Spiritual Leadership, Part II: The First Sphere of Influence

[Read the previous section, Part I, here.]

Where to begin?

It is axiomatic to say that the spiritual leader does not have the same influence everywhere. We know this intuitively. For the sake of this presentation, I’ll say that our influence is strongest starting with ourselves. From there, we see a still strong influence within our family, particularly among our wives and children, but the addition of wills begins to complicate things, occasionally attempting to frustrate our leadership. Stepping beyond that we reach our parishes, those communities of believers who have willingly placed themselves under our pastoral care, but by no means submitting themselves absolutely or blindly to our leadership. Finally, we reach our community, the broader areas where we live and work, where we are known perhaps as pastors and preachers, but without any kind of acknowledged leadership for all.

The remainder of this presentation is going to attempt to address some of the issues of leadership that arise in each sphere. I’ll give advice, but solely from the standpoint of personal experience (i.e., “this has worked for me”) or of personal weakness (i.e., “I really struggle with this problem.”). If anything strikes you as odd, I ask you to weigh it carefully, and, if necessary, I ask your forgiveness if what I say rings completely untrue to you.


Our spiritual leadership has to start with ourselves. I think each of you knows this already. Personal spiritual leadership has to start with personal discipline. However, I’ll suggest to you that this personal discipline must go beyond “spiritual” discipline (which is to say “mental” discipline). After all, were we to focus on this spiritual dimension while deprecating the rest would make us dualists of a sort. Rather, I’ll be even bolder and suggest that personal discipline must really start with physical and general “life” discipline.

If you doubt this, consider St. Paul’s requirements for those who desire the office of bishop, for those who desire to lead the people of God.

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence…not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 1 Tim 3:2-7

It is notable that this list doesn’t make mention of vague notions of spirituality, and even piety is only mentioned obliquely (“having his children in submission with all reverence”). Rather, it describes someone who “has it together.”

Further, I suspect most of you have had the experience of the young man who desires to advance in service to the Church, perhaps pursuing tonsure as a reader or subdeacon, and clearly desiring ordination to the major orders. He loves participating on the Orthodox internet, and perhaps delights in differentiating between worthy and unworthy priests. Yet, even a cursory inspection reveals his life to be in absolute disarray. He can’t hold a job. His bills are past due. There is general foolishness and perhaps even sexual sin in his life. His spiritual life is best served not by mastering the finer points of the Jesus Prayer, but in ordering his life according to the standard we set for the mature Christian. St. Paul asks the critical question here: “If a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim 3:5)

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