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Spiritual Leadership: Journey with Augustine

By Bacho Bordjadze

· Christian Living,Hope,Nature of God,Knowing God,The Bible
broken image

In their wonderfully insightful book titled Spiritual Mentoring Anderson and Reese write, “It is frequently said of Augustine that in the honesty of his own spiritual pilgrimage in his Confessions many hear echoes of their own stories of the spiritual journey.”1 They go on to point out that Augustine is an example of a person “transformed by grace and thus freed to learn from his monumental failures and willing to use his own flaws as the curriculum for the faith formation of others.”2 I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment. Reading The Confessions is not an easy task. Augustine’s language, thought process and choice of topics that seemed very haphazard, at times require very careful engagement of our reading capacities. Yet in many ways Augustine proves himself to be a wise and congenial spiritual guide for those in leadership.

Augustine’s words mentor the soul of a spiritual leader. Leadership is not easy. It is simultaneously challenging and rewarding. Bennis and Nanus make a statement in their book that, “it is not easy learning how to lead. It is sort of like learning how to play the violin in public.”3 There are no magic formulas that give a shortcut to effective leadership. Authors note the fact that leadership is a “deeply human process, full of trial and error, victories and defeats, timing and happenstance, intuition and insight.”4 This image of learning to lead, as “learning to play the violin in public” is a helpful was of speaking of shaping future leaders.

Struggle with image, people’s perception, desire to win everyone’s approval and wanting to “not let this ship go down on my watch” easily creeps into the leader’s thinking. For example, attendance at a small group becomes a barometer of spiritual well being. When the numbers soar high, the leader is ecstatic. When the numbers dwindle, the soul gets deflated. This extrusion into leadership brings to the surface ego tendencies that tend to marinade deep down in one’s heart.


Augustine tends to step into this jumbled mess of insecurity and pride. One cannot read Confessions without being struck by Augustine’s intoxication with God and His being. Augustine sees God as eternal and unchangeable. He writes, “Already you have said to me with a strong voice into my interior ear that you are eternal, you who alone have immortality, since you can be changed by no kind of motion and your will is not varied with time.”5 God’s eternal nature is very closely tied with the fact that He knows and experiences everything in the eternal present. Augustine hears God say, “So also it is that when you see those things in time, I do not see them in time, even as when you say those thins in time, I do not say them in time.”6 Thus God stands outside time. He knows and understands everything perfectly. Nothing escapes him. He wills and brings everything into existence. “There was nothing beyond you from which you might make them, O God, one Trinity and trinal Unity. Therefore, you created heaven and earth out of nothing, a great thing and little thing.”7 This eternal and all-powerful Creator brings forth his Creation out of the depths of his being. In other words, what God decrees into existence flows out of who he is. “The will of God is not a creature, but it is before the creature, for nothing would be created unless the creator’s will preceded it. But if anything has appeared in God’s substance that previously was not there, than that substance is not truly called eternal.”8

As leaders walk with Augustine in careful dialogue, their picture of God as an absolute Sovereign Creator and Ruler over all Creation loosens the grip on the necessity to “make things happen” in ministry. God is in control. He is never caught off-guard. He never says, “Oops! I did not think of that.” He is never cranky, moody or temperamental. The whole Great Commission project is of his making.

Overhearing Augustine talk to God through the pages of his Confessions makes me convinced that those called to serve the Body through the exercise of spiritual leadership need this book as a tonic that shapes their view of God. It helps point to the proper place that leaders occupy in His worldwide agenda. Education of the mind that paints an accurate picture of God helps prevent my soul from wrecking on the stormy sea on ministry.


While the theme of God’s sovereignty nurtures the leader’s soul, it is the theme of faith that imparts the leader with skills for living. One of my favorite passages from The Confessions address God as the fountain of life. Having binged on the feast of the world, Augustine dives into the life of God with tenacity. He writes, “I fell away to those material things…I heard your voice behind me calling me to return, but because of the tumult of men hostile to peace, I scarcely heard it. But now, see, I return, burning and yearning for your fountain. Let no man forbid me! I will drink at this fountain, and I will live by it. Let me not be my own life: badly have I lived from myself. I was death to myself, in you I live again.”9 Here we see a man who has thrown away all the shackles of the worldly passions. He has no other agenda in life, but to follow his master. This is a picture of robust, calculated and determined commitment to put all one’s eggs in one basket, to trust God rather than self.

As leaders convinced of His sovereign rule over life, we bend the knees of our hearts before Him. Having done that we are faced with the whole slew of questions. Where is the source of God’s wisdom and direction for life to be found? How does one know what God wants from his servant? For Augustine the answer lies in the authority and sweetness of God’s Word. In prayer he muses over the promises of Romans 8:31 and Matthew 7:7 and then exclaims, “These are your promises; who would fear deception when truth promises?”10 The Scriptures for Augustine are the firm foundation on which life can be built. He asks a rhetorical question, “Who except you, our God, has made for us a firmament of authority over us in the form of your divine Scriptures?”11 The answer is simple and self-evident. God’s Word is unique. “I do not know, O Lord, I do not know any such pure words, which so persuade me to make confession and make my neck meek to your yoke, and invite me to serve you without complaint.”12 So he pleads for ability to grasp God’s words. “Let me understand them, O good Father! Grant this to me who am placed under them, because you have established them for such as are placed under them.”13 That is the challenge to our reading of God’s Scriptures. We must allow them to serve as our guide to the Fountain of Life. The ultimate question of reading is not “what does this text mean” but rather “what in this text can I obey?” The Creator and Upholder of the universe has revealed himself to finite and sinful creatures like us because he wants to bring into being a relationship in which he is a friend to us, and us to him. Generations and generations of believers have responded to that invitation. Augustine opened the Word and was transformed from an immoral heartless lawyer into a transparent and vulnerable shepherd of God’s flock. As leaders we open the text today and are filled with a sense of hope and anticipation of how He will move in our lives.
In the final analysis Augustine’s Confessions gently guides leaders into the arms of their Savior and King. Augustine allows leaders to argue with him, ask questions about his way of life, wrestle with his decisions and in the end to sit still in the presence of his awe inspiring prayers to his Master and Lord. In the end Augustine’s words when pondered deeply rub off on leaders. He opens doors for a renewed vision of God’s sovereignty, ignites passion to love Him and sharpens skills of faith-filled living through immersion in His Word. So those who read him will be forever grateful. Tolle, lege [take up and read].

1 Keith Anderson and Randy Reese, Spiritual Mentoring, (Downer Grove: IVP Press, 1999), 65
2 Ibid., 65
3 W. Bennis and B. Nanus, Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), p. 223
4 Ibid, p.223
5 My quotations come from John K. Ryan’s translation of The Confessions of Saint Augustine, (New York: Image books, 1960). Book 12.11, p.311
6 Book 13. 29, page 364
7 Book 12.7, page 308
8 Book 11.10, page 285
9 Book 12.10, page 310
10 Book 10. 34, page 263
11 Book 13.14, page 345
12 Book 13. 15, page 346
13 Book 13.15, page 346