T.J. MacLeslie has been involved in a variety of Christian ministries since 1990, including pastoring, church planting, leadership development, prayer, and spiritual formation. He currently lives in the UK with his wife and two children where he leads a team focused on prayer and spiritual formation. You’ll often find him walking the fields with his dog, reading a book, or enjoying a warm cup of coffee.
Visit the author online at http://about.me/tj_macleslie.
Q: Thank you for this interview, T.J. Can you tell us what your latest book, Designed for Relationship, is all about?
A: There are so many ideas about God floating around in our world today. Many present God in terms that are uninviting, and frankly, inaccurate. I grew up with a view of God as a distant and forbidding king and judge. I have joyfully discovered that while God is the King of kings and Lord of lords, He is also much more. The God of scripture is relational at His core, Father, Son, and Spirit, constantly loving and interacting. God decided to expand this community of love and created humans to be partakers of the divine nature and little images of His relational self. This is very different than the picture I received as a kid growing up in church.
The book invites you to rediscover the relational nature of God and humanity in two parts: Part One examines ancient truths in the Bible to renew our vision of God and humanity; Part Two applies these truths to our lives, using the Five Circles, a practical tool to understand what it means to be human and provide a framework for growth. All of this has come as a result of my own search for God in the confusion and chaos of the real world.
Q: How did you come up with the idea?
A: This book is a summary of the lessons I have learned in my search for truth and meaning. Along the way, I have met wonderful people who challenged me and encouraged me in my pursuit. Now, I have the opportunity to help others. It was in the process of listening to and serving others on their journey that the idea for this book came up. Some of those I have journeyed alongside kept asking me to write something down so they could share it with others. While the message of the book is ancient, the way it is assembled is unique, particularly the paradigm I call The Five Circles.
A: I spent a lot of time studying the Bible and checking everything against this unchanging standard of Truth. I also studied those who have walked similar paths through the years: from St. Augustine and St. Patrick, right through to Henry Nouwen, Dallas Willard, and David Benner. The book is heavily referenced and has an extensive bibliography, but above all this is a practical book. The lessons gleaned from others have been tried and tested in the laboratory of the real world. In a sense, my whole life has been research for this book. I draw on my own experiences as well as those of people I have worked with through the years, to share the principles and tools that we have found helpful for our journey.
Q: If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?
A: When we fail to understand who we are and who God is, we are missing out on the very core of what is available to us as people. There actually is an amazing, abundant, eternal kind of life available to us. Don’t give up hope! Keep searching along the ancient paths.
Q: Can you give us a short excerpt?
A: Here is a short section from Chapter 5:
People are incredibly diverse and our backgrounds are so varied that the problems we face deserve more than a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Whether we are working on our own issues or helping someone else, we need to ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. The Five Circles can guide us in asking questions, gaining insight, rightly understanding problems, identifying potential solutions, and suggesting practical steps toward healing, wholeness, and intimacy with God.
We need to be careful to remember that our relationship with God is the core pursuit. God is the One who heals and frees as we draw near to Him. If we make our goal wholeness, healing, or freedom, those goals can subtly become our idols. It is not that freedom is a bad goal, but it is not the ultimate one. I have found that as we grow closer to God we become more whole and free. We become like the thing we behold, the thing we exalt, the thing we worship. He made us for relationship with Him, and each aspect of who we are is important to that relationship. We cannot be content just to do what comes easy to us. Growing in relationship with God means embracing all of who God made us to be, and striving to become who we are. As we do that, freedom results.
Only human beings have to struggle to become who we are. Other creatures do not have a choice about what they become. Trees grow without making conscious choices. Only humans think about what we would like to become. We make decisions that affect the direction of our lives. The flip side of this is our capacity to stunt ourselves. We have the capacity for denial. We can choose to move into or withdraw from relationship. Sometimes these are conscious decisions and other times we choose them without realizing why. By pursuing God, we can cultivate awareness. We can choose to love God with all we are, leaving nothing out and holding nothing back. When we fail to love God with our mind, our will, our emotion, our spirit, or our body, we are failing in the most basic, the most central command – the command to love God with all we are.
Q: In your own experience, is it hard to get a nonfiction book published today? How did you do it?
A: I think it is easier than ever to get a book published, particularly with digital printing and print-on-demand as options for the self-publishing author. I was fully intending to go this route for both of my books, but it seems that God had other plans.
I create in community, and invite people to read and respond to the manuscript, throughout the creative process. My goal was to hone and improve the book by getting a variety of perspectives, but an unintended consequence was the buzz being generated, and in both cases a small publisher asked to print the book.
This is my second book and my second small publisher. I feel like a small publisher has a lot of the benefits of self-publishing without the complications and loss of control that comes with a major publishing house. I like that the small publishers are responsive and are invested in marketing and selling the book, the parts that I find most difficult. I wrote the book because I wanted to help people and I believe in the message. I find the creative process to be a joy, but the publishing process to be really draining. I am happy to let someone else take the lead in the design, printing, distribution, and marketing of the book.
Q: What’s a typical day like for you?
A: I lead a team for an international missions organization, Pioneers, providing prayer and soul care for pastors and missionaries serving around the world. It is such a joy to get to listen to, pray for, and share with people who are experiencing God and helping people each day. Most days I pray with the team for people around the world, and then correspond and talk with people that I am involved with in mentoring and spiritual companionship relationships. We live in a small town in the UK that provides some great places to walk through the fields and along the coast, so most days I take walks in the fields with my dog to connect with God and talk with Him about the people I love.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I love my primary job, helping people to grow and experience God more day by day, and I see writing as an extension of that. I plan to explore the issues of faith, culture, and personality in fiction next. But one of the really interesting parts of living connected with God is the adventure of letting Him lead you into what’s next. I have my plans and ambitions, but if the past is any indication, my plans will have little bearing on what comes next.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, T.J. We wish you much success!
A: Thank you for interviewing me. I pray that you will be successful in all you set your hand to, and that you will become ever more who you truly are.