Welcome to our book. This project is a collaboration with my daughter and co-author, Florence Byrd, and my son-in-law, Kevin Byrd, who is my designer/publisher. It is a great joy in my life to share this work with my daughter Florrie. This book is dedicated to the love of my life, my wife and partner of 40 years, Genie, who has walked with me since I was a teenager. Without her, none of this would be possible. Enjoy the journey. -Gregg Burch
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." -Isaiah 30:21
It is a bright, crisp fall afternoon as I set out into the woods. As the sun filters through the forest, the leaves are beautiful hues of red, yellow, and orange. The forest floor is littered with color as the leaves drop. I am taking a two-hour walk around the lake at my friend Richard Kessler's hunting lodge, Mount Pleasant, which overlooks the Savannah River just 25 miles upstream from the Georgia coast.
This place has become holy ground for me. Richard started a Christian businessmen's retreat here in 1976, and I attended my first retreat in 1982. We meet one weekend a year, in the fall. We spend most of the weekend at New Ebenezer, the retreat center Richard built. New Ebenezer is located on the site where the Salzburgers, Lutheran refugees from the Hundred Years' War, settled in the mid-1700s. Each year at the retreat, we pick a topic and work it all weekend. Saturday afternoon is our time of reflection, three hours meditating in the woods at Mount Pleasant. I have worked through many of the critical decisions of my life as I walked these woods.
My practice is to begin my quiet time with a walk around the lake. There is a trail, but it is quite faint, with leaves and deadfall obscuring the path. It is easy to lose my way. At each turn I am puzzled, straining to see the trail ahead, which way it goes. When I'm sure that I've lost the trail, I stop and look back over my shoulder. Sometimes I have taken a wrong turn and must backtrack. Often, though, I can see the trail behind me. I know I've been following it up to this point. I must be headed in the right direction. That reassurance helps me see the faint path forward. Life with God is a faint path, too.
I was unchurched as a young adult. Like many people these days, I "couldn't see Christ for the Christians." I met and fell in love with a good German girl and followed her into the Lutheran Church. I was baptized at the age of 28. For years I just focused on living my life and raising a family, attending church but not spending too much time in prayer or study. No one really challenged me to choose the path of discipleship. Still, I had a yearning to discern God's will for my life.
Ever notice in scripture how many times Jesus says, "For those who have eyes to see, let them see"? For some reason, I discovered that I had "eyes to see" things that many of the people around me missed. I could see the folly of the American Dream, of chasing the consumer lifestyle. I was beset by a simple question: "Is that all there is to life?"
My parents' lives had been shaped by the Great Depression, and they wanted more for their children. My father lost his mother early in life, and his father was absent for most of his childhood. His experience growing up on the streets of Oakland, California, and later as a combat engineer in World War II, convinced him that the most important lesson he could teach his kids was that we had to be tough because it's a cold, cruel world.
My father started a construction equipment business when I was a baby, and it was the child he raised while our mother reared us three kids. I don't have a single childhood memory of him throwing a baseball or football with me. He was a workaholic, and he expected the same from others. I could see the pain in that lifestyle, and I vowed not to follow in his footsteps.
Growing up in the booming city of Atlanta in the '50s and '60s gave me a taste of the middle-class life. We were blessed with material goods unimaginable to much of the world. But I was left with a nagging feeling of, "Is this all there is?" It took many years for me to realize that this was the nudging of the Holy Spirit, and that I was blessed to be able to see past the dream of affluence as an end worth chasing. I knew that God had something in mind for me, but my inattention to any practice of spiritual disciplines left me with little more than a vague longing for significance.
I did not think of myself as a leader in the days of my youth. I was an average student in high school, never part of the popular crowd. I was shy and had little confidence. In college I was a low B student, and when the draft ended, I dropped out of school to get married and start a life. I did not begin to see myself as a leader for at least another decade. However, as I look back, I see the seeds of the gift of leadership. I am very tall, and I'm the son of an entrepreneur. My personality style lends itself to seeing the big picture, thinking about the future and understanding complex problems. But who knew about that stuff in their youth?
My father held high expectations for his children. My older brother was a gifted student through high school and graduated from Vanderbilt. He was the "smart" one. My younger sister graduated from Duke, and she was the "creative" one. I was the middling child, and I never set my sights too high. I considered intelligence to be one of the key criteria for success, and both my brother and sister had more of that than I did. It was decades before I read Daniel Goleman's work on emotional intelligence and realized that IQ only correlates to a small degree of success. I was a late bloomer in regards to the gift of leadership. My equipping to live out the life of a leader took decades.
My wife Genie and I met and married young. When we found out Genie was pregnant, we were living in a garage apartment where you stepped out of the shower onto the kitchen floor. That was not a proper environment for raising kids, so I bit my lip and went to ask my father for a job. By the time I was 25, I had two kids and was doing well working for my father. It was around this time that the first elements of a vision emerged in my mind. I realized that by the time I was 45 years old, our kids would be grown and out of the house. I set a goal to achieve financial independence by age 45 and walk away from the construction business. Then Genie and I could pursue the dreams that had been deferred by the responsibilities of family.
I made a promise to God, and to myself: "I know you want something from me, God, but I don't know what. So I'll just stay here and work in my local church and the family business until I get a clear signal," I pledged. "When I figure out what you want, I'll try my best to do it."
TAKE A MOMENT Do you have a clear understanding of God's will for your life? How have you moved beyond a generalized anxiety about doing more, to a place of clarity about your purpose and calling?
For years, I heard very little from God. But one thing I heard at a spiritual retreat that struck a chord was the idea to bloom where you're planted, because God needs people in all walks of life. It wasn't until I hit my "decompression phase" after selling the family business in 1999 that I came to a striking realization. While I'd been waiting around for a signal from God, God had been working His plan through me all along. The 25 years I'd spent learning first management, then leadership had equipped me for the calling that has emerged in my life over the last decade.
In his book, After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s, Robert Wuthnow points out that since the time of Exodus, people have moved like a pendulum back and forth between spirituality as place and spirituality as journey. Since the 1950s, American spirituality has been a place--a sanctuary on Sunday morning. What we are learning about the postmodern mindset is it sees spirituality as a journey. I think I was born with this mindset a generation early. I have found discerning God's will to be an experience like following the faint path around my friend's lake. This is a story about my spiritual journey on God's faint path, and the lessons on leadership and life that I've stumbled upon in my travels through the wilderness.
Our travels will take us on pathways of knowledge that I believe are as relevant to your church as they are to your business career and your life. Milestones include personal mastery and visionary leadership, delegation and empowerment, collaboration and trust, self-awareness and emotional intelligence, building learning organizations, discernment of purpose and calling, leading change and the tipping point in transforming culture, the value of persistence and perseverance, the power of solitude, and the move from success to significance. Finally, we will explore servant leadership and why it is ultimately the best model of leadership for any organization. I hope you enjoy the journey.
Finally, a word about how to use this book. In each chapter, I have embedded questions that I was working through in that season of life. We have left room for you the reader to reflect and journal your answers to these questions. I hope they will be as catalytic to your life as they were with mine. So, I invite you to reflect and journal your story of God's Faint Path as you read mine. If you do the work of reflecting and journaling, this book will have infinitely more meaning to you and impact on your life. We designed the book so that you might take it with you as you enter into the quiet places and spaces of your life. Spend a few minutes each day reflecting, praying and making meaning of this work as you journal through each chapter. May you be blessed by this work.
Thomas Merton Prayer
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
And you will never leave me to face my perils
Thomas Merton, Thoughts In Solitude