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If you are a leader in United Methodist camp/retreat or youth ministries, or a member of a religiously affiliated camp of the American Camping Association, you may reproduce and redistribute this document provided no fee is charged and this header remains part of the document.

Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

From the author

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I wrote this resource as a way to thank you and to encourage you. Camp and retreat experiences have profoundly touched and shaped me. I know that without them I would be only a shadow of who God created me to be. Camps and retreats are key avenues where I encountered God and learned the deep meaning of spiritual leadership. I am not alone. Historically, Christian camp/retreat settings and programs have consistently drawn people closer to Christ and have inspired them to lifestyles of faithfulness.

Today, both the society at large and individual congregations voice the great need for people of integrity who are motivated by love and the common good. This, of course, includes inspiring and nurturing people for ordained and lay ministries within the church. It also means lifting a vision for all camp/retreat participants that moves them to spiritual leadership in their homes and in every walk of life. We as leaders in camp and retreat ministries must never underestimate our role in this endeavor. In fact, developing spiritual leaders was one of the reasons camp and retreat ministries were established.

Modern times require a recommitment to the core of what we are about, because fewer and fewer people see themselves as spiritual leaders in their daily lives. The church suffers from an inadequate number of leaders for crucial positions and ministries. Camp/retreat ministry is one key partner in helping turn this situation around. An effective response requires that we be very intentional. It is time to embrace joyfully our unique identity in teaching and practicing Christlike leadership.

As Christian camp/retreat leaders, we can go far beyond simply providing cost-effective meals and lodging in pretty places. Our role is much more significant than simply helping people get away from their normal routines and pressures. Amid the adventures, increased self-esteem, and even opportunities for strangers to get to know one another and become friends, we draw people closer to the Essence of Life. We certainly do not exist just to get people to come back to our sites, therefore generating income for us. We must never adopt the philosophy that we host some groups in order to get money to enable us to do our ministry with others. There is no such thing as a "rental" group. That term should be eliminated from our vocabulary, along with the term "other-use" group. Every participant and every guest has the right to receive the unique gifts that God has given us to offer as Christians. If we are not going to cherish who we are, then we really have nothing much to offer that others can't do better. What a terrible loss to society that would be!

Our mission is beautiful and important. Let us stay focused. The Christian church sponsors camp/retreat centers and experiences specifically as avenues for people to connect more deeply with God, to experience the possibilities for life based on the love of Christ, and to be inspired to practice life-giving leadership wherever they go. The natural world, so much a part of camp/retreat settings, speaks of God and enhances this process. For so many reasons, excursions to camp/retreat centers heighten peoples openness to new ways of being, which then must be linked to their daily lives.

Remember, camp/retreat experiences are intentionally temporary. People come to camps and retreats so that they might return home to live more fully. Both the experience and the return are part of camp/retreat ministry. We introduce people in many different ways to practices that they can continue when they return, if we want their camp/retreat experience to have an ongoing impact. Some individuals and groups will journey into our midst for that very purpose, and others will only begin to discover and contemplate the possibilities after they arrive. Creativity in how we engage different types of groups into the core of our purpose requires sensitivity and diverse approaches that honor the guests while inviting them to explore various aspects of spiritual growth and ways to relate more lovingly. How will our sites, staff and volunteer practices, and the experiences themselves all invite an expanded openness to the guidance of God's Spirit, which is the foundation of spiritual leadership?

What are the practices that open doorways to lifestyles of faithfulness and spiritual leadership at home, at work, and within the community? The more clarity we have on this, the more intentional we can be in preparing ourselves, our staff and volunteers, and our guests and participants to understand themselves as spiritual leaders wherever they may go. The question, What makes leadership spiritual? became the focus of a recent study leave for me. The sessions that follow outline discoveries I made while searching the Scriptures, talking with respected spiritual leaders, reading extensively, and participating in sessions with youth who are seeking to be spiritual leaders. I pray that these insights and practices will aid you in your own spiritual growth, in preparing volunteers and staff, and in giving direction to your ministry of hospitality and faith formation. It is my way of giving back for all you have done for me and so many others. I thank the Discipleship Ministries for making this resource possible. Use and adapt these sessions for staff and volunteer orientation and ongoing faith-formation practices as a camp/retreat community. Examine the themes and creatively consider how you can introduce them through the camp/retreat grounds, facilities, hospitality, practices, and learning opportunities for all guests and participants. Consider developing self-initiated learning options throughout the site and establish other ways to communicate the messages and practices of spiritual leadership.

Finally, I plan to add more sessions over time that speak directly to spiritual leadership. Please send me your suggestions. Sessions on peacemaking and the care of creation are just two of the additions already requested.

With deep gratitude,
Rev. Kevin Witt, former Camp and Retreat Ministries Staff
Discipleship Ministries
The United Methodist Church

About the author

The Reverend Kevin Witt is the former Discipleship Ministries Camp and Retreat Ministries staffperson. His previous experience includes service as regional director of camp/retreat and youth ministries with the Oregon-Idaho Conference, director of Templed Hills Camp and Retreat Center in Colorado, pastor of local churches in the Virginia Annual Conference, and summer program staff in Western Pennsylvania. He co-authored Twists of Faith (Discipleship Resources, 1999) with Marcey Balcomb, a book about ministry with youth at the turning points of their lives. He has authored many articles in the areas of camp/retreat ministry and spiritual leadership. He is also a popular teacher, workshop leader, and keynote speaker.

Kevin lives in Central Oregon where he enjoys camping and fly-fishing with his best friend and wife, Joanne. They have three wonderful daughters.

In recognition of
For being such powerful spiritual mentors

God became very important to me at a young age. My parents' deep commitment to the civil rights movement and the sacrifices they made to stand with the poor and the suffering forever forged for me an unbreakable connection between faith in God and living the way of love. Christianity has been an incredibly meaningful, inspiring, and sometimes difficult spiritual path that I cherish deeply. I thank God for living examples of Christian faith and for The United Methodist Church, which has been my faith community for support, encouragement, and guidance.

Through my parents, I met and watched sincere people from many religions unite to partner in efforts for love and justice. Spiritual leaders from different faiths were guests in our home. What I noticed, even as a child, was that these leaders lived, breathed, and practiced what they believed. They did so even when it cost them. They sought to grow more loving, even while they recognized they had much to learn. The various spiritual pathways and traditions, though quite different in some respects, shared some common wisdom. In all these traditions, for example, intellectual agreement with spiritual truths is not what is meant by faith. Agreeing verbally with religious wisdom is little more than observation. Faith is better understood as trust. In Christianity, faith in God is a deep trust in God that calls forth the courage to move from being bystanders to deep involvement, as Christ was deeply involved. Faith means practicing the way of Christian love until it becomes a holy habit or way of life.

The title of this resource, The Practice of Spiritual Leadership, affirms what was shown to me so many years ago and which has proven valid until this very day in my own experience. As a great musician practices so he or she might bring beauty to the world, we must also continually practice as Christian spiritual leaders. Ours is the practice of seeking God and learning to love. Over time, our capacity to love increases and God enriches the world through us. I observed this first in my mom and dad. Then they led me to begin to explore the Christian path myself. Over the years, I have been blessed to encounter God repeatedly within the many twists and turns of following Jesus. Life without God is unimaginable to me now.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mom and Dad, for introducing me to God and the infinite frontier of Christian love. It has made all the difference. May this book inspire new generations of spiritual leaders to do for others what you have done for me. It is a gift from God.

Special thanks

The following young people and their youth pastor from First United Methodist Church in Bend, Oregon, participated regularly in a Spiritual Leadership Covenant Group based on the sessions in this resource. Their commitment to learning, practicing, journaling, and group sharing about spiritual leadership helped me enormously.

Thanks so much to Jo Beth, Jeanna, Mike, Erin, Stephanie, Cassie, Cate, Amanda, Briana, and Sue.


It is no accident that you are reading this. Think about it. Either someone else recognized spiritual leadership qualities and potential in you and referred you to this work, or something within you drew you to explore being a spiritual leader. These nudges are part of a personal invitation from God for you to go on the journey of a lifetime. If you wholeheartedly decide to accept the invitation to follow Jesus in your leadership, that invitation will take you deep inside yourself and out to people and places you never imagined. If you are open, God's Spirit will guide you and shape you into the kind of person who inspires others to make a real difference in the world. Be aware from the beginning: Spiritual leadership is not always easy. It is, however, full of purpose and meaning.

Spiritual leadership is a special type of leadership. Webster's Dictionary defines leadership, in general, as the ability to go with others, in order to show them the wayto influence and guide. Spirit refers to God. Spiritual means the way of God. Spiritual leadership, then, means to go with people, showing and guiding them on pathways that lead them toward God and living the way of love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:7-16)

God-centered leadership always tries to inspire people to enrich their lives. Its not about being the center of attention, being admired, controlling others, or advancing your groups ambitions by being better than the next guy. It means being strong, caring deeply, seeking wisdom to do and advocate what is truly best over the long run for all involved. What an exciting, challenging contribution to make! No one becomes a God-centered leader simply by reading or talking. Honestly, these sessions won't make much difference if they remain only concepts in your head. To know spiritual leadership, one must live it. That's where action and practice come in.

Perhaps youve never thought of it this way. Practice frees us. Without consistent, real-life practice and self-discipline, we can wish to be but never become effective spiritual leaders. Musicians, athletes, artists, and others who excel at something understand the necessity of practice. Individuals who rarely (or never) practice an instrument may long to play a beautiful piece of music, but they will not be free to do so. They can see the notes and may even be able to name them, but they can't bring them to life. Practice builds their capacity and frees them from the barriers that prevent them from being able to play as they desire.

Similarly, we may long to live beautiful lives and to contribute as spiritual leaders, but we will not be free to do so unless we actually practice seeking God and living the way of love. We cannot lead others where we are unwilling to go ourselves. These sessions will encourage you to develop new lifelong habits. They are literally gifts from God to help you. Its your choice. No one can force you to practice these principles. No one can do it for you. It comes down to deciding who will be your guide in life: God, or someone or something else.

Some of you might be expecting these sessions on leadership to focus on popular skills and techniques, such as how to run a meeting, how to lead a small-group discussion, how to get other people to do what you want, the dos and don'ts of public speaking, and so on. We won't cover those here for a couple of very good reasons. Primarily, it is a matter of putting first things first. Techniques can be very helpful, but they are not the heart of spiritual leadership. Second, there are lots of other books and training sources related to these topics. Little exists on the core aspects of spiritual leadership, so we give priority attention to this.

Keep in mind that common leadership skills and techniques in and of themselves do not make one a trustworthy leader. They can be used for good, bad, or meaningless purposes. An obvious example can be found in Hitler, a truly talented person who had many followers due to his charisma, organizational skills, public-speaking ability, and so on. In the end his skills did not form him as a Christian spiritual leader. His aptitudes, as effective as they were, led people down a very harmful path. Remember that a skill or technique is not of itself leadership, but a tool that can be learned as the need arises.

Growing as a spiritual leader is far easier with support, either from a mentor or a core group who join with you to encourage and learn. As you work through these sessions, we strongly suggest that you seek out a person whom you look up to as a spiritual leader or a group that will reflect with and support you on this journey.

Thank you for deciding to grow as a person who intends to make a life-giving difference in the world. Keep in mind that you can pass on these lessons to others, and we encourage that. Remember: Spiritual leadership is far more than reading lessons. Spiritual leadership can only be known by living and practicing it until it becomes part of who you are. Open yourself to God's Spirit and God will shape and guide you.