How to Be a Spiritual Leader

by Eugene Peterson

A lifetime of influence always reflects a person of character. A pastor or spiritual leader is not a job description, it’s a life that’s shaped in a certain way. We are all shaped by our environments. To try and model yourself after someone else is almost always a mistake.


Being a pastor is the most context-specific vocation there is. As a pastor, your life is your vocation. As a pastor, I knew what I wanted to do but didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t want to be an “entertainment” pastor. I didn’t want to be Presbyterian, that was like doing bookkeeping. I wanted to makes sure people knew about God and that they knew each other.


If you have a Holy God, you will develop a holy congregation. I knew I needed to be insistently local, because the congregation is a local place. It has to be personal, you have to have relationships with all of the people. In my own case, there was still a church building to be built and funds to be raised. I realized I had an adrenaline addiction… I liked to compete. I also realized I didn’t really know how to be a spiritual pastor, but realized my congregation didn’t know what was a pastor was either.


That was the first step. I was proactive to make sure they knew who I was as a pastor so I could determine who they were as a church. I didn’t want to run a church, I wanted to be a pastor. All of us learn how to do what we are doing while we’re on the job. None of us are exempt from learning how to be a pastor on the job and to trust the people who are with us on the job.


We need to let other people be ministers along with us. You need to give people responsibility and authority to create a holy community. Determine not to look at people as problems to fix. Do not look at people as resources to use. Doing either of this is dehumanizing. Treat people with dignity and as eternal souls, not as ways to make a living.


Most of the leadership models we have given to us in our secular culture have to do with getting something done. Making money, building something, going on a mission, etc. tend to make us feel that we are spiritual because we are busy doing spiritual things. A pastor’s chief job is not to get something done but to pay attention to what’s going on and to be able to name it and to encourage it.


We live in a secularized world where leadership positions almost entirely do with having to get something done and figuring out how to do it. A pastor has a unique position in the church of Christ to be on the ground and local in a community, paying attention to what God is doing and helping people see it through the exposition of Scripture and teaching.


People pay more attention to listening. The Bible is our Story. The pastoral vocation has to do with being available to people, to lead them into maturity and in the life of Christ without mimicking you. People also need to grow in Christ in the context of who they are, in their vocations, etc. Being a pastor is a modest job. We are not important in the economy of the world… we are, however, important in the economy of the Kingdom of God.


Worship, teaching, silence and being present are major disciplines of a spiritual leader. Spiritual formation doesn’t mean getting a bunch of disciplines together and doing them, it means paying attention to what’s going on in your life. The caution: don’t let culture define our position and our vocation. Secular culture infiltrates the church… we live in a sea of secularity, it’s hard not to be influenced by it. Think deeply, pray deeply, read widely in the literature of pastors.


Steep yourself in the community and company of pastors. This is a unique vocation and we can learn from a lot of people and we need to pay attention to the people who have done it well. Understand the inner-workings of the pastoral life. Steep yourself in the literature of the life of faith. Keep your guard up against the secular stuff going on around us. There is a lot of pessimism in the church today. We’ve been in this position so many times … for 2,000 years, and for 2,000 years before that as a Jewish community. We’ve never been truly and completely successful at it. Israel was only faithful every once in awhile… All throughout it, though, salvation is still working out in spite of us.


You must be a spiritual person if you want to be a spiritual leader!


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