Leadership was much harder than I had imagined it would be and less satisfying than I had hoped, until I finally began to make some fundamental changes in how I thought about leadership and went about trying to lead.
For years, I didn’t see the results I wanted and couldn’t figure out why. I tried working harder, being nicer, being less nice, reading more books, attending more seminars, hiring better-qualified people, firing people who were wrong for the job, being more assertive, being less assertive, and even praying more. I tried to use all the available tools and resources, and many helped to one degree or another. Still, I often felt frustrated and disappointed.
As I worked with staff members and volunteers, I kept running into conflicts that caught me by surprise or eluded easy resolution. At times I grew weary of the emotional ups and downs and personnel issues—and it showed. I would become impatient, irritable, and annoyed when staff members’ feelings repeatedly got in the way of the work to be done. I would crack the whip and try to push staff to set higher goals, work harder, and produce more measurable results. Though I tried to listen empathically, I would often cut conversations short so that we could all get back to work.
Although I might appear warm and friendly on the outside, I was often doing a slow boil inside. I wanted staff to get the job done efficiently and effectively, with a minimum of complaints and distractions. I often viewed personnel issues as annoyances and a waste of time. I allowed myself to become so task-oriented at times that it was as if I had forgotten I was working with human beings, not just ideas and machines.
In the end, my strong, results-oriented, no-nonsense leadership style proved to be not only a strength—keeping the organization focused and moving toward corporate goals—but also a weakness. My overemphasis on outcomes too often undermined my ability to create the positive, constructive, and spiritually rich environment that I hoped for.
I’m not alone, of course. Strong leaders, in general, can be results-oriented to a fault. Sometimes our driven nature and our focus on the vision, mission, strategies, and desired outcomes blinds us to what is needed to bring about success in the right kind of way. That is, we may come up with great ideas, have the best of intentions for leading, and be “wired” to lead the charge, but lack the necessary attitudes, insights, or skills to address other important dimensions of leadership: the emotional, relational, psychological, and spiritual aspects of working with others.
We may fear that if we cater to every need, desire, or concern of staff members, we will never get anywhere. We may simply feel beyond our depth in dealing with the various demands and viewpoints of our co-workers. We may feel so driven to complete tasks and to achieve that we come to view contrary views or the relational and emotional needs of others as distractions from what “really matters”—that is, our corporate goals and objectives. Rather than learn how to relate constructively to co-workers and how to create helpful processes to motivate and draw on the strengths of the entire team, we may find it easier to focus on numbers, facilities, size of operation, dollars, salary, status, prestige, and other external or self-oriented performance measures.
Sometimes our natural drive to lead with excellence leaves us frustrated, confused, angry, and discouraged, especially when our staff members don’t seem to want to cooperate or “get with the program.” Then, because we don’t know how to inspire people and lead them effectively, we let our negative feelings spill over onto the staff, or we employ thinly veiled strategies to manipulate them to do what we want. They become upset, cynical, or simply unmotivated, and the effectiveness of our leadership deteriorates further.
Because of our painful and frustrating experiences, we may be tempted to conclude that is impossible to attend both to the needs of the organization as a whole and to those of the staff who do the work. Indeed, we may wonder, is it even possible to be both a strong, results-oriented leader and a caring, spiritual leader to the staff?
When our results-oriented paradigms and personalities drive us to overfocus on accomplishing our personal goals or corporate objectives to the point of alienating or neglecting our co-workers and staff members, something is out of whack. If we persist in this imbalance, we won’t be effective leaders in the long run. Also, we will miss out on much of what we could experience as multidimensional, holistic leaders—that is, leaders who are attuned to the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being of the workers, as well as to the quality of the work they produce. The “what” and the “how” of our work must be kept in balance. How we work with others to accomplish corporate goals must be appropriately balanced with what we seek to accomplish as an organization. How staff members are treated and how they feel about working in an organization must not be minimized in the pursuit of results.
In other words, a results-oriented model of leadership is grossly deficient if it disrespects, devalues, or fails to attend to the needs of team members. Leading in this way is shortsighted and counterproductive. Furthermore, an excessively results-oriented environment may produce outcomes that are shallow at best and dangerous at worst. The results will be shallow when we neglect quality in pursuit of quantity, when we are satisfied with form over substance, or when we tout organizational success while giving short shrift to our core values. For example, if a church doubles or triples its membership or builds a beautiful facility, yet people’s lives are not being transformed or staff members feel manipulated or devalued, something is missing from this picture of “success.”
In time, an overemphasis on results within the corporate culture may actually be dangerous for those who work in the organization—and in the case of a church, for the people of the congregation. Any organization that places undue value on achievement, appearance, and status places increasing pressure on people to perform for one another. People who believe that others are determining their worth mainly on the basis of how well they seem to “have it together” and the results they produce may be tempted to hide their struggles and inflate their successes. Hypocritical posturing and judging of one another may increase. The environment may become psychologically and emotionally unsafe and even debilitating for those who struggle to measure up. Even those skilled enough to perform well may risk intolerable levels of stress and burnout—levels that may seriously impede their ability to be caring co-workers within the organization, and loving spouses and parents at home.1
Why? As limited, fallible human beings, we are dependent on the grace of God and one another for life. We function best in environments where grace is valued, care and support are offered to individuals, appropriate performance standards are maintained, and significant opportunities are given to contribute to the success of the organization.2 High expectations bring out the best in us, inspiring us to contribute significantly as workers and community participants, but the standards should not be so high that we feel pressured to be dishonest or ruthless. Leaders who overfocus on results and performance, without an adequate measure of grace and genuine concern for the well-being of their workers, will eventually make people feel that it is unsafe to be honest, vulnerable, and open to seek or receive the kind of support they need.
Of course driven, results-oriented leaders are not the only ones who can get out of balance. For example, those on the other end of the leadership style spectrum may be consumed with pleasing or caring for co-workers—a different kind of results orientation. For those in this category, an overemphasis on “results” looks quite different. Instead of focusing on completing tasks and meeting corporate goals, we are preoccupied with personal popularity or the feelings of staff members.
Leadership that overemphasizes people is doomed to failure and disappointment. If our main goal is to be liked by everyone, we are going to fail to do something that needs to be done for the sake of the team (in an effort to avoid conflict, for example). We may fear that our action will alienate a team member, without realizing that our inaction will likely annoy or frustrate someone else. If we are truly motivated to be caring people who show God’s love and grace to our co-workers, we may have the best of intentions, but we may wind up with a different kind of leadership frustration—results that fail to earn the respect and approval of our board, constituents, or donors.
Our concern for our staff members and the people of our organization has gone too far when we neglect our responsibility to keep the mission of the organization central in our thinking and leading. We get out of balance and become ineffective when we as leaders allow the priority of the team to shift from effectively serving Christ’s purposes in the world, however we may define them in our sphere of influence, to serving the people on the team. In fact, when we overemphasize the feelings and experience of the people within our organization to the neglect of our job, we are not being leaders at all—no matter how many people may line up behind us. Pied pipers woo people for the sake of their own gain. Spiritual leaders win followers for the sake of Christ and to further the kingdom of God.
What’s needed, then, is a balanced model of leadership that holds together achieving the right kind of results and doing so in the right way. Effective leadership will be concerned both with producing high-quality results and with promoting a healthy, graceful, and stimulating work environment.
Results are important, because organizations and businesses are created to produce them; and leaders and staff are hired to achieve them. Measurable outcomes are helpful, because they allow us to evaluate the effectiveness of any endeavor that is worth our effort. At the same time, treating well and caring adequately for the people within our organization is also important, because each worker, serving in any position in the organization, deserves to be treated with respect. Furthermore, from a pragmatic point of view, a healthy, graceful, and stimulating work environment brings out the best in employees and group members, significantly supporting the long-term success of any enterprise.
Yet, the truth is, even if we know about all the components and dynamics of effective leadership, we may not know how to perform this balancing act or what action we can take to change our work environment. When I thought I did know the right thing to do, what I did at times felt awkward, forced, or insincere. Sometimes helping staff feel cared for seemed to require my acting or saying the right things or going through the right motions, even if I was thinking something quite different. I felt an internal tension that often produced mixed results at best.
On the other hand, leaders who overfocus on people or relationships may try hard to stay on track with goals, deadlines, and priorities, but find themselves overpowered by the demands of others. They may have a plan to produce great results, but feel in bondage to the feelings and wishes of everyone around them, without the freedom they need to meet job expectations. Their heart for others or need for others’ approval may simply be too strong in the real world of everyday life at the office or in the committee.
So what’s the answer to becoming truly more effective leaders?
It’s not to try harder. That’s exhausting.
It’s also not to attempt to be “nicer.” Even if that “works” by helping others to feel better about us, we will likely still be churning on the inside.
Pretending we are not disappointed, frustrated, angry, or annoyed doesn’t work either. Despite our best attempts at self-control, our feelings usually have a way of seeping out. Comments that fail to hide a thinly veiled hostility and negative nonverbal communication can cause more negative results than straightforward talk about concerns and issues.
If you’re a people pleaser, exerting your will to shut people out and focus on tasks isn’t the answer either. Your heart won’t be able to stand it, your unmet relationship needs will make you antsy or moody, and others around you will find an unhealthy way to get your attention anyway.
In short, just recognizing the value of leadership that balances concern for results and concern for people isn’t the same as being an effective leader. Even trying our hardest to compensate for our tendencies to go to one extreme or the other is likely to fall short. Something more is necessary—something far deeper and more powerful.
To be the leaders God intends us to be and to lead in ways that honor God and bear the fruit God intends, what is needed is nothing short of personal transformation—a true inner change of heart, mind, and soul—that ultimately leads to a transformation of our leadership. Though many external factors may influence our effectiveness as leaders, it is the internal ones that we must come to grips with if we truly want to become the leaders we have been called to be.
Inner transformation begins with a willingness and commitment to do the hard work of personal and professional development. In the personal dimension of growth, we need to believe that as we become more whole people, our ability to lead will become both broader and deeper. We need to value developing emotionally, socially, psychologically, and spiritually, believing that as we grow as people, we will grow as leaders.
The professional dimension of growth is equally important. Periodically, someone will object to calling pastors or other Christian ministry leaders “professionals.” Some fear weakening the prophetic voice of the Christian leader; others worry about contaminating the sacred nature of the calling. I, too, am deeply concerned that Christian leaders maintain a clear witness and a vibrant spirituality, but I am not afraid of the professional label. In fact, I welcome it, because to me it communicates a commitment to high standards, integrity, and skilled service. To reach our potential as leaders, we need to see ourselves as professionals, in the best sense of the word, and seek to grow in every way possible.
Then comes action. We need to roll up our sleeves, draw on available resources, and set aside the necessary time and energy to develop ourselves. We need to learn to do our jobs better, to acquire more knowledge, and to try new strategies and tactics. We need to do our own personal “work” to get healthier and to mature, and to develop whatever professional skills we can to excel in our jobs.
Yet professional growth goes beyond acquiring new information, skills, and methods. Inner transformation means a fundamental change in our mind-set, so that we truly think differently, and perceive God, others, our work, and ourselves in healthier and more constructive ways. It also involves a change in our heart, so that we increasingly become motivated by love.
The process of internal change is not the same for everyone. The potential catalysts may include formal education, inner healing, confession of sins and repentance, the discipline of being mentored, meaningful relationships, experiences with others, and psychotherapy. Inner transformation can come also from first making concrete changes in behavior, such as adjusting our operating policies and procedures, practicing new leadership styles, and reordering our priorities—provided that these changes are not gimmicks or furtive attempts to manipulate others.
Above all, the greatest potential contributor to personal and professional development is our own spiritual growth. As our relationship with God deepens and we learn to integrate our spiritual life and leadership more fully, we will begin to understand spiritual leadership in new ways. As we seek to lead in ways that focus on what God is doing in us and in the organization we serve, we will experience more of the abundant life than we imagined possible, and so will those who work with us.
Spirituality and Spiritual Transformation
A simple definition of spirituality is our sense of connection to God. For the purposes of this book, I am assuming a Christian frame of reference, based on New Testament teaching. God is our Creator, and we live because of the life God gives us (Acts 17:24-28). While God is distinct from his creatures, God is also present within believers through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). As human creations, we have a spiritual dimension that allows us to commune with our unseen Creator God, who is spirit (John 4:24). God’s Spirit within us is what makes inner transformation possible and gives us the power to live godly lives (Gal. 5:16-25).
For many Christians, connection to God takes the form of a strong personal relationship with Christ. An informal survey I conducted among Christian leaders resulted in a number of definitions of spirituality that focused on Christ. One pastor said, “Spirituality is the pursuit of Christ, leading to a life like Christ’s.” A church historian, Mark Burrows of Andover Newton Theological Seminary, who has done extensive academic work on the subject, defines spirituality as a “lived experience and expression of Christian life.”
Regardless of one’s definition of spirituality, people have varying degrees of awareness of God and God’s presence in their lives, from a vague sense of a life force within or around them to an intimate, personal relationship with God. The greater our sense of connection to God and the more that connection affects our life, the more vital our spirituality. Thus, vital spirituality refers to a strong sense of connection to God that significantly influences our thinking, feeling, and behavior.
Spiritual transformation involves inner changes that make our spiritual life more vital. All of us have a spiritual dimension to our lives, but we do not all experience spiritual transformation; and of those who experience spiritual transformation, not all experiences are the same. Yet from a biblical point of view, spiritual transformation is rooted in God’s work in our life and involves many recognizable cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes.
First, spiritual transformation includes an ongoing process of moving from a self-centered worldview and self-serving functioning to a God-centered perspective and devotion to serving God’s purposes. For Christians, God-centered thinking and living lead to placing God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) at the center of one’s life. God is the source of life. God redeems our life and provides the power to live out our God-given purpose in life. In more personal terms, spiritual transformation also deepens our awareness of God’s love for us and increases our love for God. The greater our transformation, the more God’s love permeates our senses, our thinking, and our way of living.
The paradox of spiritual transformation is that we serve our own best interests when we abandon self-serving thinking and behavior to serve God by following Christ. Jesus’ startling words to his disciples illustrate the paradoxical nature of vital spirituality.3 He says in effect that if we truly have our own best interests in mind, we will renounce our attempts to please and serve ourselves to follow him and serve the gospel. Mark summarized Jesus’ teaching on the subject this way:
[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”Mark 8:34-35 nrsv
Mark, then, maintains that “life” is attainable only through a certain kind of response to Jesus and the gospel Jesus proclaimed: life comes to those who have faith in and are devoted to Jesus, evidenced by their renouncing the impulse to trust in and rule their own life and by following Jesus even to the point of suffering and death. The broader context of the Gospel of Mark indicates that Jesus had in mind more than just saving their physical life; he was talking about a quality of life that begins in this life and extends into the next.4
For our purposes here, Jesus’ main point is that the way to this quality of life begins with a right relationship with God. The alternative to gaining one’s life Jesus’ way is ultimately losing one’s life—through attempts to gain it by promoting oneself and one’s will alone, in isolation from an awareness of or devotion to God. Thus, the resolution of the paradox that we lose our life to find it is that the conflict is not between anti-self and pro-self; the conflict is living one’s life out of a right relationship with God versus trying to go it alone without reliance on God.
John the Evangelist talked about vital spirituality as eternal life, a special quality of life produced by the Holy Spirit. We first experience it in the course of our natural life, and it extends into eternity. He begins to explain this concept by telling the story of Jesus and Nicodemus, in which Jesus taught that participation in the kingdom of God requires spiritual transformation; that is, being born of the Spirit.
Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, â€˜You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”John 3:5-8 nrsv
In the same chapter, Jesus indicates that the spiritual birth he described to Nicodemus not only is produced by the Spirit; it comes about because of God’s great love for humanity, which he demonstrated by giving his Son to save the world. The required human response to God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice is faith, to which John alluded earlier in the Gospel when he described Jesus as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). By trusting in Christ, we may have an assurance of forgiveness of sins and freedom from fear of condemnation:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.John 3:16-17 nrsv
From this one chapter, we can develop a definition: spiritual transformation includes recognizing God’s loving initiative in Christ, experiencing a dynamic encounter with the Spirit of God, and having faith in Jesus as God’s Son, who gave his life to save the world.
The apostle Paul’s writings consistently affirm what Mark and John pointed to about the spiritual life, especially emphasizing the transformative role of the Holy Spirit. Among many references, Paul describes the vital spiritual life as being set free from condemnation and the power of sin by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within those who are in relationship to Christ (Rom. 8:1-2). He sums up his teaching by saying, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom. 8:14).
Late in the chapter Paul stresses an important quality of God’s love for those who have faith in Jesus Christ: God’s love is permanent and utterly reliable. He concludes:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38-39 nrsv
God’s part in our spiritual transformation is to provide forgiveness and eternal life through our faith in Jesus Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit in our life. Our part in cultivating our spiritual life includes an appropriate response to all that God provides. We begin with faith and move to putting our life at the complete disposal of God to serve God’s will in every way possible. Paul describes this response as offering ourselves as a “living sacrifice” and renewing our minds that we may be transformed:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:1-2 nrsv
Spiritual transformation also includes learning to let the Holy Spirit produce certain desirable qualities within us and in our relationships. Paul depicts this phenomenon as “walking by the Spirit”; he lists many of the attributes of the Spirit-led person in his letter to the Galatians:
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. . . . The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. . . . If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.Galatians 5:16, 22-23, 25 nrsv
Finally, transformative spiritual experiences usually come with a significant emotional response. Peter describes the joy, hope, and love that faith produce:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. . . . In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials. . . . Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.1 Peter 1:3, 6, 8-9 nrsv, emphasis added
In sum, as the example and teaching of Jesus and various biblical writers affirm, spiritual transformation involves many cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes in the life of a believer. God’s loving and gracious activity leads us to embrace and pursue an intimate, loving relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we increasingly grasp the magnitude of God’s grace, we grow in our gratitude and joyful appreciation for all God has done for us. We increasingly move from a self-centered to a God-centered orientation, making significant changes in our perspective and priorities. As the Holy Spirit gains greater influence within us, we become Spirit-led people who live out our calling in life by God’s leading and power. We are increasingly changed from the inside out, experiencing faith, hope, love, and other fruits of the Spirit.
Spiritual leadership is something we offer to others when we consciously draw on God as the wellspring for our life and leadership. Spiritual leaders, like all spiritually vital individuals, seek to be continually transformed through their relationship to God. In addition, spiritual leaders use their own faith, experience, and knowledge of spiritual principles and practices, as well as their position of leadership, to influence their workplace spiritually.
As the context permits, spiritual leaders also consciously foster connection to and reliance on God among board members, staff, and all stakeholders and beneficiaries of the organization, company, or ministry. They seek to cultivate a spiritually rich environment—not to promote doctrine but to catalyze team members to seek God and God’s will together. In short, spiritual leaders, in every way possible within the boundaries of their leadership context, seek the Holy Spirit’s leading for themselves and for their team members as they work together. They are Spirit-led leaders, who seek to pilot Spirit-led teams and organizations.
Congregations, institutions, co-workers, and staff members are often longing for Spirit-led leaders to bring spiritual vitality into the workplace, whether they realize it or not. They want greater depth of wisdom, discernment, and spiritual sensitivity in their leaders. They need help to avoid losing their souls as they attempt to navigate a fast-paced, high-pressure, performance-oriented culture that has an insatiable appetite for results. They want their experience as workers to match the values their organization espouses to customers, donors, or congregation members. They want to be fully valued as contributing members of the body of Christ, and treated respectfully as spiritually gifted individuals.
However, while the value of spiritual leadership is evident, few leaders seem to grasp what is needed, let alone have the ability to provide it. They may feel inadequate or stymied in their efforts to be spiritual leaders. They may be unsure how to integrate spiritual emphases with corporate goals and objectives. A religiously diverse staff may pose challenges that seem insurmountable or limiting to a leader’s ability to promote vital spirituality in the workplace. Leaders may not be able to get past their own performance- and results-oriented mentality. They also may not see how they can both show care and compassion for those they lead and produce the results expected of them. They may not know how to pursue a deeper spiritual life or how to let their leadership be transformed by it, let alone how to foster a richer spiritual environment among their co-workers. For whatever reasons, a vacuum of effective spiritual leadership exists in many churches and organizations today.
The Way Forward
Disillusioned leaders, burned-out clergy, weary executives, and demoralized staff members, not to mention disenchanted parishioners and a disaffected public at large, call for change. Many painful and frustrating experiences finally forced me to recognize the magnitude of this need.
The solution is spiritual leadership by Spirit-led leaders. Such leaders will cultivate a vital personal relationship to God that they consciously seek to integrate with their leadership, leading to a transformation of themselves and their leadership.
I now accept that many of the problems I was having as a leader, particularly in my role as a program director and most recently as executive director of a nonprofit organization, were due to a false dichotomy in my mind between administrative leadership—vision casting, strategic planning, managing, or coordinating others—and spiritual leadership, which I saw as a combination of supportive pastoral ministry to staff, preaching, teaching, and prayer. When I didn’t know how to integrate these two dimensions of leadership, or when my own preoccupation with results undermined my spiritual and relational sensitivities and priorities, my effectiveness as a leader suffered. Many times I blamed staff or volunteers for some lack I perceived in them. Now I realize that I was often the main problem.
I needed to mature and deepen spiritually and learn to think and act differently as a leader. I had to focus far more on the process of leadership and somewhat less on my desired outcomes. I discovered that it was better to let God lead and work in me, among the team members and in the ministry, than to try to make things happen by the force of my own will. I needed to make certain changes in my thinking and in how I guided the organization to make decisions and conduct business.
Three significant shifts in my heart, mind, and practice particularly have helped me to become a more effective organizational leader. Each relates to my own spiritual life or how I understood the connection between spirituality and leadership.
The first life-changing experience came from a profound encounter I had with the grace of God. I came to a new understanding of myself as a precious child of God—loved, forgiven, and called by God to serve Christ with certain gifts and abilities I had been given. This mental shift allowed me to rest in God’s love and grace in a new way, which set me free from the guilt and shame that were producing an insidious, driving impulse to achieve in order to feel good about myself. I still work hard, but now I do so much more from a desire to participate in God’s activity in the world.
My experience with the grace of God not only began to transform my self-image; it also significantly influenced the way I related to my wife, my children, and other people in general. At times my old shame-based, performance-oriented thinking creeps back, wreaking havoc on my own peace of mind and on relationships with others. Yet, an enduring shift has taken place. Grace is increasingly fundamental, not only to my relationship with God but also to every other aspect of my personal life and leadership.
The second significant change resulted from a fresh understanding of leadership as an outgrowth of my spiritual life. The more I developed a vision for my own spiritual growth and for the integration of my spiritual life and leadership, the less I saw a division between administrative leadership and spiritual leadership, and the less they seemed opposed to one another. In fact, now I see my spiritual life and spiritual leadership as the central integrating forces of every aspect of my organizational leadership.
The third paradigm shift came when I began to understand spiritual leadership as leading the team as a whole, rather than trying to minister to individual staff members in a pastoral sort of role. There was just too much tension between competing instincts for me to minister effectively to staff one to one on a regular basis.
On the one hand, in my unofficial, self-designated role as “pastor” to staff members within our organization, I wanted to encourage them to grow in their relationship to God and to help them cope with disappointment, discouragement, and even failure in their work. On the other hand, as supervisor, I wanted to challenge them to set high standards and hold themselves accountable; I didn’t want to take no for an answer, and I wanted our work relationships to focus on the tasks at hand and corporate goals.
Not knowing how to resolve these two competing impulses, I experienced a host of conflicting feelings, leading others to feel confused and distressed at times as well. For example, I felt joy when I was able to encourage or nurture a staff member, but then uncomfortable and awkward when I had to turn around and hold him or her accountable in the next moment. I felt frustrated if staff members didn’t want me to relate to them in a pastoral way, when I sensed I had something to offer them spiritually. And I felt frustrated if they did want support or spiritual nurture when I thought my higher priority was to address performance issues. I felt guilty when I was more concerned about the results of their work than the state of their spiritual life, and guilty when we spent time discussing meaningful spiritual issues instead of attending to job performance.
I have found that my administrative and spiritual leadership roles conflict far less often since I changed my approach to spiritual leadership. Now, instead of trying to be a pastor to each individual, I seek to be the spiritual leader for the team as a whole.
I have come to believe that for administrators to focus on supervisory issues with staff who report directly to them does not mean that they cannot serve as spiritual leaders, nor does it mean that they should confine their attention to results and performance. Rather than trying to be a pastor or spiritual guide to individual staff members, they can serve as spiritual leaders of their work group or team by drawing on their own spiritual life as they lead. They can offer their leadership and management as deeply spiritual people who actively incorporate spiritual principles and practices into every aspect of their work as members of a group or team of co-workers.
In general, then, leaders should not try to be the primary, personal pastor or spiritual caregiver for someone they supervise. While on rare occasions such a dual role—pastor and supervisor—may work, usually a supervisor’s need to focus on performance will conflict with the desire of the pastor to encourage and nurture. It is better for both the staff member and the supervisor when the staff member has solid spiritual and pastoral resources outside of the workplace. The ideal is for each worker to come to work as “filled up” as possible, as a whole person, eager and ready to serve Christ and the mission of the organization with his or her co-workers and boss.
The principle of finding pastoral and spiritual support from someone other than one’s boss is applicable to staff members of churches as well. If an employee’s supervisor is one of the pastors, a conflict of interest will arise at some point for everyone involved, limiting the quality of supervision, the pastoral guidance and support, or both. A good option for people who are both members and employees of a congregation is to find someone outside their church to meet their pastoral and spiritual needs. Pastors of other churches, spiritual directors, or chaplains in the area might be willing to serve in a supportive role.
These three shifts—from performance-based to grace-based living and leading, from dichotomous to integrated thinking about organizational and spiritual leadership, and from efforts to serve as pastor to individual staff members to serving as spiritual leader of the organization as a whole—have taken me a long way from my first attempts to be an effective leader. I am still results-oriented, but I have abandoned my force-it-to-happen style of leadership and compartmentalized thinking about leadership and spirituality. My greatest priority is cultivating my own spiritual life and leading from a strong spiritual frame of reference.
The results I now value more than any other are those that have a significant spiritual dimension. They are built on a foundation of grace and grow out of the Holy Spirit’s work in my own life and the gifts given to me and to others with whom I work. I feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction when we reach corporate goals, but equally important to me are the spiritual quality of the work environment and the methods used to achieve results.
The Spirit-Led Leader
Countless books and seminars are available to help leaders become better visionaries, more effective managers, more psychologically self-aware persons, better speakers and communicators, and more efficient stewards of time and resources. What is needed is biblically grounded, experientially validated material to help Christian leaders to deepen their own spiritual lives and to lead from a place of greater spiritual depth. Encouraging and helping leaders to become effective spiritual leaders is what The Spirit-Led Leader is about.
This book begins in chapter 1 by creating a new vision for spiritual leadership. Chapters 2 and 3 focus on how leaders can experience the grace of God in life-changing ways and can develop a deeper spiritual life. Chapters 4 through 8 focus on ways to integrate one’s spiritual life and leadership, so that ultimately every aspect of one’s leadership will be spiritual at its core. The final chapter addresses the real heart of spiritual leadership—experiencing and expressing the grace of God.
Each chapter explores a key leadership practice under the heading “What’s Needed.” A practice is something for leaders to do. Later in each chapter, a corresponding soul principle is discussed in the section “What’s Real.” The principle supports or informs the practice, and leaders will want to think and pray about how to incorporate it further into their spiritual life and leadership.5
Every chapter also has a section called “Here’s Help,” which includes ideas or exercises to help readers integrate the practice and principle discussed in the chapter in their life and leadership. The brief final section of each chapter offers “Something to Think About.” Here you will find suggestions for further reflection. You can work through the material of the last two sections of each chapter alone, with professional peers, or with co-workers. I recommend taking time to think, journal, and pray about the practice and principle first individually and then with your leadership team.
The Spirit-Led Leader is designed for pastors, executives, administrators, managers, coordinators, and all who see themselves as leaders who want to fulfill their God-given purpose as God intends. The book is for those who want to see “results” but who are learning to care just as deeply about who they are and how they lead as they care about what they produce and accomplish. It is for those who want to experience the abundant life that God intends for them and who want to see their organizations become what God envisions.
At heart, this book is about hope.
There is hope for those who want to produce excellent results that further the kingdom of God and who want to do so as effective spiritual leaders. There is also hope for the many churches and organizations that are longing for vital spiritual leadership.
By God’s grace, spiritual transformation and spiritual leadership are always possibilities. As leaders, we will always be flawed and limited, but hope for change and growth continually exists, so long as God is active in our lives and we are willing to do our part. That’s what the good news of God’s grace is all about—God’s work in our lives for good through faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.