Hello, church! It is very good to be back among you after our time apart this fall! For all that the sabbatical experience was for me, I also see good signs that it was a good and enriching period of time for you all as a congregation as well. We’ll have more opportunities to share from our various experiences in the coming weeks.
As you read this, our congregation’s Annual Meeting, wherein we elect new members of our Board and other identified leaders, will have just passed. In general, this season of the year is often a time when we end up talking about “leadership”, with those sorts of transitions happening in the various organizations we participate in, and even in our political and civic life often times.
In “churchy” circles, we often bat around the terminology of “spiritual leadership”. In discerning new people to serve on a congregation’s governing body (by whatever name it may go in a particular congregation or denomination), we often talk about people being “spiritual leaders”. In the prayer that we have been using for a number of years to open Governing Board meetings (and Church Council and other committee/board meetings before that), we acknowledge in God’s presence that “you have called us to be spiritual leaders of your body, this church.”
Myself, though, I take an expansive view of spiritual leadership. It is not only Board members, or Deacons, or other “identified” people who are called to engage in “spiritual” leadership in a Christian community. No matter our role or contribution to the life and leadership of the church, we are all called to engage in “spiritual leadership” in those roles. Whether considering big-picture policy and vision matters or distributing bread to the hungry, whether discerning the patterns of worship in this place that will best glorify and praise God and nurture God’s people or managing the nuts-and-bolts of facilities and finances… in any of these places and more, all of us are called to engage in spiritual leadership.
But what is “spiritual leadership”? What makes it different or gives it a unique character?
As you can imagine, there are plenty of different definitions out there, with similarities and differences among them. Today, let me offer one line of thinking for you to chew on…
In a relatively recent blog post, Michael Hyatt, who formerly headed up a major religious publishing house and now is a prolific thinker, speaker, and writer on matters of leadership, named what he’s seen as “six characteristics that identify most spiritual leaders”. Here’s his list:
- They lead others into their own encounters with God. One of the most effective things about Jesus’ lifestyle was that he didn’t switch into another mode to introduce His disciples to the reality of God. Whether standing in the synagogue or picking wheat along the path, interacting with [God] was so natural that others around him could not help but do the same. Whether a spiritual leader is training a new employee or working through a difficult conflict resolution, … followers will discover their own connection to God more deeply in the process.
- They lead others to discover their own purpose and identity. Spiritual leadership is characterized by great generosity. A spiritual leader genuinely wants others to fully discover who they were made to be. … People functioning in an area of their created identity and strength will always be more productive than those who are simply trying to fill a position or role.
- They lead others into transformation—not just production. When the goal is spiritual growth and health, production will always be a natural outcome. People function at their peak when they function out of identity. … Spiritual leadership fosters passion in those who follow. Passion is the ingredient that moves people and organizations from production to transformational impact.
- They impact their atmosphere. While we may not stop a tempest with our words, spiritual leaders recognize that they can change the “temperature” of a room, interaction, or relationship. Changing the atmosphere is like casting vision, only it is immediate. When there is tension, fear, or apathy, a spiritual leader can transform the immediate power of these storms and restore vision, vitality and hope. A spiritual leader can fill a room with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness, even while speaking hard things.
- They help people see old things in new ways. Many people are stuck not in their circumstances, but in their perspectives and paradigms. The word “repent” means “to think differently, or to think in a different way.” Jesus called people to look again at old realities through new eyes. Changing ways of thinking always precedes meaningful change.
- They gain a following because of who they are—not because of a position they hold. Spiritual leaders can be found in secular organizations, in the same way managers and organizational leaders can be found in religious ones. Spiritual leaders influence more than they direct, and they inspire more than they instruct. They intuitively recognize that they are serving something—and Someone—larger than themselves and their own objectives.
These six characteristics are a wonderful way to think about the sort of leadership any and all of us are called to display within our various roles and activities within the life of our congregation. After all, as a church, the way we do things and the way we are with one another should, hopefully, be shaped by some particular ways of being-in-the-world, ways such as these that Hyatt has named.
But I’m wondering about expanding our horizon as we think about spiritual leadership, expanding it beyond just the life of this congregation. What if part of our call as a congregation, and as individual Christians within it, is for us to take these insights and engage in spiritual leadership elsewhere, outside the ‘walls of the church’? What would it mean for us as a church to be an agent of spiritual leadership in the community, in our civic and political spheres, and beyond? What would it look like in the world if we, the Storrs Congregational Church UCC, saw it as our God-given and God-sustained vocation to be in the world in ways that: lead others to encounters with God… help others discover their own purpose and identity… lead others into transformation… impact the overall atmosphere of wherever we are… and help others see old things in new ways…? Beyond and above whatever specific activities of presence or outreach we may do, are these sorts of gifts of spiritual leadership what we are being called to offer and enact in the world?
Yours in the journey,