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Spiritual Direction for Leaders

Posted on January 3rd, 2012

Can we serve as effective leaders in Christ’s church who lead others spiritually without receiving spiritual direction ourselves?

I do not think so. I speak here not simply from the witness of church history but also from my own journey of mistakes and failures. God has recently cemented this lesson in me as I have reflected on a recent decision I made that I wish I had more fully explored in spiritual direction.

We don’t talk about the term “spiritual direction” very often in the context of leadership, yet helping people respond to what God is uniquely doing in them is one of the most important things we do.

At the same time, being under spiritual direction is also critical. Eugene Peterson, in Working the Angles, warns us: “Our position requires that we act with authority; our faith requires we live in submission. While we are busy passing out the Lord’s commands in our congregations and communities, who is there to represent the same authority to us?…It is not merely nice for pastors to have a spiritual director. It is indispensable.” He defines spiritual direction as taking place “when two people agree to give their full attention to what God is doing in one (or both) of their lives and seek to respond in faith.”

I was deeply impacted by my recent Christmas sermon called “Making Room for New Births,” based on the the story of Mary and Elizabeth. I used the painting, The Visitation, by He Qi to illustrate Luke 1:39-56. It captures Elizabeth giving undivided attention to Mary. Take some time to meditate on the details of the painting.


Mary makes a three-month visit to Elizabeth’s house after she becomes pregnant. Elizabeth, her older, more mature cousin, had spent 5 months in solitude around her own pregnancy. As a result, she is fully attentive to Mary, honoring the presence of Christ within her.  Mary receives support, encouragement and hospitality for the new thing God is doing in and through her. This was key for Mary, I believe, so she could receive from God the strength she would need to hear His voice alone.

What might God be birthing in you? Who might be a peer, a godly friend, a formal spiritual director, another pastoral leader who might be able to be an Elizabeth to you as you seek to humbly respond to the living Jesus inside of you?




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