The following post is another contribution to the series on Leading Spiritually. Thanks for those who have commented and encouraged the continuation of this series.
Check out the other posts:
The Art of Leading Spiritually – An Invitation to a Journey
The Art of Leading Spiritually – Why Are We Leading?
The Art of Leading Spiritually – Where Are We Heading?
The Art of Leading Spiritually – How Do We Do It?
The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning Together
The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning on Your Own
This post is a continuation from my post a couple of days ago Leading Spiritually from Within so don’t be confused by the numbering.
5. We must take our faith practices and discernment processes seriously. It is often easier to discern the will God than it is to implement it. I am embarrassed at how often I make the same list of resolutions at my three monthly retreats and then go home and forget about them. Old habits die hard. We get out of a discernment meeting and immediately head back to our busy schedules ignoring completely the implications of our decisions. Unfortunately sometimes there is no one except God to keep us accountable to those decisions.
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 your leadership community do? I suspect that many good Christian ministries and churches fail because they don’t take seriously enough what God is saying in their midst.
6. We must be acknowledgers of doubts and uncertainties. According to Thomas Merton faith means doubt It is our doubts and uncertainties that keep us questioning and learning. They keep us flexible and creative – two essential characteristics of good spiritual leaders. The story of 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 to others. We become set in our ways and become rigid in our leadership.
7. We must be seekers after the joy of gratitude. Gratitude opens us to the enjoyment of new aspects of who God is and what God is doing. Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts, comments: learning to live in joy is learning to be grateful in all circumstances even in the midst of pain and suffering. The psalmist 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) What is the path that reveals the salvation of God? It is the path of gratitude and thanksgiving. 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 too. It even boosts our immune system.
8. We must be seekers after trust in God. That may sound like a strange thing to seek after, 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.
In his book Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, Richard Rohr says:
We will not trust spiritual power until we have experienced a God who operates in the same way, a God who is willing to wait, allow, forgive, trust and love unconditionally. (p89)
Do we really believe that God is trustworthy and wants what is best for our lives? Do we really believe God loves us? If we did we would seek to model that love rather than the critical, taskmaster, threaten 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 will learn to relax and allow God to move and like the children of God in the desert we will learn to stay put until God says so.
I think one of the reasons we so often surge ahead with our own ideas and plans is because deep down inside we don’t really believe that God loves us and wants 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 can easily start to believe that we, not Jesus are the saviours of the world and so we take on ourselves heavy burdens of responsibility that God does not intend for us.
9. 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 pathways strewn with burnout for themselves and for 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 as he flees into the desert running away from Jezebel. He has just defeated the prophets of Baal and 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” (1 Kings 19). It seems to me that he is so consumed by all he has done for God that he can no longer hear what God is saying.
10. We must be seekers after the love of God and love of 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) and 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. This means being concerned about issues of inequality, poverty and environmental justice to name but a few.
11. We must be seekers after the promised land of God. In my post on Where are we heading? I talked about the fact that God’s destination for us is his promised shalom world in which we find abundance and peace for all. We are all journeying towards this incredible new world and our central responsibility as leaders is to learn to live into that world and bring others into that world too. Does your leadership draw others towards a place of shalom, abundance and rest? Does it make your leadership community feel fulfilled, rejoicing in the presence of God?
Thanks, Christine, a clear course here that leaders and emerging leaders can benefit from. It would be glorious to enable women and men to experience encountering God in ways that enable them to implement the full measure of all that you have set out in this series.
I would certainly add emphasis to your point about discernment – and it was great learning for me facilitated by the early days of MSA when Stan led us in a Quaker originating group discernment process. That has stayed with me and informed my own practice very deeply over the years. Love the idea of a ‘Discernment Journal’ – hadn’t thought of that as a useful mechanism for supporting both personal and group process.
Also the need for implementing truth sounds loud and clear. I am spending my time currently – and have been over a period – wrestling with the scriptures that describe God’s rich provision for us. Matthew 6:27-34 is such a challenge, and this fills my own personal journal at present and occupies my conversation with my Spiritual Director. If I can but learn to trust implicitly in God’s provision and care and implement a lifestyle based upon such, then this will be a major growing up point in my personal walk. t is often at this point that I have seen many lose confidence first in their spiritual leaders and subsequently lose their way in their spiritual walk.
Of course one travels always with the shadow of doubt, and this is itself is the measure of faith – one of the most gentle yet rich paradoxes of the Christian life and walk.
Walking with God is the richest journey any of us can engage in – I am grateful for the long years I have travelled with Jesus. yet feel that the journey has only really just begun. However, now it enjoys my fullest attention with a greater ability to set aside distractions and diversions. It is good to be a part of and travelling with MSA 0- thank you Christine and the community that gives you voice.
Thanks Micha for your comments – and I agree walking with God is the richest journey any of us can engage in and we are glad that you are part of the extended MSA community. I look forward to more engagement in the future.