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An Interview with Deb Turnow

30 Apr Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on An Interview with Deb Turnow
An Interview with Deb Turnow

DebThis morning we’re excited to have the chance to interview the latest member of the Project Renovation leadership team, Deb Turnow. Deb currently serves as the Executive Director of Kavanna House, a spiritual formation center in York, Pa.  Prior to that role, she was the Director of Spiritual Direction at Living Word Community Church in York.  We’re excited to have her on the team as we continue trying to serve youth leaders in the area.

Tell us a little bit about your own spiritual journey, Deb. How’d you get to a place in your life where soul care became so important?

I’ve been a believer since I was 18 – a LONG time ago. J  I have always been involved in Bible studies, fellowship, service and missions.  My Christian life was very much about ‘doing’.  About 9 or 10 years ago, I was introduced to contemplative spirituality and it transformed my relationship with God.  Prior to that, I feel that I knew a lot about God – now I feel I know God.  That changed the trajectory of my life.  I became a spiritual director and started to teach classes on contemplative spirituality, inviting others to engage God with their hearts.

You used the language “contemplative spirituality”. For someone who maybe hasn’t heard that phrase before or who isn’t exactly clear on what it means, could you explain that for us a bit?

Sure, Contemplative spirituality simply means that you are looking at and processing your walk with God through a reflective stance.  You begin to cultivate the ability to listen to the ‘still small voice’ of God and respond through practices such as silence and solitude or lectio divina (sacred reading) of Scripture as well as different types of prayer.  For me it means learning to listen to God at least as much as I speak to Him and to be more aware of His Presence in my daily life.

You’ve had a chance to be a part of some Project Renovation events over the past year. As a “non-youth ministry” person, what resonates with you and your own ministry experience?

Earlier in my life, my husband and I spent time as youth leaders.  It was an incredible opportunity to be able to speak into the lives of young people.  And, some key youth leaders were people of importance in the lives of my own children.

What I find so beautiful and unique about Project Renovation is the thought and care put into providing resources to help youth leaders recognize that their own soul care is not only a legitimate need, but necessary, if they are to continue to give their gifts and time to the youth in their care.

I’ve witnessed other organizations offer skills to equip youth leaders but never had as their focus the care of the spiritual life of the leader.

The other aspect of Project Renovation that sets it apart is the way the board operates.  I am witnessing (and honored to be a part of) true community, led by Rick Rhoads, that offers a safe place for processing and allows those involved to lead from a place of integrity.

It’s encouraging to hear you say that. At its core, that’s what the Project is about. Healthier leaders end up leading healthier ministries, loving and discipling teens in healthier ways. I’d love to have you speak into that a bit.


I’ve heard it said a few places now that in our busyness to do the work of God, we often lose out on our relationship with God. Have you seen that tendency in full-time ministry? Why do you think that is?

Unfortunately, I think the concept of being busy for God or of a life filled with ‘doing’ has been not only supported but promoted within our Christian culture.  I think it is a trait that we have inherited from our North American culture, to our detriment.

People in full-time ministry put in hours of overtime.  We (and I say ‘we’ because I am still trying to break free of this mindset) find it difficult to set boundaries around our lives and often our own intentional time with God is what gets compromised.  That, along with the fact that most of us may still be trapped in a ‘one-size fits all’ type of quiet time, going deeply with God seems like a luxury none of us can afford.

What does that kind of compromise end up looking like in the life of a minister? As you interact with people in full-time ministry, what are some of the symptoms of burnout that you see?

This is a great question and I think my answer might be a bit out of the box.  I think the first thing we think of is people leaving their ministry…or having a moral failure.  But sometimes I think the symptoms are more subtle and insidious.  I think when we drift from being intentional in our relationship with God, and when we feel we’re losing control of our time and our schedule, we try harder to control in others areas.  It may in our families – having less patience, less ability to listen deeply or even beginning to see them as just one more drain on our time and energy.

So it can show up in our tendency to want to control things more tightly. How about our relationships?

I think the unhealthiness can also show itself by becoming territorial and rigid in our ministry – becoming critical and judgmental about other ministries, whether inside the church or out.  And, I think it can show itself by finding ourselves prone to being punitive in our approach to others who may be struggling, instead of showing love and grace and moving towards restoration.

You talked earlier about “contemplative spirituality” as a different way of knowing God, tending to that relationship in the midst of our busyness. How does spiritual formation speak into that kind of need in a person’s life?

I feel that an intentional relationship with God is what we need to ground us, to anchor us in His love.  I know that for over 30 years of being extremely busy in the church I was never taught how to just ‘be’ in God’s presence and rest in the fact that He loves me, not for what I do but for who I am. Spiritual formation speaks to that intentionality.  We put into practice some rhythms or disciplines that allow us to listen to the Spirit, to know that God cares about us deeply and allows us to put our life choices in perspective, to create some balance, to have healthy margins.  Until one knows, at their core, that they are loved by God just because they exist, they will continue to live life in a way that says ‘the more that I do, the more I am valued’.


For you personally then, what are some spiritual disciplines or principles that you’ve found helpful in nurturing your own personal relationship with God?

I need silence and solitude.  It is in that place where I stop striving and just sit in God’s presence.  I also find journaling to be an important part of my walk.  It helps me slow down, pay attention and see that God is present in the everyday things of life as well as helps me think more reflectively as I read the scriptures.  And, I have a spiritual director – someone who helps me notice things on a more profound level and supports me as I lean into my life with God.  Without these practices, I find myself sleepwalking through my life with God.

Thanks for taking some time to share with us today, Deb. We’re truly grateful to have you on the team and look forward to the ways that God will use your life and message to encourage local youth works.

In the weeks ahead, be looking for regular blog posts from Deb Turnow and our other mentoring shepherds. If you’d like to know more about Deb or her ministry at Kavanna House, please go to