The Contemplative Leader

by Andrea Noel


Everyday usage of the word contemplate implies thorough consideration, or observation with continuous attention. In early Christian spirituality contemplation typically happens within the framework of prayer.

A simple definition of contemplation is “loving presence to what is.” In a Christian context, because we “live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28), being present to things as they are involves encountering the Christ who “fills the whole creation” (Eph. 1:23). In other words, Christian contemplation means finding God in all things and all things in God. Brother Lawrence, the 17th century Carmelite friar, called it “the loving gaze that finds God everywhere.”[1]

Contemplation is an all-encompassing type of presence; it is an instant, open awareness to all creation, accurately perceiving and benevolently responding to things as they actually are. Contemplation can be still and quiet or active and loud. Contemplative living is an orientation toward life that nurtures a simple willingness to be open to God’s movements, leading, and invitations.

The reality and diversity of our community begs for more contemplative leaders throughout our society. The hallmarks of a contemplative leader are transparency, vulnerability, and incompleteness. These characteristics expose the reality of human nature. They reveal humanity’s contusions, fallibilities, fears, innocence, and our need for God’s guiding love. These characteristics open the door for reconciliation, empathy, and change. Other qualities of a contemplative leader include: love, trust, faith, authenticity, prayerfulness, and courage.

The principles that guide contemplative leaders are counter-cultural to American social norms for successful leadership. Surrender is necessary for change; gentleness promotes action; doubt creates space for Divine guidance; being quiet permits a deeper fullness of life.

A contemplative leader is nurtured by an active commitment to prayer and spiritual disciplines: journaling, meditation, intercessory prayer, communal worship, and Sabbath. The type of spiritual discipline practiced is of least importance in the life of contemplative leadership. What matters more is having a consistent daily time of prayer.

A contemplative leader intentionally creates space for prayer and commits to praying during times when prayer is difficult. During seasons of doubt, insignificant awareness of God’s presence, or emotional, psychological and physical strains, a contemplative leader chooses to maintain a regular prayer practice.

The contemplative leader knows deep listening begins with listening from the heart and not the head; it involves empathy and self-reflection. Self-care, and peer support are essential elements for maintaining healthy boundaries and creating safe spaces for care and transformation. Inner work is done best within community. The contemplative leader is fully aware and committed to allowing God to be fully in control and prayer does not need to be elaborate, or difficult, but simply consistent and routine.

[1] Crumley, C., Dietrich, B., Kline, A. & May, G. (2004). What is contemplative spirituality? Retrieved from: