Painting Spiritual Leadership


The Alban Institute’s latest “Congregations” has an article entitled “Leaders are Lovers,”  by Herbert Anderson.  It’s an article I wish I had written.  Anderson talks about the importance of bonds and boundaries in ministry. He says, “pastoral bonds are as important as pastoral boundaries because connected leaders are differentiated leaders.”

He asks the question, “what kind of leadership will foster hospitality inclusive enough to penetrate the walls of separation among people and between generations erected out of fear?” Yes! This is the question. We want stability, tradition and nostalgia, and we also want to grow, be hospitable and open to change, and some how these two desires seem to be contrasting rather than supportive of one another.   How do we establish boundaries of ideals and principles and at the same time create bonds of diversity and inclusiveness?

Anderson talks about how pastors have long been trained to have strong boundaries and to strive be self differentiated. The challenge is, how do we maintain appropriate boundaries and  at the same time stay connected?  He quotes the expert, in my opinions,  on self differentiation Rabbi Friedman, reminding us that as leaders we have to see where we are in the system instead of seeing where everyone else is and then responding to the system. I think this is so difficult. When we hear that people are unhappy, or annoyed or don’t like this or that, it is tempting to go with wind to try be all to all.  I have a friend who calls this “chameleon ministry.” We change our theology, our polity, and our personality to fit the needs and desires of our congregations. We do this because we are pleasers. We want to make “everyone happy,” and we want to be liked. This is what means to NOT be self differentiated.

Pastoral leadership comes not from being a chameleon or a perpetual pleaser, it comes from knowing who you are and who you are not. It comes from the ability to listen and trust. Anderson quotes a pastor named Doug Purnell, who described his vision of ministry this way:

“I offer no big plans. I can only offer to live honestly,openly and deeply as your spiritual leader. I will love the people given to my care. I will provide the best worship I am capable of. I will listen to the people of the congregation and community. My understanding of ministry is lie standing in front of a canvas with a brush in hand but no preconceived plan. If I listen deeply to the paint, occasionally, just occasionally a miracle happens and something very new and unexpected emerges.”

I love that. I think the best we can do is simply our best on any given day. We love. We listen. We pray. We think. We are open to the spirit and we laugh at our humanity.

At our church, we are in the middle of officer training, staff retreats and elder and deacon retreats right now. We have quickly turned the page from Advent and Christmas to budgets and programming. It’s so easy to get caught up in the details of the church. Who is going to do sound, usher, greet, sing, play, plan, teach, prepare, cook, clean, pray, visit, shovel, call, write, count, organize, lead, serve, speak, etc. These questions are vital to “getting the job done.” But they are not the questions that really matter. And while all of this is a tremendous amount of work, it is not truly the hard work.

A parishioner recently wrote me and said, “people care less about being appreciated and more about being connected.”   (This was humbling to me, as I work so hard at telling people I appreciate them.- Here I go again, being a chameleon) .

The heart of the matter is connectivity and  relationships, that is centered on trust and care. That is why we go to the canvas.

Next Saturday we have our officer retreats. My hope as spiritual leader is come with a clean palate and listen, listen, listen and ask that we all paint together the vision of who we are called to be.

Here is a blessing I picked up at a conference this summer:

A Blessing for Our Work Together, by John O’Donahue, “For One Who Holds Power,” in To Bless the Space Between Us

May the gift of leadership awaken you as vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.

As high as the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.

When the way is flat and all at times of gray endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.

When thirst burns in times of drought,
May you be blessed to find the wells.

May you have the wisdom to read time clearly
And known when the seed of change will flourish.

In your heart may there be a sanctuary
For the stillness where clarity is born.

May your work be infused with passion and creativity
And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.

May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.
May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy,
May you welcome your vulnerability
As the ground where your healing and truth join.
may integrity of soul be your first ideal,
The source that will guide and bless your work.

Please Read, “Leaders are Lovers: Fostering Bonds and Honoring Boundaries,” by Herbert Anderson. Found in Congregations: Issue 4, 2012

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