Three seconds. Answer this question: When you hear “spiritual formation,” what are the first three images that came to mind? Mine were: people on a silent retreat, people reading their Bibles, people praying by candlelight.
Okay, another one. Three seconds. When you hear “leadership,” what are the first three images that came to mind? Mine were: a man with briefcase outside a skyscraper, a military officer, and one of those Successories motivational posters.
Now among other things, at this point you may be thinking, Is Bill’s brain just one giant collection of bad stock photos? (Because that’s what I was thinking after I read my answers, too.)
Another thing you might be thinking though is: Huh? There wasn’t a whole lot in common with those two sets of images. (I really hope you are thinking that, because that was the whole point of those questions in first place)
We don’t often think about these two things—spiritual formation and leadership—in the same context all that often, if ever.
But in the Scriptures, in God’s design, they are inextricably linked. This is why our Razors Leadership Pathway, from beginning to end, is just as much about spiritual formation as it is leadership.
It’s always been that way, and it always will be. Why? To answer that question we need look at Psalm 78:70-72 and answer two questions: What is spiritual formation? What does it have to do with leadership?
A Shepherd King
Psalm 78 ends with a description of David, Israel’s great shepherd king. Here’s how the Psalmist describes him:
70 He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
71 from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
72 With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand. (Psalm 78:70-72)
David was a shepherd. Nothing special on the outside. But there something about David that made him fit to be Israel’s king. Two somethings, actually, both in verse 72: upright heart and skillful hands.
“Upright” translates a Hebrew word (tome) that has, at its core, the ideas of wholeness, integrity, consistency, no fragmentation. David had an integral, whole heart. He had been formed, and was being formed, into single-hearted worshipper and follower of the one true God.
“Skillful hands” speak of David’s understanding, wisdom, and skill as a leader in his vocation, in his work, as king.
David was integral and skillful. Spiritual form and leadership have an interdependent and symbiotic relationship. They are interdependent in that one cannot be what fully what it is intended to be without the other. If you are a leader, but lack integrity, sooner or later you will rot from the inside out and collapse.
On the other hand, you cannot live a fully integral life, and be a couch potato. Integrity of heart leads us to places of influence—not usually in loud dramatic ways—but in quiet, out of the spotlight ways, like teaching a child to be kind and generous, or embodying a culture of love for neighbor in your workplace. These may not seems like leadership and influence, but they are, and they are a direct result of growth in integrity of heart.
So they are interdependent and also symbiotic. One feeds and enriches the other. As you grow in integrity of heart, there are greater opportunities to exercise skillful hands. And in the midst of those increasingly challenging opportunities, your wholeness of heart is test and refined.
Under pressures of leadership, the cracks in your heart are revealed and in faith, by grace, they can begin to be healed. This leads to even deeper wholeness preparing your for greater and more challenging opportunities to exercise skillful hands.
What is spiritual formation?
So what it spiritual formation? Spiritual formation simply speaks of the process, and often the specific intentional means (prayer, Bible, study, fasting), by which God’s grace fuels our efforts in becoming more like Jesus, the most whole, integral person.
Spiritual formation (or deformation) is happening all the time. We are either becoming more or less like Jesus, the one who made us and is remaking us. Spiritual formation happens as you pray, when you take the kids to school, clean the bathroom, answer email, and take a vacation. It is always happening, which means it is happening in the place you have influence and leadership.
What does spiritual formation have to do with leadership?
Our places of work—whether that’s at home, in the shop, at the job site, or in the office—are the primary training ground for spiritual formation and where we often have the greatest opportunity to exercise skillful hands. Places of influence—whether it is with toddlers, troops, or trade commissions—provide the crucible in which our hearts continue to be refined and remade.
You cannot be long in the journey of spiritual formation, of becoming integral of heart, before you find yourself being tested and refined in the place where you most regularly exercise your skillful hands. And it is in this way that spiritual formation and leadership are inextricably linked. Wholeness of heart and skill hands cannot be separated.