Leadership As Spiritual Direction

by Christine Sine

MSA conference 2006

Yesterday’s post by Lynne Baab made me think about the whole concept of community, leadership and spiritual direction which is something that I am very interested in.

A couple of years ago I was interviewed by a M Div student for her class on leadership. I told her that for me leadership was not a position of privilege or of prestige but rather one of discernment and encouragement. I said that I felt the prime function of a Christian leader is to enable others to become all that God intends them to be. I talked to her about our use of the Quaker discernment process and the group decision making structure we have set up to encourage cooperation and mutual support within our team.  She was excited by this concept and commented – This is leadership as spiritual direction.

I have thought a lot about this since we talked. What is leadership meant to look like? What was it that made Jesus leadership special?  Our modern concept of leadership, even of Christian leadership is a very hierarchical and very much based on position and prestige. It is not about listening but tell.

The concept of leadership as spiritual direction turns this on its head just as Jesus does when he talks about the servanthood nature of leadership. It places the advancement of our team members ahead of our own “be thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3) and it makes us as leaders responsible for nurturing our team members in ways that nourishes their spiritual development as well as their physical accomplishments. Jesus rarely told his followers how to do something he asked questions that enabled his disciples to find the answers that God had already placed within their hearts.

To be honest in some ways I am less sure now of what Godly leadership is meant to look like than I was 10 years ago partly because I realize that spiritual leadership is not a job but a journey. It is a journey into intimacy with God. It is a journey into the kingdom of God. It is also a journey into the company of others. Spiritual leadership is not about individual success, in fact I don’t think it is about individuals at all. Spiritual leadership is about community, about enabling others to become the people God intends them to be so that together we can become the community of shalom that God intends us to become.

This is a concept that it key to the way that we help followers of Jesus move into the future. It is also a key to our being witnesses of mutuality and love to those around us. I am more than ever convinced that leadership and spiritual direction should go hand in hand. In both leading and following we nurture and guide each other towards the image of God.

So as you reflect this morning ask yourself:

  1. How do we rethink our leadership models so that they are more like spiritual direction than hierarchical power structures
  2. How do we encourage community building and spiritual formation as part of our leadership models so that we see the transformation of all we work with
  3. Where are the resources to help this happen – I would love to hear from you on this and am looking for books and online resources that can help me further develop my thinking


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Mark Votava September 20, 2014 - 11:34 am

Christine, here are some resources around spiritual direction, leadership, community. These books have all been helpful to me: 1. Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life by Phileena Heuertz, 2.When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd, 3. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain us by Christine D. Pohl, 4. Down We Go: Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus by Kathy Escobar, 5. Leadership Can Be Taught: A Bold Approach for a Complex World by Sharon Daloz Parks, 6. Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, 7. The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart by Cynthia Bourgeault, 8. Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God by Marva J. Dawn, 9. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence by MaryKate Morse, 10. How to Be a Christian Without Going to Church: The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Forms of Christian Community by Kelly Bean, 11. Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World by Margaret J. Wheatley, 12. Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening by Diana Butler Bass, 13. Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit by Parker J. Palmer, 14. Citizenship Papers by Wendell Berry, 15. The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr.

Christine Sine September 22, 2014 - 7:30 am

Thanks Mark – there are so many good resources out there for spiritual direction that I cannot list them all. However your list has added a few new ones to my own reading list. Blessings

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