking with a friend is better than two hours of therapy. I need a friend who will walk with me with no judgment, not trying to fix or figure me out. They’re just there to listen.

Hear me: You don’t have time to not have a crew.

Self-Awareness is Mission Critical

You need to be connected to other people who can understand and empathize as you talk honestly about you’re going through. And for a lot of church planters that’s other church planters. Getting around tables with other church planters and talking about issues, about their development – but also about their lives.

Caring about one another is really vital. Are you making time for your spouse? Are you making time for others? And of course, you’re making time for Jesus. But are you making time for you?

If those vitals aren’t taken care of, I don’t trust the clarity a church planter has.

The Father’s heart is for His children loving one another, accepting one another as they are and learning from each other. But Christians have a hard time being who they are. There’s a lot of Jesus jukes. Like, a church planter will say, “Our church grew by 200% from 30 but it was all God.” Really? What about you working 60 to 70 hours a week at two jobs? But it was all God? No it wasn’t! It was you and God.

It’s so weird that the “I” in spirituality is not allowed. We seem unable to own our lives when there’s a direct correlation between ownership and stewardship. Do you own your home? Do you own your body? Well, if you own your home, you can steward your home. And if you own your body, you can steward your body.

We work on both an inner game work and an outer game. The first is presence and the second performance. You cannot scale your performance with integrity without scaling your inner game or presence. So self-awareness is mission critical.

What’s at stake? Living by other people’s scripts, by society’s scripts and by the church’s script for you, rather than being who you are and where you are.

To do that, you need time with others to reflect on your plan and your life. If you don’t, you’re going to have a life marked by regrets.

Daniel Montgomery’s book, How to be Present in an Absent World, is a leader’s guide to showing up, paying attention and being fully human.

Published January 12, 2022

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Daniel Montgomery

Daniel Montgomery founded and led Sojourn Community Church, a multi-site congregation with campuses in Louisville, Kentucky, and New Albany, Indiana, for more than 17 years and is the founder of the Sojourn church planting network. He coaches, writes, and consults on the topic of leadership, theology, and mission for businesses and churches around the world. An M.Div. graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he also is the founder and CEO of Leadership Reality, a learning and development agency. He and his wife, Mandy, have been married since 1998 and they have four children: Elijah, Stella, Levi, and Georgia.