Leadership as spiritual direction

Sep 23, 2014 by

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A couple of years ago I was interviewed by a master of divinity 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 intentional community’s 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 very hierarchical and very much based on position and prestige. It is not about listening but telling.

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” (Phil. 2:3) and it makes us as leaders responsible for nurturing our team members in ways that nourish 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:

  • How do we rethink our leadership models so that they are more like spiritual direction than hierarchical power structures?
  • 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?
  • 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.

Christine Sine is executive director of Mustard Seed Associates, a small organization founded by her and her husband, Tom Sine, to assist churches and Christian organizations to engage the challenges of the 21st century. She writes at God space, where this post originally appeared. 

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