Humans can possess many good qualities. They are often kind and thoughtful, and it's likely that most of the people in your faith community look for ways to help when anyone has a need. It takes more to be a good spiritual leader than just being a good person, though. Whether you are seeking a counselor or spiritual director for yourself or you're part of a search team for a new pastor, there are five additional traits that are vital for those in ministry leadership to have.
1. Spiritually Mature
A spiritual leader is often in the position to counsel others on their own faith journey. A good pastor is one who has his or her own experience from which to draw wisdom. When discussing the possibility of entrusting the leadership of your community to a particular candidate, consider asking the following questions:
- What has your prayer life taught you?
- What scholars have had the biggest impact on your ministry?
- What do you do to prepare spiritually for each day?
- What spiritual practices do you find most helpful?
It's also a good idea to come up with specific scenarios that the pastor is likely to encounter when counseling people. Present the hypothetical situation and ask what advice he or she would give.
No matter how knowledgeable people are, there is always so much more to learn. Good leaders are humble enough to recognize this and actively pursue continuous, lifelong learning. They read voraciously and often maintain good relationships with their own mentors and teachers. Spiritual leaders who are hungry for more knowledge tend to attend conferences and take courses to further their understanding. They also surround themselves with expert advisers, particularly those who exhibit strengths that they don't possess personally.
A common red flag to watch out for is arrogance. Those who believe they always know best rarely go looking for outside expertise. They may become stubborn or condescending when challenged, and they tend to resist change, especially if the new way of doing things is not their idea. All these behaviors are good signs that you should probably keep looking for someone else.
From a practical standpoint, dependability is a vital trait for those in leadership positions in the church. While most pastoral schedules have quite a bit of built-in flexibility, there are still times when it's important to show up on time and ready to serve. It can be distressing to make an appointment for the spiritual counseling session you need only to have the other person miss the meeting or reschedule it multiple times.
Spiritual leadership is more than just preaching good sermons and giving sound advice. A pastor should also lead by example. Look for candidates who are involved enough in their current communities to understand their needs. Ask about the specific things candidates have done to support their communities. If the pastor isn't building relationships and working with various organizations that provide relief, he or she will be unlikely to inspire your congregation to do so.
A good leader doesn't need to be in control of everyone's behavior or beliefs. Look for candidates who can get the people they advise excited about pursuing their relationship with the divine. In conflict situations, leaders should almost always serve as mediators, maintaining objectivity as long as possible to ensure that the discussion proceeds civilly. A leader who can advise without mandating is more likely to empower others in their spiritual growth.
Finding the right spiritual leader is crucial, not only for practical matters but also for the well-being of everyone he or she leads. When tasked with this search, look for the traits that promise the person chosen will be the best fit.