Academic,Leadership Development,Spiritual

Spiritual Leadership and the Philippian Hymn – Part 2, Personal Transformation17 Mar


If we say that ecclesial leadership is an art, as Friedman tells us, and if we accept there is some form of kenotic element involved – that is we must empty ourselves of ourselves and become as much like God as we can, then implied in this are significant character changes. These changes will move us from being egocentric to being humble, from being self-centered to being centered around Christ and others, and to use whatever power and privilege we have to the benefit of the kingdom of God. There is also the issue of emotional maturity that is a thread that must be integrated into the transformation process. Spiritual leaders cannot be dragged down into the emotionality of the people they lead. They must be able to stand above it if they are to be able to resolve it, without being muddied or infected by the darkness of it.

As we have heard from Friedmann, leadership is not about technique. He argues that the yard-long shelves of unopened or half-read books on leadership are eloquent testimony to that. There are certainly skills that can be learned. But ecclesial leaders need much more than skills, they are called to be shining examples of Christ, to live by His way, and to devote themselves to serving the needs of others. In other words, any leadership development program for clerical leaders, needs to support this kind of spiritual growth and transformation.
As I reflect on this kenotic transformation, this transcendence of self and ego, and on my search for a leadership model embedded in theology, the work of the German Transcendental Theologian Karl Rahner comes to mind. The notion of transcendence within the thinking of Rahner’s model has notable synergies with personal growth. Rather aptly, in Rahner’s theological and spiritual context, this growth would have a divine thread, a transcendence from our human limitedness, by being open to God and to the word and to the power of the sacred mystery. Fiorenza argues that we transcend ourselves and become ‘exemplary’ (Fiorenza, 30). As developing Christian leaders we should be convicted of the omnipotence of God, to transcend our human boundaries and to allow us to evolve as something infinitely ‘special’; something beyond what we could ever imagine. Our Christian journey in fact is a reflection on and a striving towards our ultimate selves as the Imago Dei.

Bernard Lonergan, (1904-1984), a Canadian Jesuit Priest also emphasizes the centrality of this kenotic self-transcendence in human development. He argues that self-transcendence is a process of cognitive, moral and affective development. He goes on further to say that spiritual conversion goes beyond moral and intellectual self-transcendence in that it requires a shift to ‘ultimate meaning and value’. It is a ‘total reorientation of one’s life’, where spiriitual and moral value is placed above personal satisfaction. For me this says that we lose our preoccupation with self, and the good of others becomes paramount. This IS the personal transformation that we must strive for in the development of our clerical leaders. It is reflected in the Philippian Hymn through the example of Jesus, whose kenotic journey of self-emptying and God filling, elevates him to the ‘highest place’ :

8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

The leadership journey, and particularly the spiritual leadership journey, requires such an understanding, such a commitment and such a transcendence and transformation in order to ‘perfect the art’ so to speak. I think therefore that some reflection on Rahner and Lonergan’s thinking is essential for the development of a ‘theology of leadership’.

Full referencing details are available on request

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Dr. Elaine Saunders – Industrial Psychologist

Phd in Leadership Development
Author of Assessing Human Competence
Specialising in online competency-based assessment tools, leadership development and performance counselling
Based in Sandton, Johannesburg

My key areas of intervention revolve around helping individuals to achieve their potential in the work context. To this end, my consulting practice comprises of three key applications which are related. These are the application of competency-based assessment in recruitment and leadership development, counselling as it pertains to performance, wellness and the recovery from trauma, and leadership development coaching.

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