As Seventh-day Adventist school administrators, spiritual leadership is not only expected but is vital! So how do we serve as strong spiritual leaders on our campus?
The obvious yet often neglected foundation for success as a spiritual leader is to keep our relationship with God strong and personal. Unfortunately, as administrators, short work weeks are non-existent. To further complicate things, our spiritual home is also our workplace. Therefore, defining healthy boundaries is critical. Indeed, constituent church membership and participation are essential to demonstrate our commitment to God and the church.
However, while attending, we also must demonstrate that worship is the purposeful preeminence, not discussion or strategy sessions surrounding school-related issues. Furthermore, we need to keep boundaries even during our personal devotional time, avoiding the temptation to search for a sermon or devotional nuggets, as that purpose can muffle the voice of God who wishes to link to our heart and mind. Instead, we should merely bask in His glory without work diluting our experience. Even Jesus habitually exercised personal, one-on-one communion with His Heavenly Father. Practicing boundaries is a responsibility in the same manner as turning off our phones during date time with our loved ones because we recognize that relationships require our undivided devotion and time investment.
When my children were young toddlers, they had a knobby glow-in-the-dark ball. We would close all the doors around the hallway, turn the lights off and have a blast bouncing it around in the dark, never sure where it would wander since it was not round. However, over time, the glow faded and needed recharging, accomplished by holding it near a light source. As spiritual leaders in our schools, we can easily lose our spiritual glow if we do not allocate enough time to recharge and connect to our true Light Source.
Another critical aspect of spiritual leadership is affirming by our actions why our school system exists. It is not a denominational jobs program, nor should we strive to emulate the school down the road where students attend for free tuition. Admittedly, those schools teach the ABCs and 123s quite sufficiently. But we want our students to have a solid academic foundation for their future and a grounding in Scriptural values. We desire a clear understanding of their Heavenly citizenship and how they fit into God's Creation with a responsibility to both it and their Creator. Creating deep thinkers and not simple reflectors of other men's thoughts is a priority. Consequently, our budgets, curriculum, and staffing choices should reflect this philosophy.
Springboarding off these ideas, operating as a spiritual leader matches the footprints of Jesus. Genuinely caring about others, expressing a servant's heart, leading by example, understanding the community's values, showing a heart that is in tune with those values, and extending our servanthood beyond the school to include the local churches and the community at large are characteristics of spiritual leadership. Spiritual leadership warrants listening and showing up—showing up in the classroom to assist teachers and students in the basic day-to-day activities; showing up to clean and paint at both school and church work bees; showing up after school to listen when a parent is showing distress without judging or interjecting personal opinions or excuses; showing up at Sabbath School and Church to worship and fellowship with members; and of course, showing up for our work responsibilities while displaying patience, a stellar work ethic, and an offering a listening ear, or sharing our faith walk. These activities help others observe us as servant leaders, one who is willing to work and worship side-by-side and who truly cares and invests in their family. These actions are an active, personal, and productive way to build trusting relationships. We develop the assets and networks necessary to grow our school through those relationships. Without that network, we are an isolated island.
Spiritual leadership also includes being a visionary leader and imbuing responsible risk-taking. Our time investment in the previously mentioned activities allows us to observe and relate to our school's cultural foundation, recognizing its strengths and weaknesses. From those observations, we must develop a collaborative team to build and lay out a road map for successfully growing our campus. Ellen White has the wisdom to share regarding this step: "We are to study the situation with great care, for the Lord is our enlightener. The Lord has given men capabilities to exercise, but there is too little deep thinking and too little earnest praying that the Lord would give wisdom at all times how to work difficult fields (The Southern Work 74.1)." Though committees are laborious, having broader input gives extensive perspective and develops higher buy-in. The adage, "A family that prays together, stays together," can aptly apply to a school family. Through mission-minded committees that seek God's wisdom during their planning sessions and listen to each other's perspectives, God makes the impossible possible.
Prayer is another pillar for spiritual leadership, serving as a recharge to our own life and illumination to any situation and praying with teachers and staff in the hallway, praying with students on the playground, praying with families in the entryway, and praying in our office. Prayer is a constant reminder of who we are, our spiritual self, and our identity's finely intricate and critical aspect. We must never leave our spiritual selves at the front door of the building. Prayer personally escorts Christ to every person in every situation and is a reminder that we are only a conduit for His vision. It should never be about us. And, when individuals experience us as earnest, open, caring, praying people, they tend to be more receptive to our perspective.
Finally, a spiritual leader practices self-assessment. Being a leader is a journey, not a destination. We never arrive during our time here on Earth. If at any time, we feel we have all the answers, we are nothing. In the same vein, water stagnates without a fresh infusion and agitation, and so is the case with us. There is value in assessing a school year, a school day, or a conversation—what went well, and what could we have done better or differently for the best outcome? Once we pinpoint weaknesses, we should find solutions to fill them—hire people who can balance those deficits, participate in professional development, and apologize to individuals injured by our actions or words. Acknowledging and finding ways to strengthen our weaknesses is also a way to display spiritual leadership.
How do we lead as spiritual leaders?
This relationship enables the other parts to fall into place because He imparts the wisdom, guidance, courage, and solidity to fulfill our duties.
Following the Footprints of Jesus in Leadership
by Ginnie Hakes
Principal—Ceder Brook Adventist School
Spiritual leadership warrants listening and showing up ...
Prayer is a constant reminder of who we are, our spiritual self, and our identity's finely intricate and critical aspect.
we acknowledge why our schools exist.
we practice a servant heart.
we act as visionary leaders who encourage buy-in from our community.
and most importantly, we keep a deep, personal connection to the true Illuminator.
Leading an Adventist school has never been easy. Some have suggested it is the most challenging role within the Seventh-day Adventist church. Among the challenges we face as principals, the most difficult is often just keeping the main thing as the main thing. It is easy to let the loudest voices distract us, discourage us, and even derail us. However, if you would have asked me a few weeks ago how it was going for me on the leadership front, I would have said pretty good. Then I agreed to write this article and began examining my leadership role. Suddenly I was reminded and convicted that I needed to refocus my leadership vision. I (we) are not called to lead an organization. No, as Seventh-day Adventist principals, we have been called to be spiritual leaders. Spiritual leadership is not about leading an organization (although every principal has an organization to lead). Spiritual leadership is about leading people—spiritually. Organizations are not spiritual. People are spiritual. Therefore, if my focus as a Seventh-day Adventist principal is on organizational leadership, then I am not fulfilling my calling to be a spiritual leader, and my people will never fully realize God's plan.
In their book, "Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God's Agenda," Henry and Richard Blackaby explain that spiritual leaders take people from where they are when they find them to where God wants them to be. As the book title suggests, their definition of spiritual leadership is simple yet profoundly complicated.
"Spiritual leadership is moving people on to God's agenda." While a spiritual leader needs all the traditional leadership skills, a secular leader, atheist leader, political leader, or even public-school leader needs, first and foremost they need spiritual skills. Spiritual leaders must be equipped to understand God's will and move those they lead away from their own agendas toward pursuing God's agenda. For example, suppose the people we lead as Seventh-day Adventist principals (our staff, our students, our families, and even our board members) are not adjusting their lives to align with God's will. In that case, we are not accomplishing the goal of spiritual leadership.
To accomplish the goal of moving people onto God's agenda, spiritual leaders need to look no further than Jesus, the Spiritual Leader of spiritual leaders, to find a model. Better than anyone else, Jesus shows us the secret of spiritual leadership—having an intimate, personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. The key to success as a spiritual leader hinges on the leader's pursuit of intimacy with the Father. As Henry and Richard Blackaby point out, everything Jesus had to give as a leader He received from His relationship with the Father. He taught His Father's teachings. He followed His Father's plan. He modeled His Father's love. He pursued His Father's passion. Nothing Jesus did or gave was His own. He gave what He received from His Father. Adventist principals must cultivate, pursue, and possess an intimate walk with their Heavenly Father to be successful spiritual leaders. We must then take what we receive from the Father and share it with the people we lead. What does this Jesus-like spiritual leadership look like?
Well, I have already surpassed my word quota for this article, but may I suggest you read the Blackabys' book? There you will discover the elements of spiritual leadership that grow out of an intimate walk with the Father. However, I know you may be too busy "leading" to read another book just now. So, if you cannot make time for the book, get started by making time for the Father. Listen to Him. Follow His plan. Love His people. Lead His people. Let's refocus our leadership and become the spiritual leaders our schools and our people need. Spiritual leadership is about moving people. Imagine what will happen if our people move away from their agendas and on to God's… Let's go!
Refocusing: The Principal as Spiritual Leader
by Gene Heinrich
Principal—Columbia Adventist Academy
"Spiritual leadership is moving people on to God's agenda."
1 To be "spiritual" literally means to be spirit filled. Last I checked, God promises to fill people, not organizations, with His Spirit.
Becoming (and staying)
a Spiritual Leader
in your school
by John A. Chen
Assistant Professor—La Sierra University
F or an administrator in an Adventist school, being a spiritual leader would seem to be a given. However, the fact is that administrators are human and have the same challenges, stresses, and doubts as the teachers, staff, and students they work with each day. Being a spiritual leader is a journey, not a destination you arrive at in time. It requires intentional focus and dedication. There are three things that I would recommend to any principal looking to become (or stay) a spiritual leader in their school.
First, dedicate time to growing spiritually. The life of a principal often involves 10 to 12-hour days. If you do not plan or schedule the time to read, pray, and get your tank spiritually full, it probably will not happen. Just as you schedule meetings, appointments, and important school business, schedule time to spend reading the Bible and praying. For many, early morning is the best time. I find those hours to be quiet, present fewer distractions, and provide a great way to start the day. However, some may not like the morning or getting up earlier than usual for their “quiet time.” The key is finding a time that works for you.
Second, find something to help you grow spiritually and get closer to Jesus. While I believe that reading the Bible is an essential part of spiritual growth and maturity, there are other excellent books and resources available. I recommend The Bible Project, which allows you to read through the Bible in a year, access videos, resources, devotions, and more. Go to the App store, search “the bible project,” and download “Holy Bible” (Bible). You can set up a read-through-the-bible in a year schedule or access the resources mentioned above. After your daily reading, spend time in prayer. I will admit that this can be difficult to do as it takes a quiet space and the ability to concentrate.
I have struggled with this myself. Here are some things that may help. First, I recommend thanking God for who He is, what He can do, and acknowledging His power and might in your life. Next, pray for specific people. I like to pray for my immediate family—for protection, blessing, guidance, and wisdom. Next, pray for people in your sphere of influence who may be struggling with health, finances, relationships, addictions, etc. This list could be long or short, depending on timing and circumstances. Finally, ask God to give you opportunities to serve Him and witness for Him to the people you encounter throughout the day: this could be students, parents, teachers, or even strangers. Then watch and see how God works through you to bless other people.
Finally, expect the miraculous. The dictionary defines miraculous as “performed by or involving a supernatural power or agency.” 1 Of course, as Christians, we know this “supernatural power” to be that of Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus wants nothing less than to intervene in the lives of His children and show His omnipotence. Two synonyms for omnipotence are authority and power. 2 That’s right, God wants to show his power and authority to His children. Listen to what Jesus says in John 14: 12-14 (NLT); “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask anything in my name, and I will do it so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” 3 This tells me that God is just waiting for His people to ask for His intervention, His power, and His authority to be displayed in His people. I think it is good to remember that God does not always answer our prayers or requests the way we want. Remember the text, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” Isaiah 55: 8, 9. 4. Our job is to be faithful and trust in His wisdom, His plans, and His provisions. If we do this, God will be faithful and give us everything we need—in His time and in His way. We must trust in Him.
Becoming and staying a spiritual leader in your school does not just happen. It is something we must commit to and be intentional about cultivating in our lives. If we are faithful and stay close to God, He will bless us in ways we can only imagine. So give Him a chance today.
1. Dictionary.com: adjective: miraculous: performed by or involving a supernatural power or agency:
2. Thesaurus.com: Synonyms for omnipotence: authority, control, dominion, mastery, power.
3, 4. Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; Carol Stream, IL. 2015