Episode 13: Spiritual Discipline for Church Leaders

Today, Brett and Bryan welcome Dr. Matt Loverin to the podcast to talk about spiritual discipline for church leaders. Matt teaches Bible and theology at Grace Christian University and is on the board at Grace Bible Fellowship in Jenison, MI.

Physical and spiritual discipline are connected

As a cross-fit athlete, Matt says there are many connections between physical and spiritual discipline. He sees physical discipline as a great metaphor for the work Christ does in us as he sanctifies us. Both types of discipline are things that keep our lives regulated.

“What is the importance of spiritual discipline in the life of a leader?”

Matt says that his church’s board follows the spiritual direction and leadership of their pastor: “The temperature and direction of the senior pastor will largely lead our church.”

This makes the heart and mindset of the pastor absolutely critical for the rest of the church.

Matt: “Where is God taking our pastor? That’s going to be the direction of the church. We’re listening to God’s work in that man.”

“How do you evaluate spiritual maturity?”

Matt: “Is this person conformed to the image of Christ? To put it another way, do I see Christ in this person?” 

Specifically, Matt says he looks for the characteristics of Christ – the fruit of the Spirit, and the marks of discipleship that Jesus describes in the beatitudes. He says, “The more someone looks like Jesus, the more spiritually mature they are.” 

“What is the importance of spiritual maturity in church leadership?”

Spiritual maturity in church leadership is relatively important, in the sense that leaders with greater responsibility need to have greater spiritual maturity. For example, elders who are responsible for the spiritual care of the church need to have spiritual maturity in a way that deacons might not.

In Matt’s church, the elders function as spiritual guardrails to keep the ship on track, so spiritual maturity is very important there. But, it’s hard to find people who are willing and qualified to be elders. This is especially because most of the elder positions are part time and unpaid.

Maybe we have too high of a standard for spiritual maturity when we’re looking at elders. The apostle Paul appointed elders in towns where he had only been for a short time before moving on to other towns. So, maybe we put too much emphasis on a certain threshold of spiritual maturity, rather than just focusing on the characteristics that Paul gives in his letters. Maybe “adequate” is good enough.

Brett: “Teachability is huge.” We have to acknowledge the reality of peoples’ busy everyday lives that leave people tired. So the desire and willingness to grow in spiritual maturity can be enough.

What does a church look like when a pastor and board have a weak commitment to spiritual maturity?

Matt: “Start with those Christ-like characteristics and work backwards.” If there’s a lack of love, a lack of willingness to serve, a lack of joy, a lack of patience, a lack of humility, you have a lack of spiritual maturity. Picture the ideal shepherd, Jesus, and consider how this leader compares. 

The pastor is the leader in the spiritual maturity process, and he is connected with the heart of God for his local congregation in a way that nobody else is. But if that isn’t happening, something’s off the rails. Maybe he’s distracted from his primary vocation that God has called him to. 

Brett says that some of the warning signs of veering away from spiritual maturity can be subtle, but it looks like distraction from the heart of the ministry. When the heart for service goes away, something is off. The agenda in the board room is quite telling of where a church’s priorities lie, and there can be a tendency to neglect the more spiritual aspects of leadership. 

Bryan tells about an experience he and his wife Amy had when they visited a lot of churches for a singing ministry. They could tell when a church had lost the heart because it felt “cold” or like a social club, rather than warm and welcoming.

How can a board member become aware of a lack of spiritual maturity in his church?

Matt: “Invite some visitors!” Invite some friends to come visit your church and ask them how it feels. Does it feel welcoming? Do people seem to like each other here? Get some honest feedback from outsiders. And, attend a different church yourself and make some notes about how it makes you feel. What kind of things made you feel welcome or unwelcome?

Is a culture of spiritual discipline created in the boardroom?

Matt says we all know we would be better leaders if we spent more time in prayer, in serving, and other spiritual disciplines. What we shouldn’t do is police board members’ personal spiritual discipline in things like prayer and scripture reading. “I trust that my board members are doing what they need to be doing.”

What are practical next steps to cultivating spiritual maturity?

Matt: “My belief is that God has provided leadership to His church.” Even if that’s just a handful of people who have their own issues, be willing to address those gaps in spiritual maturity with graciousness and gentleness. Desire for them to become more like Christ, and correct them in humility. 

Ask yourself of your leadership, “Where are we least like Christ?” Address the biggest gap you can find.

How can we foster the kind of relationships that lead to spiritual maturity?

Matt: “We’re all in this together.” 

Matt outlines three types of relationships that every leader should have:

  1. Every leader should have a mentor who they can go to with difficult issues.

  2. Every leader needs a peer group of support to hold them accountable.

  3. And, every leader should be mentoring someone.

These relationships should be the organic leading of the Spirit, though, not a formalized mentorship program.

Resources for spiritual maturity

Bryan: “Spiritual maturity is not a private experience. . . .We do well as board members to be accountable to those we serve with.” At Grace Gospel Fellowship, we often recommend a tool called the Spiritual Transformation Inventory. This is a resource that helps you evaluate your own spiritual maturity. We encourage boards to work through this together and then be transparent with eachother about where they are.  

Matt: John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. This book is great for board members and elders who aren’t big readers, because it offers a practical, accessible introduction to the spiritual disciplines for a better way of life.

Matt also recommends anything by Peter Scazzero. He has an entire series on emotional health, but Matt mentions two books by name: The Emotionally Healthy Leader and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

Additionally, Matt hosts a podcast with Jim Shemaria (who has been a guest on our podcast several times) called The Pastoral Calling Podcast. It’s a great resource for anyone in a church leadership role.

Closing and final thanks to Matt

Thank you, Matt, for your time! We appreciate you coming on the podcast!

In this episode:

00:00 – Introduction

00:39 – This episode’s guest, Dr. Matt Loverin

04:30 – Connecions between physical and spiritual discipline

06:47 – The importance of spiritual discipline for leaders

09:25 – How to evaluate spiritual maturity

11:35 – The importance of spiritual maturity in church leadership

17:15 – What does it look like when a pastor/board has a weak spiritual maturity? 

23:46 – How can a board member become aware of a lack of spiritual maturity in his church?

26:16 – Is a culture of spiritual discipline created in the boardroom?

30:20 – Practical next steps to cultivating spiritual maturity

37:20 – How to foster relationships that lead to greater spiritual maturity

41:40 – Resources for spiritual maturity

46:28 – Closing and final thanks to Matt


Resources Mentioned:

Spiritual Transformation Inventory

John Mark Comer – The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

Peter ScazzeroThe Emotionally Healthy Leader and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

The Pastoral Calling Podcast

More Resources

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