Last week, I wrote an article entitled “What is Good Spiritual Leadership?” In it we looked at the connections between leadership and intimacy with God, as well as leadership and the discovery of the authentic self.
I have continued to be fascinated by this topic of spiritual leadership. This has led me to write about a few more aspects I hope you will find useful. These aspects involve the links between leadership and the following:
- Acknowledging doubts and uncertainties
- Acceptance of limitations
- Seeking to love God and neighbor
Six Musts to Leading Spiritually
1. We must take our faith practices and discernment processes seriously
It is often easier to discern the will of God than it is to implement it. Old habits die hard. We get out of a spiritual discernment meeting and immediately head back to our busy schedules while ignoring completely the implications of our decisions. Unfortunately sometimes there is no one except God to keep us accountable.
Keep a discernment journal for both your personal and group discernment sessions and revisit it regularly to see how seriously you have followed the promptings of God’s spirit. What has God said? How has that changed the way you lead? How has it changed what you do and what your leadership community does? I suspect that many good Christian ministries and churches fail because they don’t take seriously enough what God is saying in their midst.
2. We must acknowledge doubts and uncertainties
According to Thomas Merton faith means doubt. Doubts and uncertainties keep us questioning and learning. They make us flexible and creative – two essential characteristics of good spiritual leaders. The apostle Thomas teaches us that Jesus comes to us in the place of our deepest fears and doubts and reveals himself to us. If we pretend we know everything we stop growing in our relationship to God and others. We become set in our ways and become rigid in our leadership.
3. We must seek after the joy of gratitude
Gratitude opens us to the enjoyment of new aspects of who God is and what God is doing in ourselves and in others. Speaking through the psalmist, God says, “Giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honours me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23). To grow in intimacy with God and move deeper into that loving union we all so desperately crave we must learn to live in gratitude.
Gratitude has other benefits that undergird our spiritual leadership, too. It boosts our chance of success and keeps us flexible and resilient. It also increases not only our chance of happiness but that of our colleagues, as well. It even boosts our immune system.
4. We must seek to trust God
That may sound strange, but to grow in our ability to trust God we also need to grow in our knowledge and connection to the deep and abiding love of God for us and others.
Do we really believe that God is trustworthy and wants what is best for our lives and for our friends? Do we really believe God loves us? If we did we would seek to model that love rather than the distorted love of a critical, threatening, taskmaster-like God that our hierarchical leadership styles model. Do we really believe that God’s purposes are higher than ours? If we did we would take discernment and direction from God far more seriously. We would learn to relax and allow God to move, and, like the children of God in the desert, we would learn to stay put until God says otherwise.
I think one reason we often surge ahead with our own ideas and plans is because deep down we don’t really believe God knows what is best for us. We don’t really believe that God has either the desire or the power to fulfill the dreams he has placed in our hearts. We easily start to believe that we, not Jesus, are the saviours of the world. So we end up shouldering heavy burdens of responsibility that God never intended for us.
5. We must learn to relax in the limits of who God has made us to be
A person who knows their own limits and those of the people with whom they work lives a life of balance, freedom, and productivity. So many leaders leave paths charred from burnout. Sadly, this is often not only their own burnout but also the burnout they caused in others. They stray from God’s path because in their work-consumed lives they have lost the ability to listen to the still, small voice of God.
To me, the best Biblical example of burnout is the prophet Elijah fleeing into the desert as he runs away from Jezebel (see 1 Kings 19). He has just defeated the prophets of Baal, yet here he is running away from a single woman. I love the gentle way God deals with him. He is fed, given shelter, and allowed to rest. Then God gently tries to talk to him, but all Elijah can say is “I have been zealous for God” (cf. v. 10, 14). He seems so consumed by all he has done for God that he can no longer hear what God is saying.
6. We must be seekers after the love of God and neighbour
Central to our understanding of the Biblical story is the knowledge that God is love. Jesus reminds us that the central commandment is “love of God and love of neighbour.” The epistle of James affirms that God’s royal law is love your neighbour as yourself (James 2:8). Paul confirms that without love we are nothing but a noisy gong (1 Corinthians 13:1-9). Theologian N.T. Wright says that the language of God’s kingdom is the language of love.
A leader who is not loving towards those he or she works with or lovingly concerned for those in the broader society is not a leader at all. This goes far deeper than just having a kind word to say to our colleagues. It means that to lead well spiritually we must be willing to lead as servants, put the needs of others before our own, and be committed to the ways of justice, peace, and generosity for all. It means being concerned about issues of inequality, poverty, and environmental justice, to name but a few examples.
So let’s evaluate our spiritual leadership health again. How seriously do we take the input of others? How deeply do we trust God? And how diligently do we work to love God and our neighbour?
Develop Healthy Spiritual Leadership in a V3 Learning Cohort
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