Resources for Spiritual and Faith Organisations
By Dr Dione Hills
Spiritual and faith organisations have to address the same issues, and often encounter the same challenges as any other kind of organisation. There is no shortage of information and advice available for ‘main stream’ organisation on how to address these issues and challenges. However, the language and underlying values of these resources can make these inaccessible or unhelpful for those in spiritual and faith organisation, particularly as they say little about how spiritual inspiration or practices can support organisational activities.
There are, however, resources which can be helpful. These fall loosely into three groups:
- Resources that address some of typical challenges that face spiritual and faith organisations face, that are written in accessible language, sometimes taking a relatively ‘novel’ approach to the challenge, but without any (explicit) mention of a spiritual dimension.
- Resources drawing on insights from a particular spiritual or faith tradition, which have often been written for ‘mainstream’ organisations
- Resources written specifically for spiritual and faith organisations, which address specific challenges that these face, and draw on insights from a particular spiritual or faith tradition
If the resources is rooted in a particular spiritual or faith tradition – or none – this is indicated, although many are highlight eclectic, drawing on multiple spiritual traditions even if the author themselves come from one particular tradition.
This can be the most difficult area for people whose main focus is on their spiritual growth.
David Allen (2015) Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity
Since it was first published almost fifteen years ago, David Allen's Getting Things Done has become one of the most influential business books of its era, and the ultimate book on personal organization. 'GTD' is now shorthand for an entire way of approaching professional and personal tasks, and has spawned an entire culture of websites, organizational tools, seminars, and offshoots.
Tradition: Dave Allen is an ordained minister with the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness
Spiritual and faith groups often regard themselves as being more akin to a ‘family’, a movement or a ‘community’ rather than an organisation as such. But families, movements and communities are as prone to dysfunction and difficulties as organisations, and these can be particularly hard to deal with because these difficulties are so embedded in the dysfunctions of the societies from which the membership is drawn.
A classic work providing practical tips on building ‘true’ and effective communities within groups and organisations, which describes a process that has been used in both mainstream and faith communities is:
M Scott Peck: the different drum: the creation of true community – the first step to world peace. 1988. Arrow
‘In this radical and challenging book, Scott Peck describes how communities work, how group action can be developed on the principles of tolerance and love, and how we can start to transform world society into a true community’.
Tradition: broadly Christian and eclectic
Equality and Diversity
Spiritual and faith organisations can sometimes perform rather badly around equality issues, with many faith organisations incorporating structural inequalities from the wider culture from which they arose (e.g. in discriminated against women, LGBD and sometimes on the basis of race or culture or even disability). These same inequalities sometimes get transferred into the new spiritual movements along with some of their basic spiritual teachings and practices.
In the UK, mainstream organisations are constrained by legislation to not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, faith or disability and most now have processes in place through which employees – or users of their services – to complain if they experience discrimination. However, such inequality is often embedded deeply within both the structure and culture of an organisation, and can emerge in many subtle ways: many organisations now run regular ‘diversity trainings’ to help staff understand and take steps to address this.
Leticia Nieto (2005) Beyond equality beyond empowerment: a developmental strategy to liberate everyone
- Offers a powerful analysis of the psychological dynamics of oppression and privilege, and shows readers how to develop the skills that can promote social justice for themselves and those around them. A unique feature of Nieto’s approach is the practical nature of the skills model, which allows anyone to identify what skills they are using and expand their range.
Ethics and values
There is a host of regulations that help ensure that organisations behave in a responsible and ethical way ( re equal opportunities, data protection, health and safety etc). There are also ethical standards that govern the behaviour of many professional groups and associations. Typically, these cover some of the key ‘bottom line’ ethical issues around the safety and wellbeing of clients, particularly around issues such as misuse of power, sex and money.
There have been some interesting explorations how to bring in ‘higher’ or spiritual principles and values into what constitutes ‘ethical’ individual work and business practice.
Zohar, Danah (1997). ReWiring the Corporate Brain: Using the New Science to Rethink How We Structure and Lead Organizations. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. ISBN 9971-5-1214-9
Tradition: broad spiritual, unspecific
Kylea Taylor (1995) The ethics of caring: honouring the web of life in our professional healing relationships: Hanford Mead Publishers
Provides unique help to volunteer and professional caregivers who want to sort out confusing ethical dilemmas in seven categories including love, truth, insight, and oneness as well as the more well-known ethical issues of money, sex, and power. It offers a new model of self-examination which deepens the therapeutic relationship and can prevent the harmful consequences of ethical misconduct. (less)
Tradition: philosophical tradition of Reverance for life
Finances and Accounts
There has been a plethora of books and teaching about wealth, money and ‘abundance’ from a spiritual or faith perspective, but very few of these say much about the nitty gritty of managing a set of organisational accounts and raising necessary funds. In many respects, this is the area in which any spiritual or faith organisation, once it reaches a certain size and stability, needs to engage good ‘lay’ support.
This is one area in which several established faith groups have invested considerable resources.
There have also been many books produced by spiritual and faith practitioners designed for mainstream organisations. However, the inter-weaving of spiritual insights with an understanding of mainstream leadership theory makes these potentially ‘user friendly’ for people working in spiritual organisations.
- The Mindful Leader: Awakening your Natural Management Skills through Mindfulness Meditation, Michael Carroll (2007, Trumpeter Books, Boston and London). See also
Tradition: eclectic Buddhist
Louis Fry, Yochanan Altman (2013) Spiritual leadership in Action: The CEL Story Achieving Extraordinary results through ordinary people
- The Centre for Excellence in Leadership (CEL) serves as a role model for maximizing the triple bottom line through both personal and organizational spiritual leadership. It is an example of an organization that embraced organizational spiritual leadership, the values of altruistic love, employee well-being, and sustainability while maintaining high levels of financial performance
Specific leadership challenges for spiritual and faith organisations
Barry Taylor (2015) Creating spiritually inspired projects
- In this book Barry looks at the management of successful spiritually influenced projects. Starting with an outline of contemporary spirituality and Glastonbury, it looks at the subtle differences found in the successful running of spiritually inspired projects and the problems experienced.
Mariana Caplan (2009) ‘Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path’
- The spiritual path is like any other road―it’s going to have its share of potholes and detours. Safe travel requires a quality rarely taught yet critically important in today’s world: discernment. In Eyes Wide Open, Mariana Caplan supports us in cultivating the acute judgment and discrimination that will help us to live a spiritual life with intelligence, clarity, and authenticity.
Tradition – psychotherapy, Yoga (but also draws on ideas from a wide range of spiritual traditions and teachers)
Management, Structure and design
There is a huge management literature on organisational structure. In recent years, there has been much preoccupation with finding ‘flatter’ (less hierarchical) structures and management approaches that enable organisations to mobilise the initiative of those on the ‘shop floor’ and respond more quickly to change (in market conditions, consumer fashions etc).
Holacracy: the revolutionary management system that abolishes hierarchy, Brian J Robertson Penguin Business (2015). See also
‘Holacracy is a revolutionary and tried and tested new system that turns everyone into a leader. The organisation looks like a nest of circles, not a pyramid – but its not anarchy. Its finally clear who should make each decision – the person on the frontline has that authority –a nd the organisation succeeds by adapting swiftly to pursue its purpose’.
Tradition – integral,
Holocracy has been adopted by some spiritual organisations – see for example
Awakening Capacities in Holocracy
Marketing and outreach
This is an area in which spiritual and faith organisations may struggle and experience considerable internal tension. There is a great deal of advice and literature available on the recruitment of new members within some mainstream religions (evangelical outreach, missionary practice etc) which may make those in ‘new spiritual movements’ quite uncomfortable. Similarly, marketing (of products and services) and enhancing competitive advantage in the market place is a major preoccupation in main stream organisational literature, often written in language, or expressing values that those in spiritual or faith organisations may find very uncomfortable.
Organisational Culture (Bringing the soul, spirit, consciousness or awakened awareness, to work
Organisational culture is a major preoccupation in main stream management literature, and it is also an area where there is no shortage of guidance, coming from many different spiritual traditions, exploring how faith, and spiritual insights can help to transform work practices and awareness.
Matthew Fox The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time
Thomas Aquinas said, "To live well is to work well," and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony--a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic "soul work.” Citing Meister Eckhart, Thomas Aquinas, Hildegard von Bingen, the Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Studs Terkel, and progressive economists, Fox explores the concept of work and how it can be healthier socially, environmentally, and spiritually.
Tradition: eclectic although rooted in Christianity
Finding, financing and managing a property is one of the biggest challenges that a new spiritual or faith organisation will face as it reaches a certain size and level of stability. The challenge for traditional religions and faith groups is somewhat different – how to manage ‘inherited’ properties which may now be old, crumbling, too big and inappropriate for its current activities. Again, this is often an area in which external professional advice is strongly recommended.
What to do when things start going wrong? There are many consultants and coaches out there who can help a stuck organisation move forward. Some of these specifically take into account a ‘spiritual’ dimension.
What to do when things start going wrong? There are many consultants and coaches out there who can help.
- Psychosynthesis coaching offers a powerful alternative to conventional performance or behaviourally oriented approaches for coaches who want to work at greater depth and recognise the whole human being in the way they work with clients.
Tradition: Psychosynthesis is a psychospiritual psychology drawing upon a holistic model of the psyche, which serves to integrate recent developments in fields such as systemic coaching and constellations, somatic coaching, mindfulness and the developmental perspective
Consultants and coaches cost money. There are also processes that organisations can use themselves to help to unpick a troublesome issue and find new and creative solutions.
For an excellent description of a number of useful structures and processes see
Liberating structures: for including and unleashing everyone
This website offers an alternative way to approach and design how people work together. It provides a menu of thirty-three Liberating Structures to replace or complement conventional practices.
Liberating Structures used routinely make it possible to build the kind of organization that everybody wants. They are designed to include everyone in shaping next steps.