Can a leader be spiritual?

This week I’m in Chicago meeting with other middle and senior leaders in Graduate & Faculty Ministries. We’re focusing on creating a culture of leadership development within our corner of the InterVarsity movement. It’s not that we don’t think that leadership development isn’t happening, it’s just that we see that in order to make the leap to a deeper and more effective mission on campus we need a common, shared sense of the importance of developing leaders and an effective approach to carrying that element of our mission out.We want to be as intentional about developing staff, whatever their career stage, to be more effective leaders who are using their gifts and their wisdom to serve the kingdom of God as we are about doing this for students and faculty.

In discussing the topic of leadership there is often a degree of discomfort around the intersection of leadership and spirituality. Perhaps because there is such a shortage of healthy leadership in the ‘Christian world,’ we often associate leadership with things like the unhealthy use of power and influence. The word often conjures up images from the world of politics or of business. We wonder how can following Jesus be compatible with leadership–especially point leadership where you’re out front saying “this is where we need to go, come join me”?

Some observations…

Effective ministry leaders are always growing disciples of Jesus Christ. Godliness is the foundation of ministry leadership–where it is not present, the rest of the metaphorical building has been build on sand. Before anything else, ministry leaders are followers. We are called to follow Christ in obedience to express commands to us in the words of Scripture and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he leads us in making decisions and planning.

Perhaps the fact that we so often place spirituality and leadership at odds is a sign of a weak theology of leadership or of a weak theology of discipleship? Are we bracketing the task of leading the people of God and setting it apart from the touch of Jesus’ renewing and sanctifying work in us? May it never be!

Effective ministry leaders always consider others more important than themselves. I don’t mean that leaders ought to vacillate or equivocate on leadership decisions. I do mean, however, that leaders ought to love and value their staff and/or volunteers in such a way as to mean that their decisions always consider them. I am convinced that good leaders don’t consume and discard staff, but value and lead them into deepening effectiveness in their ministry.

I’ve got a long way to go in thinking about this topic and, frankly, to living out true discipleship in the context of ministry leadership. However, I’m convinced that unless and until we as ministers are able to find healthy, biblical ways of talking about the spirituality of leadership we will perennially be hamstringing the church and ministries we serve. We will be creating a culture of leadership apathy or avoidance rooted in the desire to remain a growing Christian and, ironically, for many, depriving them of one of the ways in which Christ wishes them to grow–using their leadership gifts to guide the people they work with.

What are your thoughts about leadership and discipleship?


Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership
Bob Fryling, The Leadership Ellipse
Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership

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