Leading Spiritually – What Does it Look Like

by Christine Sine
Starfish at Esperanza Canada

The art of leading spiritually

Last week I published a post on Leadership as Spiritual Direction. It has made me think a lot about what I feel a good spiritual leader looks like. Our modern idea of leadership, even of Christian leadership is often a very hierarchical model, based on power and prestige. Success is often judged by growth in numbers rather than in spiritual maturity. Sadly this is the model that most of us know and adhere to without even thinking about it.

Most of us aspire to be leaders. We want to be noticed. We want to feel successful. As Christians we want to know that what we do makes a difference in God’s world. I wonder however if in our striving towards these leadership goals we sometimes miss God’s purposes for us as leaders.

To know how to become good spiritual leaders we need first to understand the purpose of leadership not from the perspective of the secular world or even from the perspective of the religious community but from God’s point of view. A good place to start is with Jesus‘ last prayer to his disciples before his betrayal and crucifixion.

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.(John 17:20-23)

As far as I am concerned, 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 am not sure that 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.

Jesus invited his disciples into a journey towards unity with God and with each other. The challenges of listening together, struggling together and praying together moulded them into a richly diverse loving community that resounded with the Spirit of God and as a consequence turned the world upside down.

No wonder Jesus spent more time developing a community of followers than he did preaching. Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin explains: “…the center of Jesus’ concern was the calling and binding to himself of a living community of men and women who would be the witnesses of what he was and did. The new reality that he introduced into history was to be continued through history in the form of a community, not in the form of a book.”

Early Christians believed that to live by the law of love that Jesus called them to required community because we cannot practice love in isolation.

They reasoned that as the essential nature of God is love and because it is impossible to practice love in isolation, God the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – must be a model of perfect community, a perfect harmony of loving relationship.

Gilbert Bilezikian in his book Community 101, further elaborates this understanding. “Since God is Trinity he is plurality in oneness. Therefore, the creation in his image required the creation of a plurality of persons. God’s supreme achievement was not the creation of a solitary man, but the creation of human community.”

He goes on to explain that this last prayer of Jesus with his disciples is a prayer for community. “The oneness that Jesus prayed for was not mere unity. It was the oneness that reaches deep into the being of God and finds its source in the relationship between Father and Son. Jesus is asking for the restoration among humans of the oneness that had originally been entrusted to them in creation, a oneness made in the image of the oneness within the Trinity.”

This understanding of God and of God’s purposes for us invites us to rethink everything including the function and form of leadership. In fact it turns our leadership models on their heads.

Spiritual leadership is not about our own advancement or success. The central purpose of spiritual leadership is to become co-creators with God in bringing into being a community that is at one with God and with each other. Together we can shine with the presence of Jesus and model the love of God in such a way that others are drawn to believe in God.

This doesn’t require a charismatic out in front personality that hopes everyone will catch their vision, follow and obey. It requires a community that is willing to journey together into the ways of God. It recognizes that leadership is a function of the whole community. As we listen together, discern together, struggle together and pray together we learn to grow together into that restored community of love and mutuality which does indeed reflect the image of the oneness within the Trinity.

What do you think?

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Mary Sayler September 27, 2014 - 7:44 am

Thanks, Christine. I believe Christian poets and writers have a unique opportunity to draw readers into building relationships and rebuilding Christian community – a word based on common-unity, which we surely have in Jesus Christ. To encourage other members of our FB group to read this, I’ll highlight your post on the Christian Poets & Writers blog – http://christianpoetsandwriters.blogspot.com. God bless.

Christine Sine September 27, 2014 - 4:14 pm

Thanks Mary. I think you are right. It really is the artists and poets who can lead in this more collaborative way.

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