Care & Feeding of Spiritual Leaders, Part 2

Need for Spiritual Practices

Authors Willimon and Hauerwas wrote:

"pastoral ministry is too adventuresome and demanding to be sustained by trivial, psychological self-improvement advice. What pastors, as well as the laity they serve, need is a theological rationale for ministry which is so cosmic, so eschatological and therefore counter cultural, that they are enabled to keep at Christian ministry in a world determined to live as if God were dead. Anything less misreads both the scandal of the gospel and the corruption of our culture, (pg 144)."

Immersion in a counter-cultural narrative requests from us a determination to live into another story.

The basic practices of lectio divina, contemplation, and varieties of prayer are affirmations of another narrative taking root. At times feeling synthetic and forced, these practices in time emerge as lively and dynamic. This loss of this basic reality of Christian spiritual practice can be seen in the rejection that some church-leavers express. Alan Jameison identifies frustrated leaders creating frustrated followers. Jameison notes that those who leave church at a high percentage are frequently its lay leaders. These leaders have experienced poor pastoral ministry, limiting administration, or unaddressed conflict. At the heart of their search, however, is spiritual vitality. As these leaders leave church, intending to never go back, they often create fellowships of spiritual and relationtional integrity. It was not church these people were rejecting; it was the spiritually dislocatedness of the churches they had known from which they were separating themselves. Spiritual leaders need spiritual practices in their own lives, but also, these practices are necessary for the sake of the leaders and congregational participants in the process of being mentored and formed.

One of the pressing needs for spiritual leaders is the opportunity to carefully view issues relating to boundaries. Each of us has internal pressures seeking relief from a variety of pressures. Some are basic, others more complex. Many boundaries can become confused. Desires for rest, intimacy, challenge, and prosperity can become skewed, resulting in a variety of disasters. Spiritual leaders falling victim to various sins may be falling victim to natural hopes and desires unidentified and unattended; or, falling victim to misplaced desires while seeking to console one pain through the expense of another aspect of their own identity. For instance, unethical sexual relationships for spiritual leaders frequently occur as the result of misplaced desires for a new identity, or a desire to be admired, a need for friendship, etc. Being unaware of the broken and wounded areas of our own lives makes us easy prey for these destructive tendencies. At this level, spiritual practices are vital not only for spiritual leadership, but being a spiritual human person. Spiritual practices lived by leaders in the congregation remain vital for the health of the congregation. The griefs, loss, anguish, and confusion in congregations arising from the ethical violations of their pastors, ministers, and spiritual leaders is extensive and long-lasting. Spiritual practices become a vital piece in helping spiritual leaders from engaging in sexual violations, abuse of laity, financial scandals, substance abuse, workaholic lifestyle, and many others.

Protecting Boundaries While Crossing Borders

The issues relating to broken boundaries have been discussed widely and at length in many church systems, denominations and fellowships. Yet a few crucial aspects may be missing from these conversations. First, we are in a missional era for the church. The missional era requires new skills, new narratives, and new practices from spiritual leaders. Many of the practices and attitudes of Christendom will not add the vitality needed to pursue the vocation God is granting. Second, this new world of missional leadership is filled with opportunities for rabbit trails, side-paths, and unfamiliar mazes.

As missional spiritual leaders we need narratives that make sense of our dissonance with much of contemporary culture, but keep us in relationship with it. While in fear, we may be defensive about the protection of certain boundaries, we need also to cross over some defensive walls that get in the way of a missional life-style.

In more than one of my pastorates, I was expected to help retain the separation of the faith and the social and cultural reality of the neighborhood and larger community. This was done in small and simple ways. For the most part my job description was to care for and serve the congregation. Any reach beyond that would face scrutiny. For the attempts to reach out in relationship to the wider community, when that is not valued in practice by a local congregation, requires a variety of leadership skills. But it also requires more foundationally, spiritual discernment and practices which clarify and strengthen missional identity. For instance, a bishop I know explained that he was trying to insert into his portfolio of expected tasks a mission way of life. Realizing that all of his time was spend caring for the congregations of his synod, he had no time to engage his neighbors or his local community. Furthermore, it could be the case that he didn't even have a local community because the expansive territory he had to cover, geographically. After prayer and conversation, he was able to develop a percentage of his ministry time to engaging in his local community in a missional way. But that development took time.

As pastors move from Christendom/maintenance churches toward missional churches keeping personal boundaries will be all the more crucial. As the role-defined boundaries give way from a maintenance mode to a missional one, the temporary loss of a proscribed identity can be disturbing for some. To understand a God-given self-definition in the midst of this change is vital. To know who we are in God's eyes as we serve and relate in a new "parish" (i.e. our expanded awareness of our wider communities to which we have been called to serve) is the only way in which we can serve to demonstrate the reality of the kingdom of redemption, healing, and hope that we are proclaiming.

While there are boundaries to protect, there are borders to cross over. Knowing the difference between the two also calls forth the need for other types of fellowship, accountability, and prayer.

How have you experienced the balance between protecting boundaries and crossing borders?

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.?