Self-Leadership (by Jessica Schmerse)

One of the things that I appreciate most about Wesley Seminary is the emphasis they put on forming their students spiritually in a way that doesn’t take away from the rigorous academic foundation.  One way they show their dedication to spiritual formation is by including a spiritual formation course each semester alongside the core courses that shape the MDiv program.  These courses take on a different focus each semester, challenging us to grow ourselves while also supplying the tools necessary to apply what we learn in our ministry context.  One such emphasis was in the area of Goal Setting and Accountability, which focused on self-leadership.

If you are a pastor in any context, you quickly realize that self-leadership is necessary on many levels.  This might be especially true if you are a recent college graduate or have entered the ministry from a more formal job setting. I remember leaving college and being thrust into the world of the pastorate, expected to manage my schedule with very little daily accountability in what I did with my time.  This can come as a shock to many after the years of structure the education system or business world brings to one’s life.  And while most pastors don’t set out to be lazy, poor time-managers, or lacking in boundaries or self-control, it can happen slowly and over time without the discipline and intentionality that comes with working on one’s inner life.

In his book Leading from the Inside-Out: The Art of Self-Leadership, Samuel Rima lays out four key areas we need to live out intentionally and with integrity in order to be effective leaders within our ministry context.  If we fail to give attention to even one of these areas, not only will our effectiveness as a leader be compromised, but we may also hinder what God wants to do in and through us simply as one of His children.

Spiritual Self-Leadership. As a pastor, it is hard to argue against the need to be disciplined and intentional when it comes to spiritual self-leadership, and yet I have talked to enough pastors to know that it is very easy to allow this area of one’s life to fall to the wayside.  We end up focusing on our ministry “to do” list and forget that our soul also needs to be cultivated.  Rima points out, “There is no other aspect of a leader’s life that has greater impact, both positive and negative, on her exercise of leadership than the condition of her inner life.”  When our heart is not right with or in tune with God and the leading of the Holy Spirit, we are not only more likely to burn out in the ministry, but we are more likely to allow sin to sneak in because we are not caring for our soul the way we should be.  For me, this means participating in spiritual disciplines on a regular basis and making Bible Study and prayer a daily priority.   The most effective leaders I know are men and women who make spiritual self-leadership a priority.  Not only is it wise, but I might argue it’s a part of what it means to live out our Christian faith!

Emotional Self-Leadership.  While it is impossible to be completely balanced emotionally, what is important is to be aware of where our weaknesses lay and how they affect our ability to lead and minister to others. Rima reminds us that “whatever is taking place on the inside of our life will ultimately work its way into public view in the form of moods, behaviors, attitudes, and actions that will undoubtedly have an impact on our exercise of leadership.”   This doesn’t mean that we won’t feel emotions like anger, fear, worry, or depression; it means we will be self-aware enough to recognize when they are inappropriate responses to the circumstances of life and will be humble enough to face them head-on.  This might require having people in your life that you’ve given permission to speak honestly to you when they see an area in your life that needs attention.  It may require making time for prayer.  But one thing is certain: if ignored, your emotional life will impact your ability to minister and lead effectively.

Physical Self-Leadership. I think many could easily be skeptical here because of our culture’s fixation on the body and obsession with how one looks.  However, as Rima points out, “our body is the only tool we have with which to carry out the mission we have been given by God,” and as such, we should make an effort to take care of it.  And not only that, but as leaders, we should set an example of a well-rounded life to those God has called us to lead.  We don’t have to be Olympians, but keeping diet, exercise, rest, and our basic health and hygiene in mind will not only allow us to be more energized and focused in ministry, but will probably help us be more in tune with the other areas of self-leadership mentioned here.

Intellectual Self-Leadership. Scripture tells us repeatedly to seek after wisdom (see the book of Proverbs among other places), and the most effective leaders I know take this challenge seriously.  And while it can be easy to become prideful in our knowledge, when pursued with the right spirit it can help us to continue to grow and develop in order to serve God more faithfully and effectively. Rima challenges us with this thought: “It has become too easy for leaders to simply adopt sound-bite positions they hear bantered about over the airwaves rather than to think deeply and critically about increasingly complex issues.”  We are given the privilege of helping those we lead process and integrate life and faith, and as we process these things ourselves, it only prepares us more fully to help others do the same.

Self-leadership is important.  Our goal is never to become legalistic in these areas, but to see them as a template for living a balanced, God-honoring life that allows us to fulfill the call God has place on us as leaders and ministers.

So what about you?  Which areas are you strong in?  Which areas do you need to be more intentional in pursuing?  What steps will you take to make it a reality?