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Leading vs. Living Spiritual Formation

17 Mar Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on Leading vs. Living Spiritual Formation
Leading vs. Living Spiritual Formation

As we continue thinking about caring well for the souls of our co-workers in the month of February, let me paint a picture of a conversation at a recent board meeting of a new not-for-profit ministry:


Executive Director: “I’d like to propose to the board that we close the center on Fridays. I know that as a new non-profit, who is not yet breaking even, this seems ridiculous. As a small staff, we work hard trying to cover as many hours as we can.   We work Monday through Friday and then often have a retreat to cover on Saturdays.   As we are operating now, some of us can end up working six days a week. This is out of integrity with what we teach and encourage others to practice.   As tempting as it is to push through to get us into the black, I don’t think it is honoring to God….so I’d like to propose that we close on Fridays.”

Board: “YES!”

How does that conversation strike you? Unrealistic, Too-Simple, “Never going to happen in my ministry”… how you respond probably says more about your experience in these kinds of meetings than it does about this particular situation.

Whose Kingdom is it Anyway?

As someone who has been worked in ministry for over 35 years, I know that whether you are paid staff or a volunteer, you always work more than you thought you would or more than you were told you would. “It is for the kingdom”, seems to be the standard line. Who’s kingdom? God’s kingdom – or ______________”s (insert name of supervisor, pastor, boss, team leader, etc.) kingdom? Sound familiar?


We have been so influenced by the culture we often see ministry as more of business than a way of showing the world the love of God.   And we normally define ‘the world’ as those outside of our own context. In having that mindset, we miss loving those individuals right in front of us… our team, co-workers, and volunteers.

If the church isn’t a business, then what is it?

I think it is imperative for leaders of churches, para-church organizations or any institution that professes faith in Jesus to reconsider what we ask of those who work for us. Policies like 40 plus 8….meaning you work your 40 hours but you are expected to volunteer another 8, are more reflective of a business culture than a church culture.

No more maximizing productivity by toying with the line of burnout.

Ruth Haley Barton says that when discerning the implementation of a new program, questions shouldn’t always about how the program will help those we serve or want to reach but we should also be asking questions about how this new venture will impact our staff or volunteers. Does it ask them to pack more into an already overly crammed workweek? Does it ask them to give up their own Sabbath for the sake of others? If it does, it isn’t helping others create the rhythm that Jesus modeled by ignoring it for ourselves.

Embody First, Offer Second

There can be a tendency among those of us who are starting to explore what it means to be spiritually healthy to start offering it to others before we learn to really embody it ourselves. We start reading voraciously books on Spiritual Formation, organize retreats, and plan out sermon series… all the while failing to really slowing down and examine how much of it we’ve embodied for ourselves. It’s harder work to embody the boundaries of spiritual health in our own lives than to use all of our ministry opportunities to teach others to do so.

I recall one conversation with someone who marveled at the spiritual formation stream being taught in our church. She was lamenting that her church just didn’t get it. In the next breath she said that at her church all full time staff get one day off a month for personal retreat and part-time staff, a half a day – paid, mind you. I told her that her church understood something about spiritual formation that mine didn’t…you have to LIVE it, not just teach it. And having the church pay for a day of retreat is living it. It also says to those who work for that church that we don’t just value what you bring to the organization – we value you as a human being and as a child of God.


As a leader, take some time to consider how you show those who work for you, in any capacity, that you value them and that you value their walk with God… even if the decisions you make to support that do not make sense (such as closing on Fridays). Be intentional about how you support them and you will receive back more than you ever give.

Deb Turnow
Executive Director at Kavanna House
Deb Turnow is the Executive Director of Kavanna House, a spiritual formation center in York, Pa. Prior to that role, she was the Director of Spiritual Direction at Living Word Community Church in York. She has a Bachelor Degree in Psychology from York College in Pennsylvania and a M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University. She is also a graduate of the Spiritual Guidance Program at Shalem Institute. She is currently studying at San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is a certified spiritual director and also provides supervision for spiritual directors. She and her husband Jeff, live in York, PA.