Spiritual leadership in our culture today

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything that is my own. This is primarily due, I think, to the vast amount of processing I’ve been doing myself. Personal journaling and lots of thinking. One thing that has been on my mind lately is the extent that spiritual leadership goes to here in the west.

Ultimately, what I long to be is a spiritual leader, a guide… a shepherd. When I think of spiritual leadership and how it has taken shape in much of our world, especially in the East, I see leaders who have earned their leadership by “walking through the fire.” They have done the work… they have proved themselves to have wisdom, insight, and an ear for the spirit. Some of them end up blind, crippled… far from the flashy appearance we see from many of our leaders here in the West. They have sacrificed greatly for what they now have. People choose to follow them because their lives are changed.

My understanding of spiritual leadership comes mostly from within the Christian tradition, so I will focus there. When I look of the evangelical side of things, I see a strong passion for theology and “heady” stuff. It seems to me that as long as a pastor has had the seminary training, as long as he knows his Greek and his Hebrew, as long as he can give an extensive interpretation for the “right” way to read the Bible… he is ok in his church’s eyes. It comes down to education, seminary, and the ability to give complicated answers. He is the “professional” truth-teller.

Within the mainline tradition, there is less an emphasis on right doctrine and much more of a passion for polity, or “how we do stuff.” The structure is much more important than making sure that we all agree on the right theology. It seems that often a minister|leader in a mainline church just has to be a good upholder of the practices. If he/she can hold a good Sunday morning service, everyone is happy. As long as a minister sticks within the traditional structure no one will get upset. Even better if there is a good measure of energy within the structure of the church.

Holding both of these sides together is the authority that is given via titles, education, degrees, and higher authorities. As long as you earn it by going through the system, you may be deemed as one who has authority. Doctorate, Masters of Divinity, PhD, ordained… with a score card that has one (or all) of these, who can question the authority of the person in charge?

There must be something more than this. The question remains as to what it looks like and who, of those looking for some kind of leadership, desire something more? Is there a place in our individualized western world, that loves success and title, for a different kind of leader? I hope so… I really do.

7 thoughts on “Spiritual leadership in our culture today

  1. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. (Whoa! How did this font get so big?)

    I tried to write a comment in my own words here but it is not flowing. 🙂 Perhaps I might come back and re-visit the topic when my brain isn’t so fried.


  2. Nate,
    It is also important to define what it is you are looking for in being a leader as well. Success is very different than being a true leader. People who lead are not always seen as successful. A new definition of success in being a new kind of leader may be a valuable exercise for you to attempt. It may run more to influence, impact, integrity, values and relationships, more than the positional power of most definitions of leadership in our culture.


  3. I am happy that you seek to be a leader by following Jesus. Leading in the way of humility, love, peace, yet never losing one’s integrity, or compromising God’s Word. May He bless you in your journey so that you will truly have a shepherds heart. I am praying for you. Too often, those in positions of “church” authority, have become tyrannical and dictatorial. How far from our Shepherd we have wandered. May you be used, as His vessel, to call many back.


  4. Bob,
    Thanks for the thought. Very good connection between leadership and success. I think a lot of the issue really does come down to that. I have been thinking a lot about what happens when a leader is called to lead without the trappings of Western success. Am I prepared to begin giving up those things? What happens when the possession must be given away because they keep me from where the people are? What does it mean for me to be the “pastor” of a community that doesn’t go to church or give money to churches?


  5. Campenita,
    Surely with goodness and mercy will he pursue us all the days of our lives. This is the shepherd I know and I long to be the same. I will call and pursue… may we find our place in this world. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.


  6. Questions…do you think those of us who have “earned” titles or degrees have not given up , sacrificed, or “walked through the fire” in order to be known by those “titles”?

    Is it not individualistic to want to be a “different” kind of leader?

    When I first read this blog I was put on the defensive, as some one who has grown up in the church, gotten the degrees, and believes in the polity. I don’t believe you are attacking those things but I do wonder in what ways (like Bob) you define leadership or success? Why do you want to be a leader? How have you been affirmed in that call to lead? What is stopping you from being the type of leader you want to be? How do you define authority? Can you accept authority placed on you by others?

    As you can see I have a lot of questions…maybe a Deschutes session is in order.



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