Spiritual Leadership: An Oxymoron?

One of the questions that is sure to come up during our pilgrimage (“The Apostle Paul and Roman Imperial Theology”) is how Christianity changed in the wake of first toleration and then adoption by the Roman empire under Constantine.

I’ve just ordered a book called, Constantine and the Bishops: the Politics of Intolerance, by H.A. (Hal) Drake, who was my major professor at UC Santa Barbara in the 70s and 80s (and who is still teaching…which must mean he was in his thirties then, which seemed really old at the time). We used to have people call us “H.R.” or “H.A.” to tell us apart.


Considering Constantine and his bishops is the macro picture of how imperial power and politics influenced the course of Christian theology and practice. But it is a personal challenge to me, as well.

As I was sitting on a yoga mat in an 8:30  class this morning, I was pondering the question that sometimes gnaws at me and at other clergy: how can I be both the administrative head and spiritual leader of a church community?

On the one hand, I am head of staff: nine people are employed by Plymouth and count on me for direction and supervision. I have a background in university development, and have helped run three capital campaigns at Plymouth and raised millions over the past nine years, and I staff the Stewardship Board and not only lead our funding efforts, I actually have the cojones to talk about money in the church. (Jesus had cojones, too, and talked about money all the time…and look where talking about money in the Temple got him!) In my communications business, I developed strategic communications plans for companies like Apple, and I’m really good at seeing the big picture and ways to get there. And I’ve been getting lots of practice at searching for new church musicians. 🙂

Right…so I’ve got a lot of administrative responsibility and experience.

But, what about the other really important part of my ministry: the souls of 700 people are entrusted to Sharon Benton and to me. That’s huge. And I feel as though I’ve been allowing myself to get pulled away from this central aspect of my ministry over the past five years.

I started two small groups (Living Celtic Christianity and Celtic Group II) as an outcome of my sabbatical experiences in Ireland. Both are still vital and meeting, yet I have not been able to attend them any longer because of my busyness. And I miss that time of spiritual exploration and discovery in a group setting. Perhaps my leaving was like giving them a gentle push in to the deep water, in similar fashion to Jochebed, the mother of Moses, releasing him into the Nile in a reed basket when she could no longer keep him because he was growing. (See Ex. 2)

But, as I lay on that yoga mat this morning, I felt a deep yearning to be more involved in the spiritual leadership of Plymouth. That means something more than designing meaningful worship and crafting a good sermon. I would love to lead a class on Jane Vennard’s new book, Truly Awake and Fully Alive, but when….at 10:00 on a Sunday morning, sandwiched between two of the three worship services I typically lead on a Sunday? One more evening out? Maybe so! Perhaps it’s more important to have me using my efforts at spiritual leadership and teaching than it is to be at one more evening meeting of a board or ministry team. We have lots of gifted lay leaders at Plymouth into whose hands we can entrust the management of the church.

I also thought that I am not alone at Plymouth in the need to spend more time doing contemplative prayer. We did have such a group, started by my predecessor, Rick Riddoch, but it flagged due to lack of attendance in about 2004. Maybe it’s time to start anew.

Well, that is where my soul is leading this morning. Below is a picture of the emperor Justinian surrounded by his clergy and troops (from Ravenna, Italy). Notice how similar the cassock albs that Sharon and I wear are to those in this mosaic. Justinian is obviously in the center and the bishop Maximianus is on the right, holding the cross.

I’m left wondering where I am in this picture. A good thing to ponder on sabbatical.