Spiritual Leadership In A Secular World
Jayson Teagle | January 28, 2014
If you’re anything like me, when it comes to spiritual leadership in a secular world, two things immediately come to mind:
First, a scripture:
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)
And then a saying:
“Be in the world, but not of the world.”
I grew up in the church, where youth pastors often used words like these to give counsel on how to navigate things like public school and parties. Now that I’m older, leading within the context of my family, my work and my community, I find myself reevaluating what spiritual leadership in a secular world really, truly looks like...
- What does it mean to lead my wife with Christ-like love when society devalues faithfulness and purity every time I turn around?
- What does it mean to work with my team, colleagues and vendors in an honest, excellent way when I’m in difficult situations with no apparent right answer?
- What does it mean to cultivate grace-filled friendships in my neighborhood with people who want nothing to do with the Christ I serve?
I believe my responses to these questions – which I imagine are not unlike circumstances you find yourself in each and every day – have the potential to make or break my effectiveness as a leader... and the stakes are high.
The Christian leader who adapts like a chameleon to lead in secular environments in secular ways, and spiritual environments in spiritual ways, will find themselves exhausted and unfulfilled. The Christian leader who isolates their leadership solely to spiritual environments runs the risk of being off mission, out of touch and judgmental.
In light of this, recognizing that spiritual leadership in a secular world is vital to my health as an individual, and to the Church as a whole, here are a few lessons I’m learning:
1. Acknowledge that for the Christian leader, all leadership is spiritual.
I find that it’s easy to compartmentalize my life and my leadership into buckets: God, work, family, friends. But the deeper truth is that in any area of life where I have been entrusted with influence, it’s because God has a purpose for me there. On the surface it may seem “secular,” but the opportunity to act out the love of Christ is always there. It may be as simple as paying a vendor fairly and on time, offering a listening ear to a team member, or writing a brief thank you note to a consultant who gave you a great idea - the “what” isn’t nearly as important as the “why.” The servant who was faithful with little was entrusted with much (Matthew 25:23).
2. Prepare for battle against an enemy who seeks to steal, kill and destroy.
Your reality as a leader will inevitably be that you fail or people fail you; that lies, theft, gossip and pride show up time and time again in your organization; that, at some point or another, it feels like it’s all falling apart. When these situations occur, it’s easy to want to run and hide, to seek out a safe cocoon where bad things don’t happen to good leaders. But you will be much less frustrated – and much more prepared for the gauntlet of leadership – when you realize you’re in a battle. Face the truth: there is an enemy, and he’s actively seeking to destroy your influence in this world. By putting on the full armor of God, though, you can stand firm against the devil’s schemes (Eph. 6:11).
3. Become a student of the life and leadership of Jesus.
It goes without saying that the most effective spiritual leader in a secular world was Christ himself. I think there are new lessons to be learned when we approach Scripture with the goal of studying Christ’s leadership responses in complicated, combative and confusing secular situations. His response to people who were “different?” He welcomed them. His response to people who failed him? He extended grace. His response to people who mocked him? He stood in humble silence. The Gospels are rich with lessons for us as leaders, but we must meditate over them and ask God to reveal himself through them.
4. Pray without ceasing.
Finally, I can think of no better practical advice on being a spiritual leader in a secular world than to get on your knees before God and boldly ask him to lead through you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Heavenly Father is so good, and just like an earthly father would not give his son a stone when he asks for bread (Matthew 7:9), neither will he deny the honest prayer of a leader who desires to have influence in his kingdom. God longs to have an ongoing, two-way conversation with you, conversing back and forth on each and every leadership decision you find yourself faced with. If you lack wisdom, ask him - he who gives generously to all without finding fault will give it to you (James 1:5).
I truly believe that our effectiveness as Christian leaders will be defined by how well we lead in a secular world, because in reality, that’s the only kind of authentic leadership and the only kind of world there is. “Spiritual leadership in a secular world” is really just “leadership;” the world is desperate for it - are you ready?