Who Are Spiritual Leaders?
First, spiritual leaders are both professional and lay professional individuals who serve the Church of Christ through the following categories: Minister of Word and Sacrament (priest/elder/presbyter), Minister of Word and Service (deacon), or as a licensed/certified lay minister. Second, the principle duties and responsibilities of either a Pastor or Assistant/Associate Pastor – are those associated with Pastoral Care. Individuals performing the Ministry of Pastoral Care belong to one of the following categories: Minister of Word and Sacrament, Minister of Word and Service, or Lay Minister as defined by a church.
The Spirit of the Sovereign YHWH is upon me, for YHWH has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the broken hearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. 1
Spiritual leaders have been chosen for their vocation before they were born, this is evident when Isaiah, a prophet and spiritual leader, reflected and wrote, Before I was born YHWH called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. 2 While everyone of the Church of God has been created and brought forth to serve God and humanity through their talents and experiences, there are those who come forth from the womb to serve as spiritual leaders, especially those created to be clergy. Jeremiah, another prophet and spiritual leader, meditated and wrote about this when he penned, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. 3 It has become clear, that God creates these individuals for this service before they are born and therefore they serve God and humanity in a very special way. Because their ministries have a unique relationship with God, they are not vocations that someone decides on their own to do. At some point in the life of the individual the reality of this vocation is awaken by the Spirit deep with their soul, and once waken both the vocation and Spirit gently calls out from the depth of their soul through the heart of one’s compassion, this is especially true for those who have been created to be clergy. Therefore, once awakened it yearns to grow and become a fulfilled gift that always offers back to God and humanity.
Like the prophets and sages of old, St. Paul also reflected on being set apart for service to God before his birth when he wrote, God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased. 4 While the Church uses the word “called,” it goes much deeper than an ecclesiastical invitation for service in the Church of Christ, it goes right to the created center of the individual. Every human being has been created by God and endowed with talents that are uniquely their own, and those who have been created with the sacred grace of being set apart for the work of spiritual leadership, have been set aside for this service in the vineyard of God. From the days of the Mosaic Covenant to our present age, God has sanctified the vocation that requires one to have a life totally committed to God. These individuals must place God and humanity before their own lives and realities, and focus on their complete commitment to being disciples of the Gospel of Christ. Beginning with the creation of this universe, through the covenant with the Hebrew people (Numbers 3:1-13), and continued with the manifestation of the Word, Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 10:1) God has been constantly clear on this matter, those who have been created for the special vocation of spiritual leadership have been sanctified by God to perform it. The individuals whom God creates for this vocation come from every background imaginable and from every occupation known to humanity. Therefore, we need to remind ourselves that God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 5 by human standards.
Because of human rebellion towards God and all things good and proper, the Church may have to defend humankind and hinder the sacred vocation. When the leaders of the Church must do this, they do so only after mediation and council, which only focuses on facts and evidence of wickedness. “You must not convict anyone of a crime on the testimony of only one witness. The facts of the case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 6 In addition to the testimony of individuals, physical and psychological evidence shall be means to establish the fact that an offense has taken place.
A Review of the Ministry
Now that we have established the basic nature of this ministry, let us look at the daily practices and responsibilities of this special vocation with a review of spiritual leadership (which is also known as pastoral leadership). It is a form of leadership that is unique to the ecclesiastical domain because this expression of leadership is foremost a servant-based form of leadership that is centered in the life style of Jesus of Nazareth. At the core of servant based leadership is the principle of placing the needs and concerns of others above your own personal needs. It is a form of leadership that requires one to present themselves as a living sacrifice and walk in love as an offering and sacrifice to God. From the Gospel of Mark we find an example of this style of leadership, Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 7 Jesus practiced what he taught, for [he] shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. 8 Therefore, spiritual leadership is very different from corporate leadership, military leadership, and even civic leadership. These are secular forms of leadership; and are subject to a certain amount of authoritarianism and egotistic natures. However, the core of Christian leadership is humility, the heart of a servant.
Servants of God – Not All the Same
“You will always feel ill equipped for the causes of God. You will always feel as though you have made too many mistakes for God to use you as a spiritual leader.” 9 This statement rings so true, because the devil does not want individuals to fulfill their spiritual gifts and talents, because if they do he loses; therefore, evil will do whatever it takes, to get us to a point where we doubt ourselves (who we are and our spiritual gifts).
With this in mind, when studying the subject of Christian spiritual leadership in the light of Scriptures, I generally avoid the third chapter of 1st Timothy and the first chapter of Titus, mostly because I find the Pauline school of discipline more restrictive then the concepts found in the Torah. Therefore, I prefer to focus on the spiritual leaders found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here we find spiritual leadership being practiced by a wide variety of individuals, some more saintly than others; we are also introduced to some of them when they are very young, so we are able to read stories that generally cover an entire life span of an individual. As an example of some being more saintly than others, I cannot think of a better example than Samuel and King David, in these two spiritual leaders we clearly see that God calls those who are morally very strong and those who have moral set-backs from time to time to be spiritual leaders of the people of God. While Samuel kept to the spiritual moral course that was set before him when he was very young, David was not as consistent in his spiritual journey; therefore, David is a good example that God does indeed tolerate moral flaws in spiritual leaders. Regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, both men loved God and served God according to both their calling and abilities. Joseph and Moses are another example of this; again, these are two great examples of spirituals leaders with very different personal characteristics. Joseph had a very strong moral spirituality and Moses had a strong personality, but had his flaws. Christians can do well in reading the stories of the lives of these great spiritual leaders and the lessons that they offer us. God chose these individuals to be spiritual leaders of the Hebrew people and one, Joseph, to be a leader and moral example for the Egyptians.
Spiritual Leadership – Hallmarks
In light of both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, we clearly see here that humility is the hallmark of Christian leadership and whenever possible these leaders are to avoid strong authoritarianism. Therefore, Christian spiritual leadership shall be a religious discipline. As a religious discipline it is to be practiced in the context of a life style that is centered in the wonderful examples that Christ gave us to follow; He did not think twice about washing feet (John 13:1-4-5), ensuring that His disciples were fed (Matthew 12:1), and other common everyday tasks. In this way, Jesus teaches us that the duties and responsibilities of spiritual leaders are not only those most closely associated with leadership and administration, but also the common everyday tasks are also the domain of a Christian leader. In this light, a spiritual leader and Christian parenthood are two responsibilities that are closely associated with each other, because in both of these duties humility and placing the needs of others before one’s own needs are the principle qualities of these vocations. I have always enjoyed the simplicity of this statement that describes the ministry of a spiritual leader, “Spiritual leadership is the development of relationships with the people of a Christian institution or body in such a way that individuals and the group are enabled and achieve biblically compatible goals and meet real needs. Through their influence, spiritual leaders serve to motivate and enable others to achieve what otherwise would never be achieved.” 10
Responsibilities – A Review
Now let us address what are the basic duties and responsibilities of both professional and lay professional spiritual leadership. Simply put, they are about relationships, relationships between humanity and relationships between God and humanity. These relationships cover the entire span of human emotions and life experiences; they are about intercommunion between that which we can experience and understand and that which we cannot. Therefore, at its very core it is a ministry of Sacred Love, a Mystery that is between the loving Creator and the created. It is also the relationships and interactions between those whom God has created. With this in mind, let us now further explore the responsibilities and duties.
The Ministry of the Word: Through the ministry of the Word spiritual leaders continue the redeeming work of Christ, that is bringing humanity into relationship with God; for through Christ God and sinner are reconciled; For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 11 Therefore, when Christ offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for our redemption the curtain that separated God and humanity was torn open, allowing humankind to enter the very presence of the living God. Like the sun, which enlightens the day, Christ is the Light that allows us to see our way through this life and find our way to the loving embrace of God. Christ is also our Advocate in the courtroom of the King of Kings; when accused of committing a sinful act, He proclaims on our behalf that someone else has already pled guilty and received punishment for the act. With this in mind, the ministry of the Word has the responsibility to remind all of us that through the Word of God we come to understand redemption and the role it plays in our lives. Furthermore, through the ministry of the Word spiritual leaders can find the assistance needed to help individuals to understand the undisciplined nature of our Free Will and the trouble that it can bring upon our lives, and how we can discipline it and bring order into our lives through an honest relationship with God. Therefore, it is through the Ministry of the Word that spiritual leaders can awaken us to the knowledge that that we have a reconciled relationship with God and therefore we can stand in a correct relationship with God. Through this Ministry of the Word, we know that God truly loves us and through the Gospels, we learn and understand that Christ has forgiven our sins; he has wash us thoroughly from our iniquity, and cleansed us from our sin. 12
Evangelism – Invitation: Through spiritual guidance and Christian Scriptures individuals can enter into a personal relationship with Christ, this is called Evangelism. Evangelism is a important component of the work of a spiritual leader and it has two basic forms. The first is introduction and presenting Christ and the second is sharing through expressing the teachings of Christ I ones own activities.
The invitation either introduces a person to Christ for the first time or it may reintroduce a person to Christ. Either way, they are invited to know Christ. Therefore, it is a ministry that also can be time consuming and requires patience, wisdom, and most of all prayer. When a spiritual leader invites a person to explore a relationship with Christ (or deepen their current one) they serving as ministers of the Word and are offering that person the instructions of wisdom, justice, judgment, and fairness 13 that is found throughout the Bible. The very same instructions that can sustain their soul for not only a lifetime, but for eternity. It is a very compassionate act for a spiritual leader to offer someone something that will bless and sustain the life of the individual, and even more so when the wisdom that is offered is the Word of God – Jesus of Nazareth. This can only begin when the spiritual leader takes the first step by offering a warm and friendly invitation to all individuals to meet their elder brother – Jesus, who is also their best friend. By offering an individual an invitation to meet Jesus, the spiritual leader is inviting them to experience for themselves that He is trustworthy and will stand by them in good times and in bad times. This moves us to the next level; for once a person has been introduced to Christ they become a candidate for membership in a local Christian community. This means that the spiritual leader needs too gently allow the person to grow in their relationship Christ and even more gently encourage participation in a Christian community. When guiding a person to a local community, spiritual leaders should always avoid high-pressure sales tactics that are common in the secular business world and stay far away from trying to make a person feel bad because they are not in church on Sunday. Pressure tactics and guilt trips are for the secular world, compassion and gentle persuasion are the tactics of Christian evangelism.
Evangelism – Sharing: The ministry of sharing is something spiritual leaders should do through their interactions with others. Through their interactions they are able to share their spiritual journey with others and listen to the journeys that others have. Regardless of who we are, through our interactions with others we present Christ in very tangible ways. Christ repeatedly shared his life with others and through sharing his life taught not only with words, but also with actions. The Gospels teach us, I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. 14 Here Jesus is not only teaching spiritual leaders to care for others, but he is directing them to be the kind of agents who offer something with the personal touch; in other words, sharing something in a way that also requires the spiritual leader to interact with the recipients. Therefore, if we offer someone a shirt, a can of soup, a ride to church events, or a home visit we are sharing our faith. Christ wants spiritual leaders to share their faith with others in very meaningful ways and through doing as Christ wants us to do – we present Christ to humanity in very useful ways through our interaction with humanity. When spiritual leaders share their talents and life experiences in the context of the Gospels they once again give back to the Holy what God has first given them; therefore, when they share in the Spirit of Christ it is an interactive form of evangelism. Throughout the four Gospels, we find Jesus sharing his life and ministry with others, especially in intimate moments like evening meals and in upper rooms. Jesus lived among the people and shared his life with all those who encountered him. Sharing can open the doors of opportunities in ways that impersonal ways simply cannot, largely because we are engaged on a personal level. The apostle Paul wrote about sharing our faith when he penned, Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 15 What Paul was saying is a simple truth, that is faith that is alive is a faith filled with action, a living faith, one that is fully engaged in living out the Gospel; therefore sharing our faith through our lives is a great way of ensuring that our faith is alive and serving God and humanity. Some final reflections on evangelism, we must always remember that spiritual leaders have the following responsibilities: (a) To serve as a resource person for all individuals who are developing a relationship with Christ; (b) To walk with those whose faith is evolving; and (c) To encourage individuals to share their faith through words and actions. This means praying for those who seek Christ and share Christ, so that they may receive wisdom and courage to follow the directions that the Spirit is leading them; and it also means that spiritual leaders should support and encourage individuals to share their faith through their lives and talents. In this light, two of the greatest hindrances to Evangelism and other forms of Christian outreach are statements like, “I must first focus on the members of my parish” and the “status quo.” These are parochial concepts that might work in a university or a monastery, but have no place in a local Christian community. Because a Christian community is too be interwoven with both the people and realties of the neighborhood that surrounds the church building and the real spiritual membership of the parish are all those who are created in the image of God and not just those who committed themselves to a membership agreement.
Sage and Teacher: One of the biggest responsibilities of all professional and lay professional spiritual leaders is to guide and instruct both individuals and congregations in ways that promote positive spiritual growth and a general knowledge of the Christian religion. This begins by proclaiming Christ through lives of compassion, instructing the faithful in both the pulpit and in the classroom; and equipping individuals so that they are spiritually fulfilled and able to serve the Church of Christ. If the spiritual leaders fail to do this, then how can [the faithful] call on [Christ] to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in [Christ] if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about [Christ] unless someone tells them? 21 Simply put, the faithful cannot and these spiritual leaders have become blind guides. Therefore, every spiritual leader who tends a flock of Christ has the responsibility of ensuring that every individual member of the flock receives the amount of spiritual milk that will allow their faith to grow and mature, and receive instruction on the Word of God and the basic beliefs of Christianity. The Bible provides us with these guides, [Jesus] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 22
I believe that teaching is one of the greatest responsibilities that spiritual leaders have. They teach in classes, they teach at seminars, they teach individuals, and they teach through their sermons. Without question, they are indeed the principle teachers of in the local Christian community, and the spiritual lives of the faithful depend upon them to strengthen both their minds and souls. For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of YHWH Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. 23 Among Christians, Jesus is the example of a teacher par excellent; in the manner of Jewish religious teacher, he taught his apostles and the people whenever he had an opportunity to do so. When he taught adults, Jesus never softened his punches or his message, but instead he taught clearly and boldly, as one with authority. From time to time Jesus did simplify his message, but never to the point of compromise. Like their Master before them, spiritual leaders are to stand firm, teach the faith, and proclaim the glorious Gospel of Christ. Luther summarized this when he said, “A preacher must be both soldier and shepherd. He must nourish, defend, and teach. He must have teeth in his mouth and able to bite, and fight!” 24
Opportunities for Service
When a stranger enters a church building on a Sunday morning, the members should make every attempt to make the individual feel that they are welcomed and respected without overwhelming them. The members should receive any questions that the visitor has with grace and wisdom, and the answers should be both simple and clear. It should always be remembered that Sunday mornings are a very, very busy time for clergy, so the laity plays a critical and leading role in both welcoming and hosting new faces through the door. Also, listen closely to the words of the new comers. If you do, you just might hear current or on-going needs that they have; and this opens other doors of opportunity for caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Through the compassionate work of spiritual leaders, individuals are perfected and built up in Christ; however, what does it mean to “be perfected in Christ?” This is a good question and Chambers offers a good answer, “Christian perfection is the perfection of a relationship with God that shows itself to be true … God’s purpose is not to perfect us to make us trophies in His showcase; but instead to get us to the place where He can use us.” 16
God is patience when it comes to our spiritual development. God will take all time needed to get us to the place where we can serve him, God will not interfere with our growth nor will God hinder it. God is a patience Father and will allow his children to grow and learn in the way that will benefit them the most. God knows all too well that everyone grows and develops their spirituality at their own pace and in their own way; therefore spiritual leaders need to have the patience and wisdom of a farmer. If a spiritual leader properly tends to the field and allows the crop to grow and mature at its own pace, then everyone will enjoy the fruits that the Spirit will bestow.
God gave us our gifts and talents so that he can use us for his purpose. These gifts are not to be dormant and they are not be used only for ourselves. In addition to the daily offering of our talents, we should always include that which the Sovereign first gave us, the ability to pray. Because our spiritual lives are perfected not only though our personal sacrifices, but also through daily prayer.
Our relationship with God is a natural progression that begins at our birth and completed when our soul begins its life in the presences of Christ. Through a life of spiritual growth a person gains religious wisdom and is sanctified through drawing closer to Christ. Hallmarks of our journey through life will be our life experiences (and our responses to them) and our personal relationship the Holy (or lack thereof). According to Chambers, “sanctification means to be intensely focused on God’s point of view. It means to secure and to keep all the strength of our mind, body, and soul, for God’s purpose alone.” 17 This follows what Luther said, “How does sanctification take place? Sanctification takes place when we occupy ourselves with the Word of God and focus on spiritual exercises.” 18
Therefore perfecting our spiritual lives is the “movement” or “exercises” that develops into sanctification; standing still does not perfect us, but a spiritual life in motion does. Here is another quote that I like to reflect upon when I am thinking about spiritual development and becoming perfected in the image of God, “We become pure on the inside – as Christ renews our minds and transforms us into his image.” 19 Therefore, throughout our mortal lives God continues to do what God first did for humanity, when God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. 20 In this light, our spiritual life is one that that keeps evolving throughout our entire life. The best response to this continual growth is to secure and keep all the strength of our body, soul, and spirit for God’s purpose alone. Therefore, interwoven into our spiritual growth is our sanctification and the more we spiritually grow as individuals the more profound our sanctification becomes.
Ministry of Sacred Acts
For those spiritual leaders, who have been bestowed with the honor of serving God and humanity as Ministers of Word and Sacrament, there are the additional duties and responsibilities of the Ministry of Sacred Acts (sacraments).
The Ministry of Sacred Acts is a great honor and one carefully bestowed. It requires the recipient to not only defend the assembly of Christ; but also what the assembly considers sacred. This goes well beyond ensuring that rites are performed an appropriate manner and the objects that are used in the ceremonies are respectfully cared for; it goes right to the core of being a shepherd. In that, the shepherd not only cares and defends the flock, but also defends and cares for the sacred activities that the community treasures most dearly and the Church affirms.
In closing there are many more thing I could say about spiritual leaders, but that would be yet another great volume on the subject and I would like to offer here a short presentation of the subject in this document, covering only the basics. I hope you enjoyed reading my reflection on the subject and remember there are many books on this subject that cover it on a far more in-depth manner; and I would encourage you to find one (or more) and read. I will leave you with this reflection from the Bible, Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 25
1 Isaiah 61:1 New Living Translation 2 Isaiah 49:1 New International Version 3 Jeremiah 1:5 New International Version 4 Galatians 1:15 New International Version 5 Romans 11:29 New International Version 6 Deuteronomy 19:15 New Living Translation 7 Mark 10:42-45 New International Version 8 Psalm 78:72 New International Version 9 Mark Becton 10 J.E. Means 11 John 3:16 New International Version 12 Psalm 51:12 New King James Version 13 Proverbs 1:3 King James Version 14 Matthew 25:35-36 New Living Translation 15 James 2:17 New International Version 16 Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) was a Baptist preacher and a prominent early twentieth century Scottish Christian minister and teacher. 17 Oswald Chambers 18 Martin Luther 19 One Year With Jesus devotional – June 11 (Mark 7:14-19) 20 Genesis 1:26 New King James Version 21 Romans 10:14-15 New Living Translation 22 Colossians 1:28 23 Malachi 2:7 24 Martin Luther 25 Acts 20:28 New International Version
Written by Dave Pflueger August 12, 2004 © copyrighted by Pflueger