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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

29 Mar '10

Spirituality does not compensate for our shadow side


All of us have a shadow side. This is not about whether we are spiritual enough! It is about recognizing the shadow side and dealing with it. The Apostle Paul was a hard driving, type A, highly disciplined individual. Yet when John Mark did not live up to the same standards, Paul and Barnabas, two giants of the New Testament came to such disagreement that they had to separate ways. So strong was the disagreement that Paul abandoned not only John Mark but the very individual who had discipled and encouraged him when no one else would – Barnabas. The shadow side of his discipline and high standards alienated him from a friend who had been a friend when no one else would be a friend.



Can you imagine the pain that Barnabas and John Mark felt when Paul took such a hard line? No amount of spirituality on Paul’s part kept him from deeply hurting two individuals who loved him very much. Perhaps words like arrogance and narcissism and impatience found their way into Barnabas’s mind as he processed his friendship and partnership gone wrong.


The fact that Paul changed his mind about John Mark later in his life and requested his presence when he was in prison indicates to me that Paul had become more self aware and was dealing with the downside of his driven personality. Paul was as deeply a spiritual man as any who ever lived and yet he too had a shadow side to his strengths: liabilities that hurt Barnabas and John Mark because they were not managed well or recognized by him at that time of his life.


There are also people who hide behind a gloss of spirituality to ignore or compensate for their shadow side. These are often Christian leaders who spiritualize everything and have a spiritual explanation for even those times when their own issues have caused problems.


Dan is an organizational leader who is black and white, always right, critical of others and impervious to alternate points of view. He attracts followers who are like the stepford wives, blindly following without thinking critically themselves. Those who disagree with him are marginalized and devalued. But it is always done behind a façade of spirituality that makes it impossible to penetrate. When he is in a group and is the only one to take a certain position he sees himself as a prophet speaking truth to those who are blind (never mind that the Old Testament prophets spoke for God directly). No amount of discussion or dialogue will shift him from his right and “prophetic” point of view.


When his stubbornness (arrogance) causes issues in his organization, it is spiritual warfare that he is up against (now those who disagree are unwitting agents of Satan). His vocabulary is filled with spiritual references (How do you argue against God?) so that rational dialogue is hard or impossible to have and disagreements are always couched in spiritual terms.


Dan has caused huge pain for many people. Those who are smart enough to recognize his methodology stay away from him, leaving him with sycophants who become his blind disciples. What Dan has done is to spiritualize both his strengths and his liabilities in order to justify both in ways that allow him to avoid dealing with his shadow side or admitting that his behaviors often hurt others.


In essence his method for dealing with his shadow side is a spiritual narcissism hidden behind spiritual vocabulary that keeps him from accepting accountability for his shadow side. Because of the spiritual façade, many are afraid to name his conduct for what it is – poor EQ, narcissistic, deeply unhealthy, hurtful to others and frankly emotionally sick. But, Dan feels good because he does not need to face the reality of his own dark side – while in the process hurting others.


Spirituality, real like Paul’s or a façade like Dan’s does not compensate for our shadow side with must be managed carefully if we are to be people of deep influence.