Spiritual Isn’t Everything

October 1, 2012 — Leave A Comment

A few years back the often-entertaining and ever-controversial Rob Bell toured the country with his one-man presentation/show/sermon titled “Everything Is Spiritual.” I saw it here in Austin and enjoyed it quite a lot ~ though I must confess I was really more fascinated by how Bell presented his message (I mean, what was this exactly? A sermon? A one-man show? Performance art? The answer, I decided, was yes) than I was with the message itself. For INFJs like me, saying that everything is spiritual is like saying all humans breathe air. Not exactly a shocker…

For leaders in faith-based environments, however, holding too tightly to an “everything is spiritual” perspective can limit your ability to see all of what’s actually going on–both in you and in the people you lead–and thereby limit your ability to respond effectively to challenges and opportunities that inevitably come up.

Consider it this way: If one of the people you serve broke his leg in a car accident right in front of your house, what would you do to help him? I mean, you’d pray for him, sure, but that isn’t all you would do, right? Of course not. You’d call 911. You’d administer first aid. You’d stay with him and give him emotional support. You’d call his wife and anyone else who needed to know. And so on. See, in that situation you’d intrinsically know that the problem isn’t purely spiritual. It’s also physical and emotional…and those latter two conditions require a different kind of response, in addition to praying for him.

But because we’re working in faith-centered environments, leaders often (quite unknowingly) get locked into a kind of “everything is spiritual” mindset. It becomes the lens through which they evaluate and respond to every leadership challenge, even when the challenge is not primarily spiritual in nature. For example, if there is a lot of discord on your team, it may well be primarily a spiritual issue. That’s certainly possible. But the root cause could also be an unhealthy emotional or social dynamic. It could even be simply that your team is exhausted and needs time to rest and refuel. How you respond as a leader to this challenge would depend on which issue actually lies at the root of it all.

Effective leadership requires a wholistic perspective. Take a moment to consider the image above, which shows all the arenas in which human beings operate, experience hurts and challenges, and need to grow. When facing a leadership challenge, one of the best things you can do is start with this graph, and ask yourself:

  • Is this challenge primarily intellectual? (i.e. Is it caused by lack of knowledge or skill?)
  • Is it primarily emotional? (i.e. Is there an emotional need or wound at the root of it all?)
  • Is it primarily physical? (i.e. Is exhaustion or some other physical condition triggering the problem?)
  • Is it primarily social/relational? (i.e. Is there an underlying relational need or dynamic fueling it?)
  • Is it primarily sexual? (i.e. Are there sexual wounds or issues fueling this beneath the surface?)
  • Is it primarily spiritual? (i.e. Are spiritual dynamics at the root of it all?)

How you respond as a leader can (and should) vary widely depending on the section of the wheel in which the root issue actually lies. Everything is spiritual; but spiritual isn’t everything.

Michael Warden

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2 responses to Spiritual Isn’t Everything

  1. Michael, 

    Love the phrase that you posted, “Effective leadership requires a wholistic perspective” … this is so needed especially within the church environment as we need to be VERY singlar focused on a variety of leadership challenges! 

    Thanks again Michael! 

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