Care and Feeding of Spiritual Leaders, Part 1

While there are varieties of administrative, managerial, and programmatic skills needed for effective spiritual leadership, there is also a need to reclaim the role and position of a spiritual leader. Perhaps "spirituality" in the old modern age existed as ethereal and detached. Positive models of spirituality were then unnoticed, not discussed, or disregarded as unnecessary to leadership. With the advent of a new generation of business management books this level of disregard began to be questioned (Senge, Drucker, Wheatley, Covey, etc).

Interesting to note is how the church as an institution can innovate, but haltingly. Sometimes, in trying to be effective stewards of the resources at its disposal, we seek to be efficient. We struggle to define that efficiency and still find ourselves seeking to practice leadership that was developed in the business school of thought developed by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their "time and motion" research. If we were seeking to increase production of widgets, perhaps some of this would work. Or, if you too, were seeking to manage a large family. But since congregations aren't looking for a spiritual parent, the Gilbreth model might not work.

Other schools of management thought have taken root in the church. My intention here is not to cite them all, but to acknowledge that we have overridden the spiritual purposes of the church and its leadership to the detriment of all involved. An efficient process - robbed of a spirit of meaning and value and purpose becomes an alienating and draining process - becomes a dead-end.

This level of alienation is common among ministering leaders. In 1989, authors Willimon and Hauerwas wrote:

Cynicism, self-doubt, and loneliness seem to be part of a pastor's job description…All of our talk about what a great adventure it is to be in the church seems to crumble when placer alongside the lives of many of the pastors we know. Recently, when asked about the problem of depression among clergy, a pastoral counselor who spends much of his day counseling clergy remarked, 'What's the problem? Depression is the normal state of clergy.' (Resident Aliens, 112).

The alienation and depression does not end with the clergy, but the other leaders they shape within the congregation. As our inner life becomes more and more distanced from the public life of our leadership positions, the greater the tendency to go searching for answers in a piece-meal fashion. For church growth we read demographics, for ministry leadership we seek management advice, and for inner care and growth we often fall prey to faddish self-help in a guise of spiritual nurture. Spiritual leaders need to consolidate and integrate practices of spiritual nurture that speak to the whole of their being, not just the separate lines of their job description – their "doings." Without an integrated spiritual care, self-definition becomes the domain of the other external roles and relationships. Integrity (i.e. being integrated) becomes more difficult due to the lack of an over arching God-centered self-understanding.

I remember as a young pastor hoping for my day off. Not so that I could rest and relax with my family. I wasn't looking forward to running errands or house work, or other day-off kinds of things. I was looking forward to being myself apart for the roles that I thought my church wanted me to fulfill. In that congregation, I learned the painful result of burnout through a long and difficult stress-induced illness. After my recovery, I made conscious choices about integrating my identity with the roles I carried. I chose to let go of certain expectations of my role and seek a definition of myself shaped by God through careful engagement in classic spiritual disciplines. Since I lived through that experience of alienation from God's vocation for and definition of my identity, I have tried to counsel other spiritual leaders on how to navigate the world of expectations and role definition crafted by even the most well-meaning congregations.

What have been your experiences in spiritual practices and nurture as a pastor, elder, minister, spiritual leader, rector, bishop, conference minister, etc.?