Leadership and Soul Care

  1. The Vision
    The ultimate vision for you as a Christian leader is that those in your care flourish in both natural and theological virtue by means of the particular field in which you lead them. This vision comes from Scripture and is refined and expressed and focused on in many ways throughout the great traditions of the church.
  2. Stewards of the Vision
    And all of us here are not merely recipients who are to live in this vision, but we are ourselves ministers and teachers of this vision.

    1. Act 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
    2. 1Ti 4:15-16 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.  (16)  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
    3. Here I see three responsibilities for leaders regarding their relationship to God and those for whom they care:
      1. Personal soul care
      2. Soul care of your charges
      3. Care for the culture/curriculum.
  1. Curriculum/Culture
    In 1 Timothy, Paul speaks of “the teaching.” Here he means, ‘the gospel message and the traditions and character that go with it.’ To apply this to any form of Christian leadership, think of the field in which you lead and think of what knowledge, habits, and processes you must help people to understand and how Christian character, knowledge of the gospel, and knowledge of the best Biblical and extra-Biblical wisdom can help them.
    Curriculum or culture is more than just the content of our seminars, text books, manuals, meetings, and or tests. It’s also the spiritual tenor, organization, demeanor, assessment style, ‘put togetherness’ of organizational processes, and individual interactions with students, employees, and one another in front of the those you lead. While people cultivate culture, culture cultivates people as well and our curriculum is our culture. It’s important that we recognize our responsibility for the student experience as a whole. This aspect of what we do is, of course, a matter of constant review.
  2. Soul care of those you lead
    How do we “pay careful attention” to our students? In this case I think that there is a lot we can learn from Gregory the Great’s Book of Pastoral Care:
    “Indeed, long before us, Gregory of Nazianzus of blessed memory taugh that one and the same exhortation is not suited for everyone because not everyone shares the same quality of character. For example, what often helps some people will cause harm in others, just as herbs that are nutritious to some animals will kill others or the way that gentle hiss will calm a horse but excite a puppy. Likewise, the medicine that cures one disease will spur another, and the bread that fortifies a grown man can kill a young child. Therefore, the discourse of the teacher should be adapted to the character of his audience so that it can address the specific needs of each individual and yet never shrink from the art of communal edification. For, if I may say so, what are the minds of an attentive audience if not the taut strings of a harp, which a skillful musician plays with multiple techniques so as to produce a beautiful sound? And it is for this reason that the strings produce a melody, because even though they are played with one pick, they are not played with one type of stroke. And so, every teacher, in order to edify all by the single virtue of charity, ought to touch the hearts of his audience with the same common doctrine but by distinct exhortations.”[1]
  3. Lead from a full cup
    Jesus tells us that one of the results of walking with the Holy Spirit is that “rivers of living water” will flow from us. But he never says that this is automatic, instant, or a guarantee for those who go to church once a week. What Jesus does say that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks[2]” and “the good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good.[3]” In other words, for us to be people of Christ-like virtue, we must seek to be internally transformed with reference to our goals, intentions, thoughts, feelings, and habits.  This process  is called sanctification, spiritual formation, or discipleship. I challenge you to be consistently, actively, and intelligently involved in your own discipleship along with and in conjunction with your professional growth as a teacher. Here is some Biblical advice about having a full cup with reference to Spiritual growth:

    1. Practice the presence of God
      Psa 16:8-9 I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.  (9)  Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. Dallas Willard called this discipline “the fundamental secret of caring for our souls.”
      The most important way to do this is to call the sayings and scenes of the gospels to mind throughout the day. Jesus promised to be with us always, but we often do not experience “shared attention” with him in the sense of recognizing his mysterious presence with the concrete revelations of given to us in Scripture.  This discipline, of course, assisted by memorizing Scripture. It will feel like a weird thing at first if you’ve never done this
    2. Stay on top of the “externals” in your life
      Proverbs tells the story of a man who came upon the vineyard of a sluggard and it was all overgrown with nettles and weeds, and the walls were coming down (Proverbs 24:30-34). The nagging feeling of having unfinished tasks at home or work, unpaid debts, or unreconciled relationships can rob us of our joy and even create anxiety about a future that could be easily secured by spending time on our responsibilities.
    3. Cultivate silence and solitude
      In Scripture many of our heroes do this: Isaac, Moses, David, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and so-on. And indeed, many of the most creative figures in history found that extended periods of solitude and walking in nature stimulated, focused, and clarified their thoughts. Such a discipline of extended times of silence and solitude for prayer, study of Scripture, reading spiritual classics, writing in a journal, self-examination and meditation may not be possible every day, but should be a routine part of our lives if we wish to experience growth in the grace of God, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” In my own experience, I would say that I didn’t learn to be an adult until I learned to be alone without feeling lonely. Henry Nouwen’s thoughts on this are quite powerful:
      “In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me-naked vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken-nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in my wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. But that is not all. As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree. Anger and greed begin to show their ugly faces. I give long hostile speeches to my enemies and dream lustful dreams in which I am wealthy, influential, and very attractive- or poor, ugly, and in need of immediate consolation. Thus I try again to run from the dark abyss of my nothingness and restore my false self in all its vainglory.”
    4. Wisely use productive introspection
      Here are some questions for introspection that seem especially fitting for teachers:

      1. What have my main temptations been?
      2. How did/could I have overcome them?
      3. Have I anybody to whom I should apologize?
      4. What has the Lord taught me this week?
      5. For what do I have cause to show gratitude to the Lord?
      6. For what and for whom do I need to pray?

References

[1] George E. Demacopoulos, The Book of Pastoral Rule, vol. 34 (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 88-89 (Book III Prologue).

[2]. Matthew 12:34

[3]. Luke 6:45

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