Leadership DevelopmentThe Campus Minister

A Rich but Often Overlooked Resource for Self Leadership

I have taken almost every personality type and leadership inventory known to humanity. No kidding, I’ve done the DISC, the Myers-Briggs (3 times), StrengthsQuest, then StrengthsFinder, and the Birkman. I’ve done spiritual gifts inventories. I like them all. A lot. They’ve consistently confirmed certain features of my personality and leadership style that help to focus and refine how I engage in ministry. I think they’ve made me a better leader.

And the leadership books I’ve read over the years have also helped: The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes and Posner), along with Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge; Transforming Leadership (Leighton Ford); Courageous Leadership (Bill Hybels); Servant Leadership (Robert Greenleaf); Primal Leadership (Daniel Goleman et. al.); and – more inside my own ecclesial tribe – Leadership in the Wesleyan Spirit (Lovett Weems). I have benefited from every one of these books.

Here lies the danger for one’s soul. My soul. Something is missing from my list – the deep theological resources of the church. I know it sounds like I’m going all “academic” here, but I do not believe I am. No head trip here, just deep soul-searching and growing self-awareness by interacting with deep thinkers in the church, that I might more effectively lead others toward fullness in Christ.

Example: Augustine’s Confessions.  It’s a prayer – a very long prayer, of course. It’s by turns deeply philosophical (all that stuff about the nature of time in Book XI) and theological. But it is also autobiographical and reveals the growth of Augustine’s soul.  Consider:

I looked with longing at honors, wealth, and marriage, and you laughed at me. Amidst such desires I suffered most bitter troubles, but your mercy was so much the greater according as you let nothing prove sweet to me that was apart from yourself. (Book VI, Chapter 6)

I’m an ambitious guy. Not so much the “I want to be rich and famous” ambitious. More the “I want to run the world” ambitious. I read here of Augustine’s longings and he says, of God, “You laughed at me.” Ouch. Really? God laughed at Augustine’s desires and ambitions? But notice: nothing can prove as sweet as deep communion with God. No ambition can hold a candle to this light.

I need this. Augustine did, too. He had real issues. And so do I. The Spirit of God compels me to face myself. (Sometimes it’s exhilarating, this joy of self-discovery. Please keep that in mind, too.) As much as I was challenged by The Leadership Challenge, it’s stuff like Augustine’s Confessions that takes me deeper into my own soul. St. Augustine is not only a great theologian. He is an older brother who can help me know myself a little better and point me toward following Jesus a little more faithfully.

So, take Augustine, or Teresa (Mother or the one from Avila), or John of the Cross, or John Wesley or Julian of Norwich or (pick your theologian). Let their reflections leaven your thinking. Don’t worry about getting through the whole book. It’s not about finishing the book. It’s about thinking deeply, prayerfully, reflectively.

While we lead others, we must lead ourselves. I often say to students who are planning on going into ministry, “We lead with our lives.” Ministry is, in one big sense, witness. Not infallible witness (we are all flawed, so please don’t climb on the inadequacy bandwagon), but witness, nonetheless. In the best ministry, we are transparent, vulnerable, even when we’re assertively taking charge and doing great things. This is the paradox of spiritual leadership.

All the more reason to pay attention to the need for leading our own souls. This turns out to be, we quickly realize, the Spirit’s leadership of our souls. The books and resources to which we moderns are drawn are helpful. But they often don’t go far enough. They don’t help us grapple with the murky, mysterious yearnings and impulses and driven-ness that so many of us in ministry suffer. Until we see ourselves theologically, we won’t make the needed spiritual progress to become meek and powerful leaders.

I believe the days – these days – call for spiritual leaders who know themselves transparently. Most certainly, we don’t stop there, with just knowing ourselves. We have work to do out there, in the real world. But it’s work that flows from our very souls. Let us never forget.




  • Helpfully challenging! I love this: “nothing can prove as sweet as deep communion with God.”

    There seems to be a theme going in this self-leadership blogathon as well as in the things God is teaching me in the past few weeks. I’m putting some Augustine, Brother Lawrence, St. Teresa of Avila, Julianna of Norwich, etc on my reading list!


  • MJ

    It’s not about finishing the book. It’s about thinking deeply, prayerfully, reflectively.

    What? Huh? Ahhhhh.

    I honestly have never thought that before. The belief that I MUST finish has often kept me from even starting many books while the unfinished ones stare at me from their stack with disdain.

    You just gave me a truth that might not only set me free from that guilt of the unfinished book, but enable me to actually learn what God was trying to teach me in those books. Thanks, Stephen!