What does it mean to be a spiritual leader?There are many different opinions on what leadership is. Some say leadership is "getting people to follow," or "moving people onto a specific agenda," or "mobilizing people to accomplish a specific task or goal." An old proverb says: "If you are leading and no one is following, then you are just taking a walk." Leadership has many faces: mayors lead cities, generals lead armies, pastors lead churches, dads lead sons, women lead businesses, and captains lead teams.
A spiritual leader is a little different as the concept itself prequalifies this facet of leadership, placing it within the church or religion or spirituality. The idea of "spiritual" implies some engagement with being other-worldly or the spiritual realm. Within Christianity, "spiritual" has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit. So spiritual leadership has to do with leading people in the way that the Holy Spirit leads people. This is to say that a spiritual leader is a leader who is himself in pursuit of God through the Holy Spirit and leads people out of his following of God.
God chooses to use men and women to shape the lives of men and women. This is spiritual leadership—God leading us so we can lead others. When God invites His people to encourage, love, equip, and protect His children, this is spiritual leadership. It is also spiritual leadership when we are helping others to understand the meaning of God's Word for the purpose of teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
There are numerous examples of God appointing or raising up spiritual leaders. Significant instances include God using Joseph to save many lives (Genesis 41:39–40; 50:20), Moses to lead the nation of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10), leaders being selected for each of the tribes of Israel once they left Egypt (Exodus 18:25), Joshua to usher God's people into the Promised Land (Joshua 1:1–6), David to be a king (1 Samuel 16:12–13), Peter and Andrew to be Jesus' disciples and early church leaders (Matthew 4:18–20), and Paul to be a teacher (2 Timothy 1:11).
Spiritual leadership is about following the Holy Spirit and teaching others to do the same. Two teachings from Jesus that illustrate the standard to which spiritual leaders should strive are the Great Commission and the Greatest Commandment. Following His resurrection, Jesus gives His disciples a commission, or assignment, to "… Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you ..." (Mathew 28:16–20). Spiritual leadership consists of making disciples, baptizing believers, and teaching others to obey God. Of course a natural question arises, and that is, what are we to obey? Jesus was once asked this very question: "'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And he [Jesus] said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Mathew 22:36–39). All people are taught by Jesus to follow His example in loving God and loving others. Ultimately this is what spiritual leadership is about.
Sometimes it is easier to describe what something looks like rather than what it is. This is one of those times. If we are to love God and love others, and we are to help others to do the same, what it is that we should be doing? A great place to discover what spiritual leadership looks like is 1 Peter chapter 5. Here, Peter is writing to the elders of the church encouraging them to act in a certain way. He tells them to "Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; nor lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2–3, NIV, emphasis added). God entrusts you to leaders. God entrusts others to you.
If anyone has helped you to learn to pray, or taught you about the Old Testament, or was a model for giving to the poor, or is currently helping you to understand God's will, then this person has been a spiritual leader in your life. As you follow Jesus, trust that the Holy Spirit will personally guide you (John 16:13) so that you are more able to love God and love others, and to help others to do the same (2 Corinthians 1:3–5).
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