Rev. Phil Letizia is assistant pastor of discipleship at Boynton Beach (Fla.) Community Church (PCA) and a doctoral student in practical theology at the University of Aberdeen. He is married to Jenny, and has two children, Oliver (5), and Jane (4).  

Have you read the first post? If not, check it out here.

In many ways, slowing down should be the desired way to go about any life. Certainly, a life spent following Jesus brings its mountain peaks and moments of heightened joy. But, more often than not the Christian life is better described as a “long obedience in the same direction.”[1]  Receiving from Jesus means we understand he is inviting us into new rhythms of life that often demand we slow down and genuinely reflect upon what he is up to. In so doing, Jesus is actually revealing the gifts of our Christian discipleship- his kindness and gentleness.  John Swinton writes beautifully, “Jesus is restful, slow, timefull. He holds our burdens. But, Jesus is also gentle. Timefulness and gentleness are deeply interconnected

Jane and Oliver

Life with my daughter Jane has forced me to slow down. Most of the time, I resist. I don’t want to slow down. I don’t want to change course or see a different, even potentially better way. But, if my delayed leadership in this area eventually makes me even a tenth more like Jesus, then it is worth however long is needed. This gentle gift of Jesus has brought my constant need to comment, add to, run past, and think fast, into question.

How then does one lead when life is turning in a completely new direction? People naturally look to their pastors for conclusive thoughts and direction. But, how do you offer that when things are changing inside you, both in your mind, and in your heart? When your personal and family life is heading in a different direction? What does it mean for your ministry?

Dozens of people have asked me how I think having a daughter with Down syndrome has changed me. The honest answer i s- I don’t know. I have no doubt that it is, but hardly ever can I put my finger on how. That doesn’t always lead to the perfect pastoral sound byte ready for congregational consumption- but it’s real, and I think it’s true. I’ve tried to be slow to speak on these subjects publicly. Slow to add my voice due to the fact that I’m still trying to find it.  Slow to lead my congregation because God is still leading me down the path that on my own, I would not have chosen to go.

In Henri Nouwen’s powerful little book, In the Name of Jesus, he gives a challenge based on Jesus’ strong words to Peter immediately following the disciple’s restoration in John 21.[2] Nouwen writes:

The world says, “When you were young you were dependent and could not go where you wanted, but when you grow old you will be able to make your own decisions, go your own way, and control your own destiny.” But Jesus has a different vision of maturity: It is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go. Immediately after Peter has been commissioned to be a leader of his sheep, Jesus confronts him with the hard truth that the servant-leader is the leader who is being led to the unknown, undesirable, and painful places.[3]

I do not mean to equate disability with “undesirable, and painful places,” in a general sense. What I mean is that this new, different, and more beautiful path is not the path of my choosing, but the path of Jesus in my life.  Its pace is slower than I like, and it requires more reflection than I usually care to give.

My only hope to lead others well is to first recognize where I am being led. And though it is taking different shape than I ever imagined, the gentleness and kindness of Jesus is leading me to follow in the steps of a four-year old little girl. Maybe this is the path where we learn to lead like Jesus.

[1] Eugene Peterson. (2000). A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Westmont, IL: Intervarsity Press.

[2] John 21:18-19.

[3] Henri Nouwen. (1992). In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 81.