Developing a Spiritual Leadership Curriculum at West University Church of Christ
Developing a Spiritual Leadership Curriculum at West University Church of Christ
Daniel McGraw 0
0 McGraw, Daniel (2016) "Developing a Spiritual Leadership Curriculum at West University Church of Christ," Discernment: Th eology and the Practice of Ministry: Vol. 2: Iss. 2, Article 3. Available at:
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Developing a Spiritual Leadership Curriculum at
West University Church of Christ
Snapshot of WUCC
The West University Church of Christ1 is a 77 year old congregation
in Houston, Texas. The congregation was established in 1939, built its first
building in 1951, and added to it over the years. Although the congregation
reached close to 600 members in the late 1960s, its membership declined
over the next few decades.
This decline was due to two main factors. First, the church followed
the typical life‐cycle of churches, with a slow decline taking place as the
church grew older and more established.2 Second, the demographics of the
surrounding neighborhood began changing in the late 1980s as older,
middle‐class homes were demolished to make way for more lavish homes,
driving up property taxes. Many long term members from the
neighborhood sold their houses and moved to the suburbs, often changing
membership to closer churches. The church transformed from a
1 Hereinafter, WUCC.
2 Robert Dale, To Dream Again (Nashville: Broadman, 1981), 14‐18. Dale depicts a
congregation’s life‐cycle as having five distinct phases: birth, growth, maturity, decline,
and death. While the lifespan of a congregation can differ from location to location, the
typical lifespan of a congregation is approximately seventy years.
neighborhood congregation to a commuter church, with many remaining
members traveling from the suburbs.
These changes impacted the congregation’s leadership. Many
potential leaders moved and placed membership elsewhere. Fewer
individuals were willing to take on leadership roles. There was also rapid
leadership turnover, with elders and deacons moving away or, more often,
succumbing to burnout. Those who continued leading often felt stretched
and weary from their work.
WUCC experienced another decline in 2002 after a significant
disagreement between the minister, elders, and church members. This
conflict was multifaceted, but stemmed from disputes over personality,
vision, and ministry prerogatives of the various leadership groups. Factions
arose, divisions deepened, and people began to leave the church as the
conflict simmered under the surface. The church declined significantly over
the next two years, with the minister and some of the leadership also
departing during this time. The remaining leadership kept the church
together, but those efforts stressed them emotionally and spiritually. They
cultivated an atmosphere of love, perseverance, and cohesion that still
undergirds the congregation. Yet those efforts also left a mark on
congregational leadership. Leadership was more about immersing oneself
in the various administrative and pastoral tasks of the congregation, not in
fostering or modeling intentional spiritual growth.
I began my project thesis in the summer of 2015, when WUCC had
approximately 150 members. The year before this intervention had been a
time of transition for the WUCC leadership, as well. The leadership of the
church had changed over the course of the past few years, with my
transition into preaching, the hiring of a new associate minister, the
retirement of two long‐time elders, and the death of a deacon. The
congregation had two elders, nine deacons, and a number of other
unofficial ministry leaders who helped oversee various ministries within
3 There are a number of different areas of the leadership within the congregation.
In most Churches of Christ, leadership refers to the elders, deacons, and ministers of the
congregation. At WUCC these roles are restricted to men; this is based on the traditional
Church of Christ polity of male leadership, which is discussed later. Hereinafter I refer to
these three leadership positions as the “formal leadership.” In our congregation there are
a number of “informal leadership” positions as well. These would include ministry leaders
and organizers, Bible class teachers, ministry volunteers, and others. These positions are
not reserved for a specific gender.
As I discovered in the fall of 2015, however, the congregation’s
leaders felt stretched thin. Partly this stemmed from the need to raise up
new leaders from within the congregation, a project that we are currently
addressing. But there was a deeper, underlying cause: WUCC leaders need
to develop a deeper spiritual life to sustain them as they serve the
congregation. I arrived at this conclusion using various ethnographic
Over the course of eighteen months I conducted two separate
ethnographic studies of WUCC: appreciative inquiry interviews and a
series of informal conversations. I discovered a number of themes
regarding leadership and spirituality. First, some of the leadership felt
“stretched” by administration and pastoral care needs. They were
experiencing weariness and burn out partially due to only having two
elders. They felt a need to find strength and perseverance in the Lord. This
theme was repeated in the later, informal interviews. Some felt as if their
spiritual lives were atrophying or depleted. One deacon told me, “I don’t
think I have any spiritual conversations with people from church.” This
statement was both disheartening and enlightening and demonstrated a
need to develop a deeper spirituality among the leaders of our
congregation. Additionally, I discovered that many of the leaders also had
a mistaken understanding of spiritual leadership. Many saw spiritual
leadership through the lens of a business model, with productivity and
action as the metrics of success. As a congregation, WUCC needed to
change its understanding of leadership in order to be faithful to God’s
These interactions suggested a narrative of concern facing the
congregation: we must develop spiritual leaders who are deepening their
relationship with God. This, in turn, would allow them to better serve the
congregation. Leaders cannot hope to lead others closer to God if they,
themselves, are not in the process of spiritual formation. In order to
facilitate this change, however, WUCC needed an intentional curriculum
that integrates new patterns of leadership with spiritual formation
exercises, allowing these existing leaders to develop a deeper, more
intentionally spirituality that would shape their leadership practices.
While there were many options on where to begin, I thought that the
best course of action would be the creation of a spiritual leadership
formation curriculum tailored to the specific needs of our congregation.
This curriculum focused on Philippians, especially the Christ hymn (Phil
2:5‐11), as its primary text for developing a model of spiritual leadership.
Specifically, this curriculum focused on the development of a Christlike
phronesis through small group interaction, biblical reflection, and spiritual
formation practices.4 Using Paul’s theology of phronesis as a model of
Christian leadership, this curriculum emphasized various aspects of the
Christ hymn to show how the imitation of Christ transforms spiritual life
and leadership, helping leaders be shaped into the image of Christ more
fully and, in turn, allowing them to lead others to be spiritually formed. I
will return to the development process later in this article.
Theology of Phronesis and Spiritual Leadership
I chose to base this spiritual leadership curriculum in the book of
Philippians. Much of the language that Paul employs in the epistle is the
language of spiritual formation. This is centered on the example of Christ
found in Philippians 2:5‐11, in which Jesus is shown as humbly giving up
the form of God to take the form of a servant and become obedient to death.
Jesus becomes the ultimate example of spiritual formation, as Paul then
commands them: “Let your mindset be the same as that of Christ Jesus”
(Phil 2:5). Philippians also integrates themes of spiritual leadership
throughout the epistle. Paul addresses his letter specifically to the leaders
of the Philippian congregations, urging them to set an example for the
entire congregation. Paul also gives them four examples of leadership, both
positive and negative, to demonstrate how Christ’s example can shape life
and leadership within a faith community. Thus, Philippians serves to unite
spiritual formation and spiritual leadership under the heading of phronesis.
Paul’s purpose in writing Philippians is to encourage these believers
to be formed into the image of Christ and to allow that identity to influence
every aspect of their lives. Paul writes, “Only let your manner of life be
worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27),5 calling them to a life shaped by the
narrative of Christ. In Philippians 1:27, Paul summarizes the main point of
his epistle with this statement: “Now, the important thing is this: as citizens
of heaven live in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Christ.”6 James
Thompson contends that 1:27 forms the propositio, “the thesis statement of
the argument,” for the book of Philippians.7 Paul reiterates this admonition
4 Phronesis is a transliteration from Greek that is often translated as “mindset” or
5 Unless otherwise specified, all biblical quotations are from the ESV.
6 Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, New International Greek Testament
Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 144. The phrase “of heaven” is not present
in the Greek text, but O’Brien interjects it here based on 3:20.
7 James. W. Thompson, “Preaching to Philippians,” Interpretation 61 3 (July 2007):
in 3:20, reminding the Philippians “our citizenship is in heaven.” Although
the word implies “to be a citizen,” it can also be understood in terms of “to
deal with, to conduct oneself, to live.”8 It seems that Paul chose the phrasing
of citizenship intentionally because of civic values in Philippi. Philippi was
designated as an ius Italicum, where Roman laws and customs ruled. Those
who had been citizens of the city were granted Roman citizenship as well.
There were sharp distinctions in Philippi between those who had Roman
citizenship and those who did not; those with citizenship had greater
societal worth. Those in Philippi prided themselves on their Roman
citizenship,9 but Paul calls them to a citizenship that trumps all: citizenship
in the kingdom of God. Their lives were meant to be a reflection of that
which they believed. To Paul, the core concept of the spiritual life is to live
in accordance with the gospel narrative and the example of Christ. In this
epistle Paul teaches his recipients how to conform their lives to the pattern
of Christ. “To live worthily as citizens of heaven” becomes synonymous
with the spiritual life, a life lived in accordance with the pattern of Christ.
Throughout Philippians, Paul continues to build an argument for the
development of a lifestyle based on the example of Christ. As Meeks
contends, “this letter’s most comprehensive purpose is the shaping of a
Christian phronesis, a practical moral reasoning that is ‘conformed to
[Christ’s] death’ in hope of his resurrection.”10 This phronesis should
influence every aspect of their lives: their civic actions; their relationships
with those both inside and outside of the church; and their values, with the
Christ‐ethic challenging the cultural ethics and values of the society in
which they lived. Every aspect of their lives was to be shaped by their faith.
Indeed, the idea of a Christian phronesis becomes the unifying idea
throughout the Philippian epistle. Paul uses the verb phronein in its various
8 Moisés Silva, Philippians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament,
2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 80. In Acts 23:1 also translates this idea as
“fulfilled my duty” (NIV) or “lived my life” (ESV) before God, implying life lived in
accordance to one’s obligations.
9 Joseph Hellerman, Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as
Cursus Pudorum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 114‐6, points out that
numerous funerary inscriptions discovered in Philippi contain references to both city and
Roman citizenship, “suggest[ing] that the distinction between citizen and non‐citizen was
an important one for inhabitants of the colony” (115).
10 Wayne A. Meeks, “The Man from Heaven in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians,” in
The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester (Minneapolis: Fortress,
forms ten times throughout the text.11 Traditionally, translators render this
verb with the ideas of having the same “attitude” or “mind,” but this loses
sight of the semantic nuances conveyed by the Greek phronesis. Others
translate it as “mindset,” “practical moral reasoning,” or “thinking.”12 Fowl
contends that this focus on the intellectual side of the word ignores its
deeper understanding of phronesis as a way of being or acting; attitude also
leads to action. Thus, he translates it as “pattern of thinking, feeling, and
acting.”13 This phronesis serves as the foundation of the entire epistle.
Philippians 2:5 serves as the fulcrum of the Philippian letter, for this
is the Christian mindset that Paul wants to develop in his recipients: “Let
this be your pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting, which was also
displayed in Christ Jesus.”14 He then continues by stating the ways in which
Christ’s phronesis stands in direct contrast with many of the values of their
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ
Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count
equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself,
by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of
men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a
cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on
him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of
Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and
under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is
Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5‐11, ESV)
Paul uses the plural to demonstrate that this is a calling for all of the
Christians, not just a select few. This is the attitude that should permeate
the church as a whole.15
The way Paul presents Jesus in the hymn is a direct contrast to many
of the values of their society. While Philippian society valued honor and the
acquisition of power and esteem, Jesus is presented as pursuing humility
and practicing servility.16 Although Jesus was the “form of God,” in
humility he determined not to use that status to his own advantage. Instead,
he practiced humility through kenosis and willingly took on the “form of a
servant.” Kenosis was not something that Jesus casually agreed to do but,
instead, was something that Christ considered and about which he thought.
Jesus chose to humble himself for the sake of others and became obedient
to the will of the Father, even though that obedience led to his crucifixion.
Jesus showed the ultimate humility by moving not just from the highest
level (“equality with God”) to the lowest (“the form of a servant”), but also
by willingly humiliating himself more by submitting to “the socially
degrading experience of crucifixion,” the basest and vilest punishment in
the Roman Empire.17
According to Paul, Jesus’s kenosis occurred in three stages: his self‐
consideration of his status; his incarnation, moving from the form of God
to the form of a human being and a slave; and his obedient death on the
cross, a voluntary humiliation for the sake of humanity.18 Jesus willingly set
aside the privileges of his position to practice humility in order to
demonstrate the character of God to us. He also serves as the exemplar of
life ‘within you (all)’ is life ‘within’ Christ. For this reason, there must be a correspondence
between Christ and believers, between his story and theirs, between the hymnic narrative
of Christ (presented in vv. 6‐11) and the ‘attitude’ or way of thinking and life of the
16 Jonathan Hellerman, Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as
Cursus Pudorum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). Hellerman demonstrates
how Romans emphasized the acquisition of honor through the cursus honorum, the
“Honors Race,” a progression of governmental positions through which one progressed
by good works, monetary donations, public works projects, patronage, and sponsorship
of games. One gained power, fame, and position through the pursuit of honor. Honor was
a “public commodity” that was based on how one was perceived by others in society, and
all aspects of life were directed towards the gaining and keeping of honor. Jesus, however,
becomes the antithesis of this power struggle. Jesus practices the cursus pedorum, the
“worsening race,” pursuing humility, servility, and degradation even to the point of death.
17 Hellerman, Reconstructing Honor, 130‐31.
18 Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis
in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 122. Fee adds deeper
understanding to this position, contending that it is through these two actions that Christ
confronts Greco‐Roman societal values: Christ, as God, “did the antithesis of ‘selfish
ambition’ by pouring himself out and becoming a servant, and as a man the antithesis of
‘vain conceit’ by humbling himself to death on a cross.” See Fee, Philippians, 187.
the life we are to follow. Essentially Paul contends, “Let this be your pattern
of thinking, feeling, and acting, which was also displayed in Christ Jesus.”
This was a pattern that the Philippian Christians were to follow in every
aspect of their lives. In 2:2, Paul calls the Philippians to have “the same
mind” with one another. He calls them to love, fellowship in the Spirit,
affection, sympathy, and humility. This exemplifies a mindset shaped by
the example of Christ, which would inspire and transform their interactions
with one another.
The epistle to the Philippians was not written simply to inform or
encourage these Christians but, instead, to mold their behavior and
thinking. As Gorman contends, “The purpose of Paul’s letters . . . is pastoral
or spiritual before it is theological. Today we might speak of his goal as
spiritual formation.”19 Those who are practicing spiritual formation are
developing a Christlike phronesis in their lives.
This is especially true for the leadership of the Philippian churches.
Although the letter is addressed to the entire Philippian church (“to all
God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi”), it is the only letter in the
entire Pauline corpus that is addressed specifically to the leaders of the
church: “together with the overseers and deacons” (Phil 1:1).20 Paul is
concerned with the spiritual formation of every member of the
congregation, from the leaders to the newest believers. His appeal directly
to the elders and deacons, however, serves as a specific instruction to the
leaders of the congregations in the city in how they should conduct their
own life, ministry, and leadership. Only by developing the phronesis of
Christ in their own lives can they lead others in spiritual formation.
Paul holds up three examples of individuals who live in accordance
with a Christian phronesis. First, Paul uses Timothy to illustrate this mindset
in 2:19‐24, saying that he has “no one like him, who will be genuinely
concerned for [their] welfare. For they seek their own interests, not those of
Jesus Christ” (2:20‐21). Timothy becomes the exemplar of Paul’s command
to “count others more significant than [themselves]” (2:3) and to look after
“the interests of others” (2:4). Timothy demonstrates the attitude of Christ
in his life and ministry. Second, Paul reminds them of Epaphroditus in 2:25‐
30, a “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier,” one of their own
Christian community who was sent to Paul. Epaphroditus endured illness
19 Gorman, Cruciformity, 4.
20 Paul does not specifically address these leaders again in the epistle. In 4:3,
however, Paul does address other leaders in the congregation by name, specifically,
Clement, Euodia and Syntyche, and other “co‐laborers.” Thus Paul bookends much of the
epistle with appeals directly to those in positions of leadership within the congregation.
and “risked his life” for “the work of Christ” (2:30). Epaphroditus is
presented as one who puts the needs of the Gospel above his own health.
Finally, Paul uses his own life as an example of the Christian mindset. In
3:2‐14, Paul presents himself as an exemplar of kenosis by sharing the
stories of his own life. Using the phrase “consider,” which he employs three
times in the text (3:7, 8 twice), Paul compares his life with Jesus’s example
in the Christ hymn. Paul’s own story becomes a tangible interpretation of
this ethic, patterning Jesus’s kenosis. He had many advantages from his
Jewish birth and heritage, but those things had brought pride and false zeal.
Many would consider them beneficial, but he now considers them a loss,
even rubbish, in comparison to Christ. He is willing to give up everything
in order to follow Christ. Paul has had a sudden “re‐evaluation of values.”21
In Philippians 3:12‐15, Paul reminds us that this process is not finished in
him, either. He is still developing this phronesis “because Christ Jesus has
made me his own.” Thus Paul “forget[s] what is behind and strain[s]
forward to what lies ahead” (3:13), seeking to attain the godly goal in Christ
Jesus. He then tells the Philippians, “let all of us who are mature think this
way;” literally, be of “the same mind” (3:15). These three leaders exemplify
a lifestyle patterned on the phronesis of Christ. Their example should spur
the imagination of the Philippian believers, calling them to practice a
Paul also presents a negative example from two of his co‐workers,
Euodia and Syntyche.22 They are embroiled in the midst of a disagreement,
and Paul implores them to have “the same mind in the Lord” (4:2, NIV).
Their fellowship in Christ must transform their relationship with one
another, challenging them to put humility and Christlikeness first.
Throughout Philippians Paul is building an argument that the
Christian ethic and lifestyle is patterned on Jesus. Church leaders ought to
set a Christlike example in the contexts and situations of their own lives.
Leadership is about more than just the ability to influence others through
21 O’Brien, Philippians, 382‐391; Fowl, Philippians, 152‐53. This is especially poignant
through Paul’s use of accounting language. His old advantages that were a gain are now
losses in comparison to the gain he finds in Christ. Nothing is more important than
“gaining Christ” (v. 8) and “shar[ing] in his sufferings” (v. 10). The things that he once
considered an advantage are now nothing in terms of his relationship with Christ; he has
gained far more through his recognition of Jesus as his Lord. For Paul, the ledgers are now
far outweighed in Christ’s favor.
22 Paul calls them “co‐laborers,” who have “labored side by side with [him] in the
gospel” (4:3). Whether they were formal or informal leaders remains unknown, but Paul
presents them as examples of those in leadership who do not practice a Christlike phronesis
with one another.
words or actions; instead, it is about developing a Christlike phronesis in
your own life and helping others do the same, leading to transformation.
Leadership vs. Spiritual Leadership
The core of this intervention is spiritual leadership. What does it
mean to be a spiritual leader, and how does that stand in contrast to other
forms of leadership practiced in politics, corporations, institutions, and
even the church? It is through the phronesis of Christ that this distinction is
Leadership is, simply, “a relationship of influence in which one
person seeks to influence the vision, the values, the attitudes, and the
behaviors of another.”23 Too often, congregational leadership has patterned
itself on business leadership configurations. It often is about the person or
people on top with others reporting to them. When approached solely as “a
relationship of influence,” leadership becomes concerned leveraging one’s
influence and position to gain greater power and prestige. It often is based
on using one’s own charisma, persuasiveness, bearing, attractiveness, and
influence to seek one’s own desires or outcomes. In many ways this type of
leadership is a participation in a twenty‐first‐century version of the cursus
Spiritual leadership, in contrast, is patterned after the example of
Christ and his humility. Spiritual leadership is less about power and more
about spiritual influence, helping others live into the vision of God.
Spiritual leaders are those who are developing phronesis in their own lives
and, consequently, are helping others develop that same phronesis in their
lives. Spiritual leadership development can only be accomplished through
spiritual formation, the “continuing response to the reality of God’s grace
shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy
Spirit, in the community of faith, for the sake of the world.”24 It is an
ongoing process in which we partner with God to draw closer to God and
be transformed more and more into God’s likeness. This takes place
primarily through participation in various experiences and practices that
deepen our relationship with God through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
These practices help one be conformed to the phronesis of Christ.
23 Walt Wright, “Introduction: Mentor to Mentor,” in The Three Tasks of Leadership:
Worldly Wisdom for Pastoral Leaders, ed. Eric Jacobsen (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 3.
24 Jeffrey P. Greenman, “Spiritual Formation in Theological Perspective: Classic
Issues, Contemporary Challenges,” in Life in the Spirit: Spiritual Formation in Theological
Perspective, eds. Jeffrey P. Greenman and George Kalantzis (Downers Grove, IL: IVP
Academic, 2010), 24.
Spiritual leadership starts with the heart of the leader. Many
churches choose leaders for their perceived expertise in business or life.
Congregational leaders are often thought to understand spiritual formation
and already be applying these practices in their lives. Many congregational
leaders are lost on how to practice spiritual formation, however. Thus, I
determined that WUCC needed to “strengthen the soul of our leadership,”25
helping them be conformed to the phronesis of Christ.
Consequently, spiritual leaders must model a life of spiritual
formation for the congregation. Gregory of Nyssa compares the difference
in worldly leadership and biblical leadership with a metaphor: magnificent
but dry aqueducts versus wooden pipes filled with water. Although one is
impressive on the outside, it is ultimately useless. The church needs leaders
who are connected to the source of living water26 and are helping quench
the spiritual thirst of the congregation. Only those who have connected
with God intimately in their own lives can help others do the same.27
Spiritual leaders must seek to connect with God through both personal and
communal practices of spiritual disciplines.
Thus, I sought to create a curriculum centered on the Christ hymn
from Philippians that would integrate biblical study, spiritual formation
exercises, and reframing of spiritual leadership.
Rather than creating this curriculum myself, I wanted to involve
others from the congregation in this process. First, I wanted to incorporate
a plurality of viewpoints and positions in this curriculum in order to mirror
the diversity of views within our congregation. Thus, I sought to create a
team that represented the various ethnicities, backgrounds, and life stages
in WUCC. Second, I wanted to involve others who had an expertise in
education and leadership, utilizing their skills and abilities in this process.
Third, I wanted to develop some individuals from within the congregation
who could serve in leadership capacities in the future.
25 This language is taken from Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your
Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008), 15.
26 Ibid, 29.
27 Ibid., 87‐98. Barton equates the spiritual life to a journey and spiritual leaders to
guides. She says that the best guide for a spiritual journey “is one who has made the
journey him‐ or herself . . . and thus knows something about the terrain, the climate, the
beauties, dangers and challenges present at each point along the way.” Only those who
have spent time with God in the joys and pains of life have the ability to guide others
through similar spiritual moments.
Thus, I sought to create a Curriculum Development Team (CDT) to
help with this endeavor.28 Specifically, I wanted the members of the CDT to
fit into four main criteria: diversity of age, race, and background;
demonstration of spiritual maturity in their lives; the exercise of leadership,
but not in a formal position within the congregation;29 and expertise in
leadership or in curriculum development/implementation.
In the summer of 2015 I worked with the elders and ministers to
create a list of approximately fifteen individuals who fit these criteria. I
asked eight of those individuals if they would participate; six agreed to be
a part of this intervention. Due to life situations and work conflicts,
however, only four individuals were able to participate in the entire
curriculum development process. These individuals ranged in age from
thirty to sixty‐five. Three of the CDT members were white and one was
African‐American.30 Two of the participants had worked in the field of
education as teachers, teaching‐coaches, and curriculum specialists.
Another member currently serves as the head of a local governmental
organization, and he had served in positions of governmental and church
leadership for more than thirty years.
The CDT agreed to participate in the curriculum development
process. This process would consist of a weekend retreat and eight
curriculum development sessions together. They covenanted to also
participate fully in the project, completing the weekly readings, practicing
the assigned spiritual formation exercise(s), and sharing their insights with
The project began with a retreat that took place over the course of a
weekend in October, 2015. The goal of this retreat was to outline the
theology of the project so that all of the members of the CDT would operate
from the same theological framework. The retreat took place on Friday
evening and Saturday morning, and consisted of five sessions spread out
over those two days. For the retreat I provided a notebook of notes and
readings to facilitate the discussion with the CDT. These notes ran
concurrent with the lessons and provided a resource for them to use both
28 Hereinafter, the CDT.
29 I made the decision to not involve any elders or deacons because I wanted this
curriculum to be created for the benefit of these existing leaders. I did not want to burden
them with the task of creating this curriculum in addition to their other leadership tasks.
30 Additionally, one of the participants who participated in half of the intervention
was a Hispanic male who had become a Christian approximately ten years before.
during the retreat and during the curriculum development sessions. The
retreat also interwove times of worship, prayer, reflection, and spiritual
The first retreat session focused on the difference between secular
and spiritual leadership, especially in terms of characteristics, goals, and
management processes. We looked at different models of spiritual
leadership and discussed which was the most effective in congregational
ministry. Specifically, we examined the missional leadership model and its
emphasis on moving together toward God’s goal. This model is
demonstrated in Figure 1: Missional Leadership Model.
Figure 1‐ Missional Leadership Model
Originally, this was the model that the CDT used as it considered spiritual
leadership. Our understanding of spiritual leadership changed over the
course of this intervention, requiring us to create a new model.
The next three sessions of the retreat worked through a theology of
Philippians and the Christ hymn. We considered the themes of kenosis;
cursus honorum/pudorum and humility; phronesis; and consideration. Each of
these sessions also examined instances of spiritual formation and spiritual
leadership in the epistle. Each retreat session ended with various spiritual
disciplines to help the CDT practice spiritual formation. These disciplines
included the breath prayer and the Jesus prayer,31 lectio divina, artistic
representation, worship, and silence/meditation.
The fifth session was different from the preceding four. I invited
WUCC’s elders and deacons to participate in this session with the CDT. The
31 The Jesus prayer is a short prayer that states, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner.”
goal was to brainstorm about these leaders wanted grow and mature in
their spiritual leadership. I wanted these leaders to help determine the
course of the intervention and curriculum. Both elders, seven deacons, and
the associate minister attended the retreat.
The members of the CDT took turns presenting some of the
information they had learned over the course of the retreat. This allowed
me to ascertain how well they had internalized and processed the
information they had been presented. All members of the CDT spoke,
sharing the theology of Philippians and their understanding of spiritual
leadership and spiritual formation with the group. At this point, I
addressed the WUCC leaders, seeking to understand the ways in which
they wanted to grow closer to God and be formed spiritually. Their
responses were varied: some desired a deeper intimacy with God while
others wanted to be serving in the community. These responses can be
placed in three main categories: internal,32 relational,33 and communal.34
These categories are not exclusive, and many of their responses overlap
from one category to the other. Their statements, however, showed that the
leaders had specific needs for spiritual development in their own lives. We
prayed together, and then adjourned from the retreat.
Curriculum Development Sessions
Over the course of the next four months the CDT met to develop the
curriculum together. These sessions lasted approximately two hours and
incorporated reflection on the week’s spiritual practices, a discussion of the
session’s topic, the creation of questions related to that theme, and the
introduction of the subsequent spiritual formation practice. Between these
meetings I would also correspond with the CDT via email and phone calls,
clarifying any questions they might have or checking on their individual
Each session began with a prayer, followed by a reflection on the
spiritual practice(s) assigned for the week. These practices were chosen to
correspond with the theme for the upcoming session. For example, we
would practice service and then reflect on that experience before discussing
32 Internal disciplines included humility, selflessness, patience, and balance.
33 Here, I define relational practice as ways in which the respondents wanted to
grow in their relationship with God. These practices included praying, listening to God,
and practicing the presence of God.
34 Communal practices are those done with one or more other individuals. These
needs included confession, hospitality, fellowship, vulnerability/intimacy, service,
evangelism, grace, celebration, and active listening to others.
how Jesus took on the form of a slave. The CDT members would share their
experiences with the spiritual practice(s). Every member of the CDT
facilitated these discussions. These reflections were spiritually and
relationally formative; there were often moments of vulnerability and
transparency as the members of the CDT shared their lives with one
After our discussion of the spiritual discipline, the CDT discussed
the theme for the week. Almost every week was shaped around a portion
of the Christ hymn, although other portions of Philippians were also
incorporated. I would decide the theme beforehand to best meet the needs
of WUCC’s leadership (as ascertained in the retreat) while also remaining
true to the flow of Philippians and the Christ hymn. At times, however, the
CDT would suggest changing the theme or adding an additional lesson or
reading. We would start each session by creating a purpose statement,
which would reflect the goal that the curriculum was hoping to achieve in
that lesson. We worked through the theme, reading the passages and
creating questions for the curriculum. These questions were then narrowed
to the focus of the purpose statement and arranged to best achieve its
At the end of each session I introduced the new spiritual exercises
we would practice over the next week. These practices were chosen with
the upcoming theme in mind (i.e., confession when discussing humility).
We would practice this exercise together, if needed, and then close in
prayer. Each week there was homework designed to help the participants
prepare for the upcoming conversation, including one or two spiritual
formation practices that directly related to the topic in question.
The members of the CDT helped craft this curriculum in significant
ways. In the first session, our educators spent approximately forty minutes
helping us understand the process of curriculum writing, from crafting
purpose statements to writing open‐ended questions to shaping a narrative
from the flow of the questions and discussion. In each session one CDT
member reminded us to focus on aspects of leadership, not just spiritual
formation or biblical knowledge. Each individual brought their own unique
perspectives and experiences to these discussions. Certain spiritual
disciplines were added or removed based on the experiences of the CDT.
They determined which exercises would be included. They helped create
most of the questions, and they would reexamine each lesson to make sure
it fit the purpose and spirit of the curriculum. Their insights also shaped the
entire intervention. The curriculum was originally designed to last eight
sessions; due to the influence of the CDT, however, we created an
additional two lessons.
It was this process of communal discernment and reflection that also
led to a significant change in our understanding of spiritual formation.
Originally, in the course of this intervention, we based our curriculum on
the missional leadership model presented in figure 1. Over the course of the
intervention, however, we began to see problems with this model of
leadership for our definition of spiritual leadership. Through the course of
the ongoing interactions with the CDT, we determined that this model
simply did not meet the criteria of spiritual leadership that emerged. In our
understanding, spiritual leaders are those who are developing the phronesis
of Christ through spiritual formation and are helping others do the same.
The missional leadership model fit part of this definition in that it worked
with a vision or goal in mind, but it did not incorporate spiritual formation
into the model. Thus, we created our own model of spiritual leadership for
the purpose of this project, which is represented in Figure 2: Spiritual
Figure 2 ‐ Spiritual Leadership Model
This model takes into consideration the ongoing influence of God through
spiritual formation and the need for leadership to help others be spiritually
formed as well. This process leads towards a goal of Christian phronesis that
is inherent in the lives of the congregants and moves the church towards
God’s goal for his people. This model of spiritual leadership takes seriously
the development of a Christian phronesis in the lives of leaders. The goal of
this model is to acknowledge that leaders have roles and responsibilities
that are unique from others in the congregation, but also that everyone has
a part to play. Leaders are being shaped into the image of Christ through
spiritual formation, and they are then helping others to be spiritually
Leadership: Secular vs. Spiritual Citizens of the Gospel
The Phronesis of Christ
Developing Christlike phronesis: Consideration Developing Christlike phronesis: Humility
Developing Christlike phronesis: Cruciformity
The Goal of Leadership 10
A Phronetic Church
formed as well.35 Spiritual leaders are those who are developing the
phronesis of Christ in their own lives, imitating him in their thinking,
obedience, kenosis, and humility.
Over the course of these eight sessions the CDT created a spiritual
leadership curriculum that consisted of ten lessons. These lessons are
presented in Table 1:
Table 1: Spiritual Leadership Formation Curriculum Overview
Lesson Topic Focus
Lectio divina: five
Four models of leadership Phil 1:27‐30; 3:17‐21
Phil 2:5 and Palms Up/Palms
other phronesis Down Prayer,
Phil 2:1‐11; 3:4‐ Lectio divina,
Phil 2:5‐8; Cursus Confession
Phil 2:5‐11 and
Phil 2:5‐8 and
Phil 1:9‐11; 2:1‐5; Prayer, Discern /
4:4‐7 Imagine / Dream
Phil 2:1‐2, 12‐16; Implementation,
Prayer, Listening to others
Each of these lessons integrates biblical reflection, group discussion, and
personal spiritual formation in order to bring about phronetic, spiritual
leadership development in the participants.
Overall, the curriculum and the group process are effective at
helping existing spiritual leaders develop a deeper understanding of
spiritual formation and spiritual leadership. I collected data from three
different points of view: insider evaluation, outsider evaluation, and
researcher evaluation. Utilizing data triangulation,36 I compared these
resources in order to gain a better perspective of the efficacy of this
curriculum for the development of spiritual leadership. These three angles
of evaluation came from the researcher, the insiders (CDT), and an outside
expert. I will examine each of these in quick detail below.
The first angle of evaluation, researcher evaluation, came from the
field notes I created at each CDT session. During these sessions I listened to
the CDT members, recording their comments and my observations.
Afterwards, I added my own analysis and interpretations of these events in
the second column. I would then code these notes based on four key areas
developed from the intervention’s theology: kenosis, spiritual leadership,
phronesis, and spiritual formation. This permitted me to determine how well
the spiritual practices functioned in developing the spirituality of the CDT.
I also evaluated how the CDT’s understanding of leadership had changed
over the course of the intervention.
The second angle of evaluation was insider evaluation, based on the
overall perception of the CDT. During the final session I handed out an
evaluation question for the CDT to consider.37 This evaluation allowed the
CDT to judge the curriculum from their own experiences with the
curriculum in the process of development. We then discussed their views
within the group, which allowed the exchange of ideas and permitted new
36 Data triangulation is the use of multiple sources of data in order to obtain a
deeper understanding of the situation that is being researched. Through triangulation, the
researcher adds breadth and depth to the research, while also adding trustworthiness to
the researcher’s final product. Tim Sensing, Qualitative Research: A Multi‐Methods Approach
to Projects for Doctor of Ministry Theses (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 70‐76.
37 The evaluation document they were to consider was as follows: Imagine that a
small group of individuals from the congregation work through this curriculum together over the
course of ten weeks. How would their understanding of spiritual formation and spiritual leadership
change through this study? What changes would we observe in their spiritual lives and in their
leadership within the congregation?
possibilities to emerge through corporate imagination. I compiled their
statements and looked for common themes and words specifically based on
the formal coding system.
The third angle of evaluation came from an outside expert. I asked
Dr. Houston Heflin, associate professor of ministry at Abilene Christian
University, to evaluate the curriculum and leader guide to judge their
efficacy for spiritual leadership development. He examined the curriculum
and wrote a summary of his analysis, providing a report about its strengths
When all of these results were compiled, the curriculum was judged
to be efficacious for developing a deeper understanding of spiritual
leadership. It is especially effective at helping existing leaders develop a
deeper understanding of spiritual leadership while enhancing their own
spiritual practices. Once this curriculum is implemented at WUCC, we
should expect that leaders would develop a more Christlike phronesis in
their own lives while viewing spiritual leadership differently. It would be
up to the leaders, however, as to whether or not they integrate these
spiritual practices and new perspectives on leadership into their lives. I am
looking to create an ongoing process of coaching, guiding these leaders as
they leader others to develop a Christlike phronesis. Discipleship is the
second goal of spiritual leadership. As the group completes the curriculum,
they are encouraged to gather a small group to participate in the curriculum
together, with the leader now serving as group facilitator. The original
facilitator could transition into a coaching role, walking alongside these
leaders as they disciple others while also encouraging these leaders to
continue their own spiritual development. Ideally, these leaders would
meet once a month to check in and encourage one another in ongoing
spiritual transformation while also supporting one another in their
continuing discipleship. I am still developing these coaching plans.
Potential Application for Other Congregations
The process of curriculum development would be a wonderful
exercise for congregational practitioners. As I interacted with the CDT, I
learned a lot about my own leadership style. I was also influenced by the
various personalities and perspectives within the congregation. These
diverse individuals came with their own points of view and backgrounds
that greatly enhanced the curriculum, creating a vastly different outcome
than would have been possible on my own. Congregations that are looking
to tailor a curriculum to their own needs could utilize this same process to
great effect. By allowing others to take ownership in the development
process, the outcomes will have a greater efficacy when it comes to the
diversity within the congregation itself. Thus, this process could be used to
help create new curriculum, work through a theological issue, or plan for
upcoming sermon series to meet the needs of the congregation; it would not
just be limited to curriculum development or issues of spiritual leadership.
While the process of curriculum development was an integral part
of the intervention, I believe that the curriculum itself could serve to help
leaders deepen their own understanding of spiritual development and
spiritual leadership. Churches could take this existing curriculum and
nuance it to their own polity and leadership needs. It would introduce a
variety of spiritual disciplines for phronetic development while also
expanding their understanding of spiritual leadership.
Congregational Impact and Future Plans
This curriculum has already impacted the life and ministry of
WUCC. The members of the CDT still comment on how their spiritual lives
were impacted by this intervention. Three of the CDT members are also
involved in new areas of ministry, as both participants and leaders, after
having participated in this process.
During the summer of 2016, this curriculum was adapted by our
associate minister for use with the small group leaders of WUCC. Both the
existing and new leaders used parts of this curriculum to develop a new
understanding of spiritual leadership within their small group. This
curriculum proved to be too cumbersome for this group, however, due to
its length and scope. As a result, I am also in the process of editing this
curriculum, creating individual homework portions to be completed
during the week as well as a group discussion portion. My hope is that this
edited curriculum could be implemented in a variety of different settings.
WUCC is currently in the process of ordaining new elders. In
January 2017, we will use this curriculum within the staff and elders to help
reorient the spiritual leadership of WUCC while also seeking to cast a vision
for phronetic development for the congregation.
While the overall impact of this curriculum is not yet known, we
believe that God will use these insights and interventions to deepen the
spiritual life of our congregation and develop a new generation of spiritual
leaders at WUCC.
Daniel McGraw is the senior minister at the West University Church of
Christ in Houston, Texas. His favorite roles, however, are being the husband of
Megan (Holmes) McGraw and father to Hannah. Daniel earned two BAs at
Harding, an MDiv from Harding University Graduate School of Religion, and a
DMin from Abilene Christian University. He has worked with churches in
Tennessee, Kansas, Argentina, and Texas. He is a passionate, but wholly average,
runner and a voracious reader.
11 Phil 1:7; 2:2 (2 times); 2:5; 3:15 (2 times); 3:19; 4:2; and 4:10 (2 times). Paul uses forms of this word another thirteen times throughout his letters; nine of those instances are in Romans, another epistle concerned with a Christian manner of thinking and acting .
12 Gordon Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995 ), 209 ; Meeks, “The Man from Heaven,” 333 . Meeks also uses “practical reasoning” and “practical wisdom.”
13 Stephen E. Fowl, Philippians, Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005 ), 6 .
14 Ibid., 88 .
15 Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001 ), 43 . Gorman states, “The emphasis in the text is on the reality that