Every leader should have a spiritual director!
I generally do not like black and white, all or nothing, kind of statements, but I feel very strongly about this one. Let me explain.
As my friend Steve Macchia likes to say, “The soul is the most neglected part of the leader’s life.” If we didn’t have so many examples (both seen and experienced personally), I might have to spend more time qualifying or explaining this statement. It is tragic irony that spiritual leaders, entrusted with the care of other’s souls, usually do not adequately take care of their own.
The care of one’s soul involves things like rest, reflection, prayer, and contemplation. However, most leaders do the minimum and then get to work, often working from a place of deficit and fatigue. Many leaders go on without examining motives or hurts or questions. This can work for a while but will inevitably lead to a crash, a burnout, or even quiet desperation. Many spiritual leaders will tell you, privately, that they feel stuck or afraid or hopeless, or perhaps all three. Those who are exceptionally skilled and gifted can keep up with the pace and demands of ministry, but it often comes at the cost of relationships with those in the church and family at home. The central purpose (relationships) becomes the casualty of ministry rather than the focus. Unexamined ambition or pride or insecurity can be the fuel that burns so hot it brings burnout and/or singes those closest to us.
Jesus lived a slow, relaxed, quiet and intentional life. This is not the picture for many of us involved in spiritual leadership.
And this is where spiritual direction comes in. A spiritual director is someone trained to provide space to slow down and attend to realities of one’s soul and life in the context of listening prayer. In Psalm 96, we are reminded that the people of Israel hardened their hearts to a listening posture. (“If today you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”) John of the Cross, the 16th century spiritual writer and poet, observed that God’s first language is silence. 1 Kings 19 makes it clear that God’s voice is a gentle whisper at its loudest. Leaders need regular time that is spacious and quiet in order to attend to the voice of God.
Couldn’t a leader do this on their own? Yes and also no. The gift of meeting with a spiritual director is that the leader is placing themselves in another’s care and opening themselves to the mirror that another can provide. Trained spiritual directors know how to sit with someone and help them look and see and perceive. As in most things, another set of eyes helps. We are not designed in a way that “just doing it ourselves” is the best approach.
To have a space on a regular basis where a spiritual leader is not “on” or in charge but instead is being cared for is a gift and, I would strongly urge, a necessity.