9. Ministry of Spiritual Leadership

Who Are Spiritual Leaders?

First, spiritul leaders serve the assemby of Christ either as professionals or as paraprofessionals 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.

Before Birth

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for LORD 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 LORD called me; from my mother’s womb, he has spoken my name.” [2] While everyone of the assembly 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.

Set Apart

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 at a neighborhood assembly 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 [5] and continued with the manifestation of the Word, Jesus of Nazareth [6] 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 the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable [7] 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. Because 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. [8] 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.” [9] Jesus practiced what he taught, he “shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands, he led them.” [10] Therefore, spiritual leadership is very different from corporate leadership, military leadership, and even civic leadership. These are secular forms of leadership 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

I have always enjoyed this insightful wisdom by Henry Blackaby, “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.” 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 can read stories that generally cover an entire life span of an individual. As an example of some being saintlier 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

Considering 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, [11] ensuring that His disciples were fed, [12] 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 duties humility and placing the needs of others as a priority are the principle qualities of these vocations. I have always enjoyed the simplicity of this statement by J.E. Means 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 Biblical 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.”

Responsibilities – A Review

Now let us address what are the basic duties and responsibilities of both professional and paraprofessional spiritual leadership. Simply put, they are about the relationships, all kinds of relationships. However, the relationships between God and humanity are the relationships that are the most important and the primary focus of all spiritual leaders. Spiritual leaders are entrusted with nurturing and defending the relationships between humanity and God, which are communions between the loving Creator and the created. With these in mind, let us now further explore the responsibilities and duties.

The Ministry of the Word: Through the Ministry of the Word spiritual leaders teach humanity about God and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Regardless if they are standing in a classroom or in a pulpit the Ministry of the Word is to be an instructor. Spiritual leaders begin their Ministry of the Word through prayer. When they take time for prayer they begin their mediation by separating themselves from all that surrounds them and find a place of solitude so they can focus their thoughts on a conversation with God. They place their concerns and trouble before God, as well as their joys and praise. Through this thoughtful conversation with God, the spiritual leader also takes time to either minimize or silent the thoughts so that they can be at peace. It is during these periods of reflection that spiritual leaders receive inspiration and spiritual confidence.
Through the Ministry of the Word humanity learns the ways of God and the teaching of Jesus, the Logos of God. Through this instruction the faithful learn what is expected of them and to receive insight into the meaning and purpose of Scripture. It is through the Ministry of the Word that a spiritual leader serves as a teacher and has the responsibility to guide Christians on their pathways.
If a spiritual leader fails the Ministry of the Word, 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? [13] 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 to “proclaim Him, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone complete in Christ.” [14] This means every spiritual leader is to ensure 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.
I believe that the Ministry of the Word 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 a neighborhood Christian assembly, and the spiritual lives of the faithful depend upon them to strengthen both their minds and souls. Listen to what the Prophet Malachi had to say about clerics and their work as instructors, “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of LORD Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth.” [15]

Among Christians, Jesus is the example of a teacher par excellent. The manner in which Jesus taught reflected that of a Jewish religious teacher. Whenever he had an opportunity, he taught his apostles and the people who surrounded him. 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!”

Evangelism: Evangelism is an important component of the work of a spiritual leader, because it introduces and presents Christ. It is an open invitation to come and learn about Christ and the assembly of God. This 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.
It is a very compassionate act for a spiritual leader to offer someone something that will bless and sustain their life, especially when it is Christ that is being offered. When a spiritual leader invites a person to explore a relationship with Christ (or deepen their current one) they are making themselves available to answer questions and to encourage them to explore a relationship with Christ.

Presence: Walking among the people and being a spiritual presence is an important element of the work of a spiritual leader. Through their interactions they can share their spiritual journey with others and listen to the journeys that others have. Participating in the human community allows spiritual leaders to present Christ in very tangible ways. Christ spoke of these tangible ways when he said, “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.” [16] The way Jesus spoke of these throughout his public ministry made it very clear these were a priority for him and therefore they are to be a priority activities for anyone serving as a spiritual leader.

The apostle Paul wrote this warning about inactivity, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” [17] What Paul was saying is a truth, faith that is alive is faith filled with action. It is a living faith, one that is fully engaged in living out the Gospels of Christ. Therefore, being among the people is a great way of ensuring that our faith is alive and serving God and humanity.

Sharing: When spiritual leaders share their talents and life experiences among the human community, they are giving back to the God what they has been first given them. 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. Because it is engaging someone on a personal level, sharing can open the doors of opportunities in ways that impersonal ways simply cannot.

A Warning: While there are many hindrances to the work of a spiritual leader, there are two that are especially troublesome. They come in the form two statements, “I must first focus on the members of my parish” and “status quo.” These are parochial concepts that might work in a university or a hospital, but have no place in a local Christian assembly. Because a Christian assembly is to be an inclusive gathering of all the people, regardless of their personal realities.

Spiritual Development

Through the compassionate work of spiritual leaders, individuals are perfected and built up in Christ. But what does it mean to “be perfected in Christ?” This is a good question and Oswald Chambers [18] 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.”
God is patience when it comes to our spiritual development. God will take all the 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 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 towards sanctification. 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, our responses to our experiences, and our personal relationship God (or lack thereof). According to Oswald 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.” This follows what Martin Luther said, “How does sanctification take place? Sanctification takes place when we occupy ourselves with the Word of God and focus on spiritual exercises.” 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.

Final Reflection

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.” [21]

Written by Dave Pflueger August 12, 2004 © copyrighted by Pflueger

Footnotes: [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] Numbers 3:1-13 New International Version. [6] Matthew 10:1 New International Version. [7] Romans 11:29 New American Standard Bible. [8] Deuteronomy 19:15 New Living Translation. [9] Mark 10:42-45 New International Version. [10] Psalm 78:72 New International Version. [11] John 13:5. [12] John 21:12-13. [13] Romans 10:14-15 New Living Translation. [14] Colossians 1:28 New American Standard Bible. [15] Malachi 2:7 New American Standard Bible. [16] Matthew 25:35-36. [17] James 2:17 New International Version. [18] Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) was a Baptist preacher and a prominent early twentieth century Scottish Christian minister and teacher. [19] One Year With Jesus (a devotional) – June 11 (Mark 7:14-19). [20] Genesis 1:26 New King James Version. [21] Acts 20:28 New International Version



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s