SPIRITUAL RENEWAL OF LEADERS AND FLOURISHING CHURCHES
Dr. Roger Helland serves as district minister of the Baptist General Conference in Alberta
“Do as I say not as I do?”
Have you ever preached or taught on prayer but failed to increase its practice in your church or course? Did you model devotion to prayer? Have you ever preached or taught through Luke or Acts but failed to apply and practice them with palpable results? Did you model Spirit-empowered ministry?
We can offer compelling expositions on prevailing prayer, Spirit-empowered leadership, healing, community, church vitality (like Acts 2:42-47), and gospel-centered witness and mission. But we can still experience hollow disconnects between the Bible and congregational experience. Do we present church health but don’t practice it?
We crave congregations that flourish. But mere theory coupled with resistance to change often fail to ignite practice and transformation. So, “what’s the relationship between a leader’s practice of personal spiritual renewal and that of a church?” And, “can a congregation flourish if the core leader or leaders don’t flourish?”
We church leaders traffic in vast amounts of information and truth that often fail to lodge in our own lives. We can’t simply preach, teach, or point the way. John Maxwell advised, “Know the way, go the way, and show the way.” Lance Witt trumpeted, “We will never grow healthy churches with unhealthy leaders.” 
As a pastor-teacher my passion is to stimulate spiritual and missional renewal. The word “flourish” itself incites my imagination! But here’s the rub: if I don’t practice continuous personal spiritual renewal through devotion to prayer, sanctification, and piety, infused with Scripture-fed and Spirit-led servant-supernatural missional leadership, I don’t flourish; I flounder. I can’t expect the pastors, students, and churches that I work with to fare any better. More is caught than taught.
There’s a deluge of resources that offer ways to connect and cultivate spirituality and leadership that flourish. For example: Alan Nelson, Spirituality and Leadership; Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader; Roger Helland, The Devout Life: Plunging the Depths of Spiritual Renewal; Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Leadership. Here’s more:
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers . . . being examples to the flock.” (1Pet. 5:3).
“Be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed . . . train yourself for godliness [piety]” (1Tim. 4:6-7).
“Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1Tim. 4:16).
“Devote yourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
“Walk by the Spirit; live by the Spirit; keep in step with the Spirit; be filled with the Spirit; build yourself up in your most holy faith and pray in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25; Eph. 5:18; Jude 20).
“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (Psa. 105:4)
I aim to be a Spirit-ual “presence-driven” leader who seeks God and hosts the Spirit’s empowering presence. And you? To cultivate a flourishing congregation is an arduous yet noble task. Conventional wisdom declares, “as the leaders go, so go the people.” What do you think?
Can leaders who don’t experience ongoing personal spiritual renewal lead others on that path? Henri Nouwen offers insight into a principle, “The great illusion of leadership is to think that others can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.” However, it’s also crucial to follow Richard Lovelace’s counsel, “While many pastors try to use their own gifts and personalities as instruments of renewal, fixing the attention of their people on them, the clearest road to spiritual awakening in a congregation is to develop the independent relationship of each church member with the Holy Spirit, so that every parishioner is constantly looking beyond personalities and listening for the voice of God.”
I’m an ardent student of Pietism—a spiritual renewal movement of the 17th-18th centuries that influenced the great awakenings and evangelical spirituality. Let me offer quotes from two Pietist leaders who emphasized the personal renewal of the leader, one early and one modern:
August Francke: “I kept theology in my head and not in my heart, and it was much more a dead science than a living knowledge. I knew to be certain how to say well what is faith, regeneration, justification, renewal, etc. but of them all there existed nothing in my heart.”
Donald Bloesch, “Our age currently finds itself in a crisis of faith. One symptom of the breakdown in faith is the loss of piety. Spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting are foreign to most modern Christians . . . We need a renewal of devotion to the living Savior. Such renewal involves the very life of the church, which rests on an outpouring, and a rediscovery of the Holy Spirit in Christian faith and practice.
How do you see the relationship between your ongoing personal spiritual renewal and congregational flourishing? Is “do as I say not as I do” sufficient?
Join me in George Whitefield’s prayer: “God give me a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love, and a single eye.”
Lance Witt, Replenish: Leading From a Healthy Soul (Baker Books, 2011), 12.
Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer (Doubleday, 1972), 72.
Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, (InterVarsity Press, 1979), 223.
Cited by Dale Brown, Understanding Pietism, rev. ed. (Evangel, 1996), 73
Donald Bloesch, The Crisis of Piety (Helmers & Howard, 1988), 1-3.
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The Table - May 28 & 29, 2020
Passing ideas and practical advice between planters, practitioners, and their teams at McMaster Divinity College: With panels, workshops, and storytelling our goal is to help planters and starters form and deepen their new and existing ideas and communities; learning from and connecting with other planters and starters. Register Here
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