The block of marble that became Michelangelo’s larger-than-life sculpture of David lay almost untouched in the cathedral storehouse in Florence for decades. Two other sculptors had attempted to make something of it before it was offered to Michelangelo. One started working with it, but soon quit because his talents lay in more delicate work. The great Leonardo da Vinci turned down an opportunity to transform it, preferring to pursue another project more suited to his taste. [i. When offered the opportunity, Michelangelo agreed to do what others could not. He built a shed around the block of marble, which he kept locked at all times. For three years he labored to transform it from its natural state to an eternal work of art. At first Michelangelo examined the marble minutely to see what poses it would accommodate. He made sketches and models of various possible creations and then tested his ultimate image in a small-scale wax version of his final result. [ii] Finally he picked up his mallet and chisel and began to work.

When Michelangelo looked at that block of marble, he did not see what it couldn’t be; he saw what it could be. He didn’t reject it because it was flawed. He saw a way to work around the flaws, even to incorporate them into his design. What he did was so great, even evident flaws could not scar its beauty. There are drill marks in David’s thick curled hair, some of the original quarry marks are on the very top of the head, and one can see traces of the cuttings made by an earlier sculptor who, forty years before, failed to do what Michelangelo did: create one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. Michelangelo, the sculptor of David, is a picture of what pastors do as sculptors of the soul if we can but see what so many others have missed.

Michelangelo’s work on his sculpture, David, is a picture of our work in leader formation. It is our magnificent privilege to be God’s instruments in sculpting the souls of His people through leader formation, as drawn from the principles of spiritual formation.

Spiritual formation is an old practice that is made new in our times. We are living in a time of exploding spiritual hunger for the reality of knowing Christ in the fullness of His being, and this means we are part of a privileged few in all of history who live in such an era. Our target is to be Christ’s hands in sculpting spiritual Davids, men and women of such intense spiritual beauty they will show Christlikeness in such undeniable ways that others will seek to be like them.

What is our purpose in leader formation? To glorify God by helping others and ourselves become Christlike through the Holy Spirit’s enablement. To become the kind of people today as Christ’s body who do what Christ did through His body when on earth: seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10 + Mt. 28:19-20).

However, as Dallas Willard points out, historically spiritual formation has often degenerated into a selfish strangeness, a self-centered personal cul-de-sac of spirituality.

We cannot allow spiritual formation to become an end in itself, the development of spiritually nice people who make no discernable difference in their world.

Here is my point. We must have a purpose beyond making people good – they must be good for a purpose.

Some general observations concerning leader development include:

Observation #1: You form leaders the way God forms you – by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Observation #2: There are two chief requirements for the leader developer. He knows and understands what God does to develop others and he consciously discerns and responds to the ways of God in developing him. This means his chief prayer is Psalm 25:4.

Observation #3: Self-awareness through God-understanding and delighting in doing God’s will is true wisdom and maturity for the leader developer.