Many times the heads of churches, synagogues, etc. are called the “spiritual leadership” of a community. And yet most of us know that there is a huge difference between leading a church and spiritual leadership.
In what ways can leaders of churches (I am not totally sure how to label this for this particular discussion) lead instead of leading spiritually?
Instead of leading spiritually, we can easily lead:
1. Intellectually-most pastors love to study. If we are going to preach regularly, it is vital that we spend time in study, particularly of God’s Word. We are looked to as one of (if not the) Bible & theological expert in our congregation.
But because of that, it is possible to be a Bible scholar extraordinaire, but not lead spiritually. We know the Bible and theology incredibly well, we do not know how to lead spiritually.
2. Religiously-not everyone agrees that there is a difference between spiritual leadership and religious leadership, but I believe that it is vital to know the difference. Religious leadership (in my definition at least) is focused on rules and traditions and institutions. We are charged with keeping “religion” before people.
There can be a very fine line between spiritual leadership and religious leadership. It may be more attitude than anything else, but it comes down to are we keeping and leading people to keep religious rules and being defenders of the institution of the visible church on earth? Or does my leadership encourage others to pursue God and be more in tune with God?
3. Functionally-Again, this can be a fine line that is differentiated mostly by attitude. I believe that this can be the bane and blessing of multiple staff churches. There are functional things that need to be done: children’s work needs to be organized and supervised; administrative work needs to be done effectively and using “best practices”, small group leaders need to be trained and a structure put in place for growth and accountability of small Bible study groups. While I may raise the ire of some staff people by saying this, most of these jobs CAN be done without much spiritual emphasis at all. (They SHOULDN’T be, but they can be). They are functional tasks, or have as a part of their job description largely functional tasks. That is not the same as spiritual leadership. The same thing can be said, of course, of preaching ministers or senior pastors. They can speak well in public, organize the church very well, lead the church to phenomenal growth, administer the day-by-day activities and yet provide little or no SPIRITUAL leadership.
4. Organizationally-I may have slopped this category into the previous two. But in an age where growth is king is my primary emphasis the growth and promotion of an institution or of the spiritual conversion and growth of men and women. THE TWO DO NOT HAVE TO BE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. But we must be clear that organizational leadership is not the same as spiritual leadership. This statement is obviously too general, but I wonder if the emphasis on organizational success at the expense of an emphasis on spiritual leadership is the reason so many ministers have fallen into immorality. They have nurtured the skills necessary for organizational leadership, but have not guarded their souls.
5. Logically-We need to lead churches in line with “best practices.” Our Christian faith is logical and does not generally run counter to reason. But if that is all our leadership is, it is not spiritual leadership. God is so much bigger than our ability to reason. And at times he asks us to do things that don’t make sense. Like feed 5,000 people with two loaves of bread and five small fishes. Or wash the feet of those whom you lead. There have been many instances where the leadership of a church was swayed to make a decision because “it made sense” or was “the rational thing to do” when in fact, it was the wrong thing to do spiritually.
6. Positionally-this is kind of where I began in my introduction. Simply because a man or woman bears the title of minister, pastor, priest, rabbi, whatever, does not mean that they are spiritually oriented. Ministers can be like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time who loved “the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’” (Matt 23:6-7) Jesus warned, “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Matt 23:3b)
Our world is positionally oriented. We want to know who is up and who is down. And so our world believes it should honor those who have positions of religious leadership in our communities. They confuse positional leadership with spiritual leadership. Whether or not the world confuses them is not as important as whether or not WE confuse the two.
But to describe what something IS NOT is not really to fully describe something. (A giraffe is not a horse even though it has four legs and is a herbivore; a giraffe is not a snake although it has a long thin neck, a giraffe is not a leopard, although it can be reticulated.) Next time I want to ask the question, then, “What IS spiritual leadership?”