Leading from Liminal Space

Often in our leadership roles we’re impatient to act. But to be a good pastor requires waiting to move forward on plans until you hear the wind of the Spirit marching in the tops of the trees (1 Chronicles 14:15). Loving parents and caregivers are “slow to speak and quick to listen” in order to offer the empathy that communicates genuine care (James 1:19). Effective Bible teachers pause at times in their speaking so that they and their listeners are drawn into the Selah of the Psalmist.

“In patience posses your soul,” Jesus urges us (Luke 21:19). I have needed much training in this area! I am learning to be more loving to others by looking to the Lord Jesus to expand my capacity to wait in God’s presence and listen before I speak or act.

Liminal Space

The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr calls this waiting place “liminal space.” Limina is a Latin word which means threshold. Liminal space is a posture of submission to God and listening for his voice. It’s where we sit in God’s presence to hold anxious feelings, resist impulsiveness, live with “not knowing,” and think the best of other people. To lead people and care for souls from liminal space means remembering that it’s from God that we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

The movie Braveheart gives an unforgettable picture of liminal space. William Wallace is leading his ragtag band of Scottish warriors to fight for their freedom from the powerful English army and the tyranny of cruel King Longshanks. There a battle line, with the two armies opposing each other. The English are charging and William Wallace disciplines his troops to wait in their battle line.

With surging adrenaline and anger the Scotts are eager to attack their charging enemies, but Wallace has prepared them to wait for his command. They are breathing heavy with clenched teeth and flexed muscles as they hold their javelins and swords. Wallace knows that the timing of when they launch their spears is key so he keeps shouting to his troops, “Hold! Hold! Hold!”

Finally Wallace gives the battle cry at the opportune moment and the Scotts end up winning the battle!

Waiting on God is a “Best Practice”

It’s countercultural, but waiting on God first is actually the wisest course for us to take in leadership, message preparation, and caregiving. For instance, with the leadership team for our Mexico mission trips I’ve opened our meetings by helping us to abide in Christ together through Scripture meditation and quiet prayer. This helps us to be a relaxed and caring community in the Lord so that we can better listen to Him and each other. After a very fruitful meeting the leader of the group, who is a close friend of mine and ministry partner, wrote:

Thank you Bill for leading us into such a rich time with God. It really felt to me like getting into that state of abiding before we did anything else caused us to have insights that we wouldn’t have come up with on our own into how God might have this mission trip go. In business lingo this is a best practice — we need to do it next year (and in life!!).

It’d be a great thing if more of our church/ministry planning meetings and elder/director board meetings were conducted from liminal space in a Spirit-led way. Even if you don’t work or serve in a Christian organization you can lead in this way. Imagine pausing in private to meditate on a Scripture or simply enjoy the smile of Jesus before having an important conversation with a family member, planning a Bible study you’re leading, or leading a meeting in your business or family.

Leading from Soul-fullness

In Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership Ruth Haley Barton urges those of us who want to be spiritual leaders to ask ourselves the key question: “Have I learned enough about how to wait on God in my own life to be able to call others to wait when that is what’s truly needed?” (p. 98).

We lead and care for others out of our own souls under God. If we don’t practice being still in God’s presence and praying before charging ahead then in our ministry to others we won’t be effective at helping them to connect with God’s presence and follow the Spirit of Christ.

In other words, we need to train ourselves to “Hurry Up and Be Still.”


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