Discussion Board – Spiritual Formation

Discussion Board 3

Spiritual Formation and Your Call to Ministry


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Topic: Pettit, chs. 8-9 Thread Prompt: How would you connect leadership and calling to spiritual formation?





Chapter 8.

Leadership and Spiritual Formation


Andrew Seidel


Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.


—-James MacGregor Burns, Leadership, 158


Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.


—John 13:14-15


Leadership and spiritual formation have a symbiotic relationship. Both, by their very nature, require the production and experience of continuous change. From one perspective, spiritual formation involves individual change while leadership involves group or organizational change, which also requires individual change. Certainly spiritual transformation in a group or ministry setting requires effective spiritual leadership. But the most critical element of the symbiotic relationship is that effective transformational leadership1 in any environment, religious or secular, requires the spiritual transformation of the leader. As leadership studies have progressed over the last few years, the role of the inner life of the leader is becoming more commonly recognized.

Even with the avalanche of new books on leadership, there is still no common agreement on the meaning of leadership. A surprising number of these new books claim to provide the “secret” to effective leadership, as though there is some previously undiscovered simple key to leadership success. Definitions of leadership seem to multiply at an alarming rate, with each mutation focusing on the particular writer’s own perspective or reflecting the values of the current culture. The frustration with so much detail but so little definition is expressed by one of the leading researchers in the area of leadership: “Four decades of research on leadership have produced a bewildering mass of findings. … It is difficult to know what, if anything, has been convincingly demonstrated by replicated research. The endless accumulation of empirical data has not produced an integrated understanding of leadership.”2

While the lack of resolution is frustrating, what is encouraging is the fact that more and more writers in the area of leadership are recognizing the importance of the inner life of the leader. Leading “from the inside out” has become a recurring theme, even in the secular arena. The inner motivations of the leader are not hermetically sealed in a secure place within the leader. Rather, they stretch far beyond the leader and have a powerful impact on the followers as well as on the organization as a whole.

Jim Collins, in his excellent book, Good to Great, notes that one of the key factors that enable good companies to make the transition to become great companies is the presence of what he calls “Level 5 Leadership.” His researchers noted a striking similarity in the great companies studied: all the CEOs of these companies possessed two traits in common. They were not charismatic personalities; none were favorites of the media, and their names were not commonly recognized. But they were characterized by the two qualities of “extreme personal humility and intense professional will.”3 Together, these qualities describe the inner motivation of a leader who focuses his strong passion on the good of the company he leads, not on his own personal ego needs. In contrast, for self-centered leaders “work will always be first and foremost about what they get—fame, fortune, adulation, power, whatever—not about what they build, create, and contribute.”4

Collins might have called this type of leadership “servant leadership”; in fact, some of his researchers suggested that he do so. But the title was rejected because of the current common use of the term. In fact, “servant leadership” has enjoyed a resurgence in the secular leadership literature. Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership, published in 1977, began the current interest in the connection between leadership and servanthood. Writers, both secular and Christian, now focus on servant leadership. The connection between leadership and servanthood moves the leadership discussion into the inner life of the leader. No longer can the leader’s inner life be crowded out by the pragmatic emphasis on the skills of leadership.

The Meaning of Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is a biblical concept that Jesus worked diligently to impress on his disciples. They, like us, had a difficult time with it. Jesus’ last and clearest statement of servant leadership occurred on the way to the garden of Gethsemane shortly after the Last Supper. By this time the disciples had been with him almost three years. They had seen him heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons from afflicted people. They had heard his teaching, experienced close community with him, and, only a few moments before, reluctantly allowed him to wash their feet.

But as they walked toward the garden that night, they went back to a common issue among them: they got into a heated argument about which one of them was regarded to be the greatest! If it were not also so true of us, we might chide them, wondering how they could possibly be so blind and self-centered.

And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:24-27 NASB)

With great patience Jesus draws their attention to the self-centered leadership of the Gentile political leaders of their day, leaders who had the audacity to require their subjects to call them “benefactors,” while these same leaders selfishly used their subjects and lorded it over them. This kind of leadership is better described as self-serving leadership. Jesus challenged his disciples to be different; in his view the leader is to be like a servant. While there is much talk about servant leadership today, there is also much confusion. Some suggest that servant leadership is simply a passive style of leadership in which the leader has no agenda. But Jesus himself was anything but passive, and he certainly had an agenda.

Servant leadership is not a style of leadership at all; it is much more foundational. Servant leadership is primarily expressed in the inner motivation of the leader. Stated simply, a servant leader is not motivated by personalized power or benefit. A servant leader is primarily motivated by two things: (1) the fulfillment of God’s mission for his or her ministry or organization and (2) the fulfillment of God’s purpose in the lives of the people who are part of the ministry or organization. This means that the passion of this leader is not focused on his or her power, benefits, reputation, perks, or privileges; it is on the fulfillment of a godly purpose and on the good of the people being led. This is a high and unselfish focus. No wonder we, like the disciples, have such difficulty living it.

How God Develops His Servant Leaders


Servant leadership is so critical to God’s purpose in the world that God will go to great lengths to develop it in his followers. The missionary statesman J. Oswald Sanders comments, “It has been said that in achieving His world-purpose, God’s method has always been a man. Not necessarily a noble man, or a brilliant man, but always a man with capacity for a growing faith. Granted this, there appears to be no limit to the pains God is willing to take in his training. He is limited by neither heredity nor environment.”5

In the past several years, leadership training has concentrated on knowledge and skills. But from a Christian perspective, there is more to leadership development than knowledge and skills, as important as both are. God is more concerned with the development of the person of the leader. Through the course of life, God works in our lives to mold and strengthen us, to prepare us to be his leaders. God either brings or allows experiences into our lives; some are pleasant and enjoyable, and others are excruciatingly painful and anything but enjoyable. Either way, God uses our experiences to work on our heart. He orchestrates our experiences as challenges to mold our heart, to jar us out of our comfort zones, to shake up our complacency, to make us look inward, deep into our heart, until some crisis shows who we have become. God focuses his effort on our heart, because, at its core, leadership is more a matter of heart than it is of knowledge or skills.

God will involve each of us in something that is more of a pilgrimage than a process. “Process” is much too mechanical; “pilgrimage” is much more personal. Pilgrimages are powerful experiences. A pilgrimage is “a transformative journey to a sacred center full of hardships, darkness, and peril.”6 People make pilgrimages in order to be transformed by the experience. Sometimes they are religious pilgrimages; most of the time they are personal pilgrimages. Either way, there must be an element of difficulty and hardship, even danger, something that challenges us to the depths of our souls. Without the hardship there would be no extending of ourselves past the boundaries of our comfort zone, no true transformation.

God will see to it that you are stretched far enough that the effect of your pilgrimage will be to get you to examine your heart, your inner life.

This is why your willingness to enter deeply into your own “life story” is so critical (see chapter 10 for a discussion of life story). We are so immersed in the pressured flow of life that we move from one crisis to the next activity to the following event, seldom if ever pausing to reflect on what those experiences are teaching us. Unless we stop and reflect on the formative experiences and relationships of our life, we will miss the transformative purpose that God intended. But there is indeed “no limit to the pains God is willing to take in our training.”7 In all our experiences, his goal will be to teach us to depend upon Christ … for everything, including a secure sense of personal identity.

Personal Identity: The Enabling Element in Servant Leadership


Through our pilgrimage, one of the primary elements God wants to deal with is our sense of personal identity. He has good reason for doing this. Leadership is primarily an expression of who we are. No matter what leadership style we use, or what leadership skills we employ, our actions as leaders always come through the grid of who we are. One might expect Christian writers to focus on the inner life of the leader, but even secular writers are recognizing that, first and foremost, leaders lead out of who they are. Bennis observes that “no leader sets out to be a leader per se, but rather to express himself freely and frilly. That is, leaders have no interest in proving themselves, but an abiding interest in expressing themselves. The difference is crucial, for it’s the difference between being driven, as too many people are today, and leading, as too few people do.”8

Leadership is about self-expression. In its best form, leadership is about the outward expression of the reality that is within the heart of the leader. The reality in the heart of the leader is related to the leader’s sense of personal identity. The importance of this for leadership is that we will either lead out of our sense of personal identity, or we will lead in order to establish our sense of personal identity. The difference is critical, for those who lead in order to build an identity for themselves will end up selfishly using those they lead to gain from their followers what they themselves desperately desire. At this point, servant leadership crosses that dim line in the sand into self-serving leadership.

On that same night in which the disciples got into the argument about which one of them was regarded to be the greatest, Jesus had given them an experience that was a visible model of servant leadership. As the disciples entered the borrowed room that had been arranged for the supper, most of them seemed primarily concerned about getting the prime positions at the table. One of them was preoccupied with the betrayal he had already committed himself to accomplish. All of them passed by the basin and the towel set near the door to enable them to wash the dust of the road off their feet. Because it was a rented room, there was no servant at the door to wash their feet; and none of the disciples was willing to take on the role of a servant, not even temporarily.

The gospel of John describes in vivid terms what happened during the supper. Jesus got up from supper, took the basin and towel, and performed the role of a servant by washing the disciples’ feet, one at a time. Some were embarrassed, Peter so much so that he resisted. It was inconceivable to Peter that one in Jesus’ position, “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), would be willing to act as a servant. Even today, two thousand years later, it is still astounding. But John gives us insight into Jesus’ thinking, which gives perspective on what enables the greatest leader to act as the humblest servant. If we diagram John 13:1-5, the insight becomes evident:

John 13:1-5

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover,


knowing that his hour had come

that He would depart out this world to the Father,

having loved His own who were in the world,

He loved them to the end.


3   knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands,


that He had come forth from God


was going back to God,

4   got up from supper, and

laid asided His garments; and taking a towel, He

girded Himself.

5   poured water into the basin, and

began to wash the disciples’ feet. (NASB)

John indicates that it was what Jesus knew about himself that was a precursor to his washing the disciples’ feet. Jesus had a secure sense of his personal identity. He had a thorough understanding of his divine origin, his eternal purpose, his authority as the Son of God, and his destiny to be seated again at the right hand of the Father. With this secure sense of his own personal identity, taking the role of a servant was not the threat to him that it was to the disciples. For any of us, the ability to be a leader who acts as a servant will depend on the presence of a personal identity that is secure enough that we do not need to focus our attention on protecting an insecure identity that is threatened by unselfishly focusing our attention and efforts on the good of others. A secure sense of personal identity is what sets us free to focus on the good of others.

The Meaning of Identity

A sense of personal identity is a complicated concept to describe. It has many elements, some visible, some invisible. Parker Palmer describes the complexity this way: “By identity I mean an evolving nexus where all the forces that constitute my life converge in the mystery of self. … identity is a moving intersection of the inner and outer forces that make me who I am, converging in the irreducible mystery of being human.”9

Starting with the most concrete and visible elements, personal identity includes a person’s gender and ethnicity. These are outward marks of who we are. Identity also includes our temperament and our gifts, our strengths, weaknesses, and character flaws. Identity includes who we have become as a result of the life experiences God has taken us through. These experiences, and especially our responses to them, have shaped and molded us.

But identity is still more than that. Residing deep within us is a powerful need to feel secure and significant.10 Each of us desperately longs to feel warmly and securely loved and accepted and to sense that we are persons of substance, that our life makes a meaningful difference. Thus our sense of identity at a deeper level includes feelings of competence and a sense of significance, that our life has value and worth. Because of the strength of these normal human longings, our early experiences play a dominant role in the formation of our sense of identity. Our experience of relationship with our parents, siblings, and other family members leave a powerful imprint on our sense of identity, an imprint that we carry into later life. Feelings of rejection, criticism, shame, or abuse make us feel deeply devalued and expendable. Because our very survival seems to be at stake, and we do not have the maturity to know how to get the help we so desperately need, we develop coping strategies to dull the pain and create the illusion of being loved and valued. These strategies become such a part of us that we no longer recognize them, even while they control our search for identity.

All of these elements, both positive and negative, are blended together in a powerful mix that strongly impacts the way each of us lives our life. One way of picturing our personal identity is to view it as a personal inner map, a map that is part of a larger map. In this view, our identity becomes a boundary that marks us off as different from others. The borders on our part of the larger map distinguish us from the rest of the map and show us how and where we fit into the larger scheme of things. Our identity, filled out by our gifts and abilities, indicates what we uniquely contribute. In this sense the boundary is one that frees us to focus on doing well those things that are unique to us. We can concentrate on the things God has gifted and developed us to do. We do not have to spend energy trying to focus on other parts of the larger map. This kind of boundary is an expanding boundary. The more we work and lead from the center of our giftedness, the greater our fulfillment.

However, if we do not have a positive and secure sense of our personal identity, the boundary can be one that limits us to self-centered attempts to fill up that painful sense of emptiness we feel because we are insecure about who we are and what significance and value we have. In this case we begin to feel a sense of compulsion and drivenness to demonstrate to the world that we are persons of value and substance, worthy to be loved and respected.

It is from within this boundary of identity that we exercise leadership. As Warren Bennis suggested, there is a difference between being driven and leading. A driven person feels a powerful sense of being compelled to gain a desired response from others in order to fill up an empty pit of internal need. He needs their approval, or applause, or acquiescence, or adoration. So he will relate to them in whatever ways he feels will get them to give the desired response. This is not real leadership; it is actually manipulation of others so that the person in a leadership position can gain whatever he thinks will meet his identity needs. His concern is for himself, not for the good of those he is responsible to lead.

In contrast, true leading is enabled by the internal security that gives a joyous sense of freedom to use one’s gifts and developed skills to express oneself for a godly purpose and for the good of those led. This secure personal identity allows a leader to turn his or her attention away from personal needs to focus on the needs of the ministry or organization and the people in it. There is no servant leadership without it.

How Identity Impacts Our Leadership

Our sense of personal identity becomes a boundary that determines how we see reality. This is one primary reason why people see things differently. For example, a church was split into two opposing sides in a controversy over the form the church would take in the future. Would it become more contemporary and “seeker” focused, or would it continue in its more traditional and “blended” form? As the argument gained power, the opposing camps became more antagonistic toward each other. After an especially heated congregational meeting, a church member who had been out of town and missed the meeting asked friends from both sides of the conflict about what happened at the meeting. The two descriptions he heard were so different that he wondered whether they had been at the same meeting! The different accounts were the result of selective perception. People tend to see what they expect to see. Even more, we tend to see what we need to see. If our sense of identity is connected to a need to be right or to be on the winning side, we tend to see things in harmony with that, and other information is screened out. And, of course, people on the other side do the same thing. Our ability to lead well is in this way severely restricted.

Second, our identity tends to strongly impact what we do. If we are attempting to construct our identity from our work or ministry, we will feel a strong compulsion to be successful, or to be needed, or to be in control of things, or to be in a position of recognized power. Or we will feel an inner need to always be “right,” or always have the last word, or to be recognized and applauded. A leader in this situation will be strongly self-focused as he tries to make sure that he gets what he feels he cannot do without.

Third, it follows that our sense of personal identity will strongly influence how we relate to others. If our sense of identity is not satisfying and secure, we will sense a painful inner deficit. That personal deficit will become a powerful motivator to fill up our sense of emptiness, and we will begin to manipulate others to get from them that which we think will give us a satisfying sense of personal identity. In this way, an inadequate sense of personal identity leads directly to self-serving leadership.

Saul, the Example of a Driven Leader

Saul of Tarsus was clearly a driven man. He was driven to extremes of cruelty and oppression that would certainly qualify him as a terrorist in today’s terminology. The first time we encounter him in Scripture is in Acts 7:58, where he is cheering on the angry crowd in its stoning of Stephen. Putting several descriptions of Saul together, we get this picture of him.

• He was in hearty agreement with stoning Stephen to death (Acts 8:1).

• He was ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, and putting them in prison (Acts 8:3).

• He was breathing threats and murder against the followers of Christ (Acts 9:1).

• He asked for and received letters from the high priest authorizing him to search the synagogues in Damascus for followers of Jesus so that he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:2).

• He persecuted the church beyond measure and tried to destroy it (Gal. 1:13).

• He was a blasphemer (1 Tim. 1:13).

• He was a persecutor (1 Tim. 1:13).

• He was a violent aggressor (1 Tim. 1:13).

The natural question is, “Why was he so extreme; why did he lead such intense and brutal opposition to the followers of Christ?” Surely he thought that his own religion was threatened by the growth of the followers of Jesus. But there was more to his violent opposition. Paul, in his own words, indicates that there was a deeper, more personal motivation in his heart. The first indication of this comes in Galatians 1:10, where Paul hints that earlier in his life he was “seeking the favor of men” and “striving to please men” (NASB). But, now, having become a bond servant of God, he would do no such thing, especially regarding the truth of the gospel. Three verses later (Gal. 1:13), he specifically states that in his former life in Judaism he went to extremes in persecuting the church. It was through his extreme zealousness that the Pharisees over him recognized him as a young man of promise. As Paul describes it, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Gal. 1:14 NASB). He is here pulling back the cover over his heart to expose the fact that the motivations for his extreme zealousness in persecuting Christians included competition with his contemporaries and a desire for personal recognition and advancement. His identity needs drove him to extremes in his search for significance and value through his persecution of Christians.

Paul is a good example of the power of identity needs because they drove him to such extremes in an attempt to fill the gaping hole within his heart. Most of the time in our lives the extremes will not be so clearly visible. Nevertheless, the identity needs show up in the pastor who is all about numbers, who is only too happy to announce to anyone who will listen that his church has passed the three-thousand mark. They show up in the elder who always has to have the last word, no matter what the discussion is, or in the leader who must always be in control of everything and is not willing to truly delegate responsibilities to others. What Paul did, and what each of these contemporary examples do, is allow their own identity needs to impact their leadership in such a way that they do not lead others; rather they manipulate others and use them for the leader’s own benefit. For such leaders, identity is a zero sum game: If I let you do things that strengthen your sense of identity, that takes away from my sense of identity. So in order to protect my identity, I take away yours. Parker Palmer put it this way: “When leaders operate with a deep, unexamined insecurity about their own identity, they create institutional settings that deprive other people of their identity as a way of dealing with the unexamined fears in the leaders themselves.”11

Palmer’s description is seen very clearly in Saul, whose bondage to his own identity needs drove him to extremes in denying other people their identity. It may be difficult to admit, but the same is true in varying degrees of all of us. In contrast, a leader with a secure sense of personal identity is free to create organizational culture that allows everyone to express their giftedness, take responsibility, and enjoy the blessing that comes from making a significant contribution. Such a leader can take pleasure in the success of others and has no hesitancy in celebrating that success for them.

Identity or Image?

Each of us must deal with two competing characteristics in our own life, and the competition between them spills over into every area of our life. Each of us has some sense of personal identity. It may be healthy and satisfying, or it may be deficient and demanding, clamoring for us to do something to sustain it and increase it. We also have an outward image that we project to others in our interactions with them. We inflate an image of ourselves much like the huge, inflatable gorillas car dealers put on the top of their buildings to attract the attention of drivers on the freeway as they speed by the dealership.

When our sense of identity is strong and satisfying, our need to project an image to others tends to decrease. This situation could be pictured like this:


However, if our identity is weak and unsatisfying, we will feel the need to project an image to others. We develop an image of what we want others to think about us, an image that seems to satisfy the emptiness within our own hearts. Then we relate to others through the medium of this image, which now looks like the one at the top of the next page.

We project an image in our interactions with others because we feel we must. We long for others to view us in the way the image suggests. We project images of competence, importance, superiority, knowledge, or value, hoping that people will think of us in these ways. The problem, however, is that others are not really relating to us, only to the image of ourselves that we are setting up and pointing in their direction. In normal relationships, this is empty and unsatisfying. In leadership situations, it is not only empty and unsatisfying; it is also painfully destructive.

The difference between leading out of a secure identity and leading from image, or insecure identity, is the difference between light and darkness. If I lead from a secure identity, I can be who I am. I can use my gifts


and abilities to the maximum. I do not have to hide my weaknesses; I can allow others, whose gifts and abilities are different from mine, to use them fully. There is a high level of authenticity in this. On the other hand, if I lead out of an image that I have constructed, I relate to those I lead out of who I think I have to be. In other words, I have to act a part, play a role. Of course, I have chosen the role myself; I have designed the part I play because I think that by playing that part people will think of me and relate to me in ways that I think will provide the sense of identity I am desperately seeking. The trap is that I have to continually play the part, because if they really knew me, they would not think of me in the way I desperately need.



Who I am Who I think I have to be

Authenticity Acting

Freedom that enables me to:

• Be concerned for others

• Serve others

• Trust others

Bondage that requires me to:

• Be concerned for myself

• Use others

• Fear others

Openness Control

Courage Avoidance

Relaxed Uptight

The difference between these two ways of leading is the difference between freedom and bondage. When I lead out of a secure sense of identity, I am free to be concerned about others. I can serve them by giving their needs priority over my own. Because they know I am concerned for them, they do not have to be in competition with me, so I can also trust them. But if I am leading out of image, I am in bondage, because I have to constantly make sure that the image I have blown up is not leaking. In fact, I have to use others to get what I think I need to fill up the emptiness within me. And, simultaneously, I have to fear them, because if I am not careful, they might withhold from me the very thing I desperately need from them. So, I have to always be in control and very careful to avoid anything that might expose the emptiness of the image or cause others to act in ways that are contrary to what I want.

If I am leading out of a secure identity, I am much more free to lead with openness and to invite the real participation of others in the process. I can also lead with greater courage, because if someone does not like one of my decisions and pulls back from agreeing with my position or even from following me, it is not a threat to my survival.

We might be tempted to think that we can control the expression of these identity issues so that they will not impact our leadership relationships. As appealing as this may sound, it is not true. The leader’s inner struggles always work their way into his or her leadership relationships. No matter how hard we try to hide them or cover them up, they come out in unexpected ways. “Leaders not only embed in their organizations what they intend consciously to get across, but they also convey their own inner conflicts and the inconsistencies in their own personal makeup.”12

This was the problem with the disciples; they continually argued about which one of them was the greatest. Their inadequate identities required it. The problem with the Gentile leaders was not only self-serving leadership, but also self-deceived, self-serving leadership. Rather than deal with their own hearts as leaders, they projected blame on others and elevated themselves by glorifying their own motives, congratulating themselves for being “benefactors” of the people (Luke 22:24-27)! Leaders struggling with their own identity rob those they lead of theirs! A modern-day version of this might look like the following examples.

Identity Issues: The Pastor Who Always Has to Be the Authority