What Spiritual Leadership Looks Like

Bishop Paul L. Leeland


To all who Share in the Ministry of our Alabama-West Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church:

It was another uncomfortable conversation. I had heard it before, both as a complaint and as a plea. The complaint was the lack of pastoral training, dedication and leadership needed to lead their congregation forward. The plea was, “Please send us a spiritual leader.”

Phrases such as: “no one knows where they are;” “they are not accountable to anyone for their time or work;” “they don’t preach the scriptures;” “we’re not being spiritually fed;” and “you can’t tell the difference between our minister and anyone else in the community” peppered our conversation.

After listening carefully and praying sincerely, one individual of this congregational committee asked, “What do you (meaning our conference) look for in a minister when you decide they are ready to be ordained?” A fair question.

When John Wesley wrote “An Address To The Clergy” in 1756, he identified the following criteria as being essential for those “whom God has called to watch over the souls of others, as they that must give account.”
• Knowledge of the office of minister. If one does not understand the demands of the office, that one cannot finish it well.
• Knowledge of the Scriptures, understanding “scripture interprets scripture” and knowing the “literal meaning of every word, verse, and chapter.”
• Knowledge of Greek and Hebrew; the original tongues in which scripture was written.
• Knowledge of history, ancient customs, chronology of world events and geography.
• Knowledge of the sciences, especially logic.
• Knowledge of the Fathers who are “the most authentic commentators of Scripture, chiefly those who wrote before the Council of Nice.”
• Knowledge of humankind, their character, tempers and manners.
• Common sense
• Some sense of “good breeding, including a musical voice and good delivery.”

Wesley then suggests something that is even greater: the Grace God offers to “govern the whole intention, affection, and practice of a Minister of Christ!”

Briefly, Wesley reminds us the primary execution of our office as clergy is solely “to glorify God and to save souls from death.” Secondly, he acknowledges that clergy are “stewards of the mysteries of God, a shepherd of the souls for whom Christ died, to be endued with an eminent measure of love to God, and love to all others.” Finally, he asks, “What is a Minister of Christ, a shepherd of souls, unless one is fully devoted to God and abstains from every evil word and work; from all appearance of evil; yes, from even the most innocent things, whereby any might be offended."

When Wesley explores the character of clergy, he is asking to what degree we serve as a pattern to our flock, in word, behavior, love, spirit, faith and purity. Every conversation and every act are done “always in grace.”

Perhaps Wesley’s final thoughts in his address to clergy should become the mantra of every clergy within the Alabama-West Florida Conference: “Let us continue in all the ordinances of God, particularly in meditating on his word, ‘in denying ourselves, and taking up our cross daily,’ and, ‘as we have time, doing good to all persons;’ and then assuredly ‘the great Shepherd’ of us and our flocks will ‘make us perfect in every good work to do his will, and work in us all that is well pleasing in his sight!’ This is the desire and prayer of Your Brother and Servant, in our common Lord, JOHN WESLEY.” (Wesley’s Works, 1872 Jackson ed., vol. 10).

John Wesley understood how to feed the flock. He knew the expectations of “the Shepherd.” While every congregation may not have “the Shepherd” they desire, they know what fruitful spiritual leadership looks like. And so do we.

Let us model what we know to be true.

Bishop Paul L. Leeland