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What is Spiritual Leadership

Spiritual leadership is a blending of natural and spiritual qualities utilized for influencing God’s people to accomplish God’s purposes. Even the natural qualities are not self-produced but God-given and therefore reach their highest effectiveness when employed in the service of God and for His glory. The work of ministry requires that it be accomplished by spiritual people, utilizing spiritual methods to accomplish God’s objectives. If you take any of these out of the mix, you cease to have Christian work.

The Leader as a Servant

In Matthew 20:24-28 Jesus explained how kingdom values affected leadership style.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus did not criticize a person’s desire for leadership, he simply defined the path to that leadership. A servant is committed to the success of another.

In John 13:1-17 we see Jesus in action. In the absence of a servant he took on the role of a servant and washed the disciples feet. After washing the disciples feet he concludes with this poignant lesson on leadership:

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14)

The essence of spiritual leadership is following Jesus and serving people. The tasks of leadership may vary. You will lead programs, people and projects. But the method of leading never changes. We don’t move from servanthood on to something else. The silver thread running through everything we do is that of servant-leadership.

Nine Elements of Being a Spiritual Leader

Spiritual leadership is a combination of acquired traits that when blended together form the basis of leadership. Those we lead want leaders with integrity whom they can respect and follow. The following nine traits form the basis from which we lead.

1. Vision.

A leader must have vision. The person God uses has a clear idea of what God wants done and his part in doing it. Moses met with God at the burning bush and received his marching orders. Mary faithfully replied to God’s call by saying: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38).

As a leader, do you have a clear mental picture of what God wants done? What is it that you want accomplish for God? Where you are going? What kind of people does God want you to build?

2. Being an Example.

A visual illustration of the Christian life is far easier to emulate than written theories in a book. The apostle Paul did not hesitate to invite people to imitate and follow him as he closely followed the Lord.

“Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord…” (1 Thessalonians 1 )

“Join with others in following my example…” (Philippians 3:17).

The life of a leader is one of building and battling (Luke 14:25). However, we all struggle with a desire to be comfortable. We would rather sit back and take an executive position and theorize about ministry than lead out again. God is calling you to live a life of holiness and faith, causing others to want to follow your example.

3. Integrity.

When choosing a king for Israel, God told Samuel who was enamored with the appearance of David’s oldest brother:

“Do not consider his appearance or his height… The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Integrity is a matter of the heart. “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart…” (Psalm 78:72) Integrity is built by making and keeping promises and commitments. It is in the consistency of life. Integrity does not signify perfection.

Perfection is unattainable but integrity is within our grasp as we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

4. God’s Word.

Christian leaders are devoted to the word of God. Because people of God depends on God, they learn to listen to and depend on God’s word for goals, methods, insight and power. It is the word of God that makes us “adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17)

Our audience, our disciples need the assurance that we are regularly meeting with God and hearing his voice–that we are leading them from the guidance we are getting from God. To lead a ministry you must devote yourself to the word.

In Hebrews 13:7 the author writes, “Remember you leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.”

Leaders give people the word of God. What are you doing to feed yourself from the Scriptures? What are you doing to feed others from God’s word?

5. Prayer.

“We (leaders)…will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).

The weakest link in the life of a spiritual leader is often prayer. Leaders, by their nature, are activists. They want to get things done. Prayer is often seen as in interruption of the work.

Yet Jesus, for all he came to do, “would often slip away to a lonely place to pray” (Luke 5:16). Spiritual battles are won in prayer.

If the success of your work and ministry was a reflection of your prayer life, where should your ministry be right now?

6. A Spirit-Filled Life.

Spiritual leadership can be exercised only by Spirit-filled people. Other qualifications for spiritual leadership are desirable. To be Spirit-filled is indispensable.

Jesus said “…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Even those whose duties are largely temporal in nature must be people controlled and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 6). Wherever you see spiritual leadership, the Holy Spirit is behind the scenes, empowering, directing, leading.

Paul wrote, “…not that we are competent to consider anything as coming from ourselves but our competency is from God, who made us competent …(by) the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:5,6)

7. Hard Work.

“[…] respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.”(1 Thessalonians 5:12)

Leadership in the God’s kingdom is not a life of executive privilege but that of hard work. The work may be very enjoyable, challenging and rewarding but it is work. That’s why it is called “the work of ministry.” We are admonished to “…lead with diligence” (Romans 12:8).

8. Faith.

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7)

A leader has the responsibility of leading the charge in believing God. A person of faith is a person of inner strength, courage and action. Faith is that which inspires courage in one’s followers.

9. Growth.

A leader is not perfect but is always in the process of taking the next appropriate step in his or her life of faith. Once a leader stops learning and growing he stops leading.

In 1 Timothy 4:12-16 the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about his style of leadership and how he could overcome his handicap of youthfulness. Observe how many of the above elements are present in his admonition:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift which was given you…Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.”

Watch this interview with the Vice President of Global Leadership Development of Cru to learn more about selfless spiritual leadership.

Adapted from content developed by Eric Swanson.

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