On leadership and losing your soul

On leadership and losing your soul

At Seattle Pacific Seminary, seminarians are required to take a practicum component with each core class. This winter quarter I’m taking class two of my Theology/Ethics sequence. Ask me about atonement theory sometime. This quarter, we were given an option to submit a weekly reflection based on Richard Osmer’s theological reflection cycle [which I did last quarter] or to respond and reflect to chapters in Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry. I’m not finished with the book but based on what I’ve read so far, it’s a book that every Christian leader needs to read. I’m not a huge fan of these ‘Christian’ leadership books because more often than not, authors will take basic organizational leadership theories and practices and artificially weave in Jesus. You know what I mean. But this book really speaks to issues of self-care, Sabbath and the need to resist being a service provider [over a servant leader]. Barton challenges her readers to ‘keep seeking tenaciously after God through spiritual disciplines that keep us grounded in the presence of God at the center of our being’—something we’ve all struggled with. So, read on for my own personal reflections from the first chapter, entitled, “When Leaders Lose Their Souls.”

Much of this chapter resonates with my life situation. I imagine there are those of you out there who can also relate. For me, leadership in the church has been synonymous with business or perhaps assisting others others to the point where we aren’t able to experience that right relationship with God that we are helping others to cultivate. Call it lack of self-care, a messiah complex or the lack of sabbath. The point is that in being so busy in walking with others on their spiritual journey, we unable to experience God ourselves. Not trying to find blame—merely stating a fact, at least in my life.

Often I’ve asked [and have been asked] the question about drawing from our wells. Is my well deep and ‘fed by a pure source’ as Barton states[i], or is our well dry and in need of replenishing? Lately, mine has felt really dry. So dry that I’ve questioned my own ability to lead our small group programs or my own small group for the quarter, since I don’t feel like I’ve given due attention to my own spiritual growth and time with God. I don’t want to be resentful of the ‘good’ I do in ministry or the times when I’ve said, ‘Sure, I don’t mind taking care of that.’ I want to be known as a servant, not merely as a service provider. I am becoming keenly aware of what ministry can do to one’s personal spiritual life. In looking at the deterioration of my own spiritual practices, I constantly feel like work/life/school are a great big balancing game—a game I would rather not play. Are our ministry/work commitments and journey toward growth and wholeness mutually exclusive? Does one area of our lives take precedence over the other? If the answer is yes, then what does that mean about the value of what doesn’t make the priority list?

How is it with your soul?

Wesleyans know this question well. John Wesley gifted us with this question used in small groups he organized: How is it with your soul? If we go back to the question of drawing from our internal well, then the question about the state of our soul is appropriate. How does one go about strengthening and tending to the soul so that we are able to lead from there? Barton says that spiritual leadership Spiritual leadership emerges from our willingness to stay involved with our own soul—that place where God’s Spirit is at work stirring up our deepest questions and longings to draw us deeper into relationship with him[ii].

I’ve been plagued with Christian business. On occasion, I’ve asked myself, am I missing the point here? Barton asks, What would it look like for me to lead more consistently from my soul—the place of my own encounter with God—rather than leading primarily form my head, my unbridled activism, or my performance-oriented drivenness? Furthermore, What would it be like to find God in the context of my leadership rather than miss God in the context of my leadership?[iii]  Isn’t this the million dollar question?

In February, I met with my District Committee on Ministry [DCOM]. I left the meeting feeling a lot of things, most, which I expressed here. I left wondering whether or not I was being true to myself in asking myself about my leadership style, what lurked beneath the surface of this business and the desire to do everything because I felt I had the ability to. I’m still trying to find answers to these questions and one attempt to do so is to begin meeting with a spiritual director, though my attempts have yet to lead to a meeting because of my class schedule. Always something.

How am I not myself?

The movie, I Heart Huckabees has this running line throughout: How am I not myself. After hearing it so much it becomes some existential joke, but at some point we have to be able to know ourselves well enough to answer this. Or to be honest enough to admit that we don’t know. One attempt at this is that I start meeting with a spiritual director in a few weeks. Knowing myself and being attuned to the ways that God is working is one way that I hope to be a better leader. I believe that Barton touches on something I believe to be true in leadership: to be able to lead others, we must also know what it means to be lead by someone else. To be able to lead those seeking spiritual guidance and sustenance, we also must be seeking these things[iv]



[i] Barton, Ruth Haley  (2012-01-18). Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (p. 22). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[ii] Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (Kindle Location 257). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[iii] Barton, Ruth Haley  (2012-01-18). Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (p. 25). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[iv] Barton, Ruth Haley  (2012-01-18). Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (p. 29). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.