Spiritual friendships keep leaders on the right track
By Beth Hiemstra | Thursday, August 30, 2012
Photo courtesy of Norm Allen.
ORANGEVILLE, ONNorman Allen spent about six months searching for his identity and purpose after losing his job as an executive at a Christian ministry. Out of this difficult transition, Touchstone Ministries was born.
"The best thing that ever happened to me was being a fired executive," says Allen, founder and president of Touchstone Ministries, "because if I hadn't gone through the process of not knowing who I was, and then figuring out ways to come to grips with that, I would have had no capacity to help people."
A group of friends recognized Allen's unique gifts of building friendships with leaders in the marketplace and for building community. They created the ministry to enable Allen to offer, encourage and teach friendship in Christ among leaders in business, arts, politics and Christian organizations.
Each year, Allen has about 500 conversations with individuals, developing and encouraging spiritual friendships, as well as leading retreats and other behind-the-scenes work.
"I listen to the loneliness of people in my world, who out of fear of being seen as a failure, out of fear of being weak, out of fear of judgment, find it really difficult to say, 'Here's some stuff that's going on in my life that I need help with,'" says Allen.
In his new book published this year, Spiritual Friendships, Allen explains, "Friendship that nurtures the soul begins in our broken places. These are the places where we discover we need help from God and a few friends."
Allen describes these friendships as mutual, with each person seeking the best for the other, in an atmosphere that is safe and nonjudgmental, not imposing their own agenda. Together friends invite the Spirit to guide and correct and gently change them.
He gives the example of his long-time friendship with Ron Nikkel, president of Prison Fellowship International. Allen and Nikkel intentionally plan to meet together a couple of times each year. They often read Scripture and then sit in silence before discussing what they have heard from God in the passage. Afterwards, in the context of hearing from God together, they can talk about the money, sex and power issues in their lives.
"Many of the things we do to cultivate relationship with God, to nurture our capacity to listen to God and to listen to what the Spirit is doing in our own lives, sharpens our capacity to listen in to the life of someone else who is on a similar path," says Allen.