One of seven authority relationships spoken of in the Bible (others: God and man; man and nature, husband and wife; governors and governed; employer and employee) is the relationship between spiritual leaders and followers.
Perhaps the simplest definition of leadership is that leadership is influence. Influencing the attitudes and actions of others
Spiritual leadership, then, is influencing the attitudes and actions of others toward God, toward things of the Spirit – faith, hope and love. It is helping others come to know Christ and to grow in His knowledge. It is serving one another by love. The appropriate title for a true spiritual leader is servant. Another is helper.
Who is a Spiritual Leader?
How can we identify a spiritual leader? Paul described some of them in Corinth: You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it.”
And some in Thessalonica: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.”
The writer to the Hebrews identified spiritual leaders this way: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the Word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
A spiritual leader is recognized by his character; that is the main qualification, for instance, for the office of elder in the church. He is also known by his fidelity to the Scriptures. The Bereans “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
Another mark of a spiritual leader is the result of his ministry. Paul could confidently say to the Corinthians, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.
Every Christian is both a spiritual follower and a spiritual leader. There are those who influence the spiritual direction of our lives. And there are those who are influenced by us.
A question we might ask ourselves is: Is my influence on others good or bad? Does it help others or hinder them?
The Spiritual Leader under Authority
Every Christian leader must be under authority. He is first under the authority of Christ. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ ” Jesus said, ‘for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.’ ” They were all on the same level; they were all learners. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.” Later He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go…” His authority is exercised in love, but it is absolute.
Second, the Christian leader is under the authority of the Scriptures. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” “The Word of God is living and active…; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
To me it is remarkable that Jesus after He was raised from the dead and stood before His disciples as proof of His resurrection, still took them back to the Scriptures to teach them from the Word itself what had happened! Any spiritual experience should also be grounded in the Scriptures. Peter affirmed this when he told of his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, adding that all this had been foretold in Scripture which had its origin in God. So the spiritual leader must place himself under the authority of the Word of God.
I once attended a meeting in the company of a friend, a respected Anglican clergyman, where we heard a speaker give a beautifully outlined message which he based on a passage of Scripture. His outline, however, in no way fit the passage or the primary teaching of that Scripture. My clergyman friend was disturbed by this. After we left the meeting, he said, “You can’t do that with the Bible.”
The Bible is not under my authority to use as my hammer or sword; it is the sword of the Spirit, and I am under its authority. Rather than make it serve my preconceived purposes, I must faithfully impart its message and submit myself to what it says.
Third, the Christian leader is under the authority of the Holy Spirit. All through the Book of Acts we see the Holy Spirit sending some to certain places to minister, forbidding them to go some places, directing their ministries. The Holy Spirit is the General of the Army who decided where to send His troops to do battle. He also equips them by His sovereign distribution of the various ministry gifts which enable them to function.
Not Position but Function
Spiritual leadership is exercised through function and not through position. But we seem to feel innately that we cannot function unless we have a certain position. When Jesus told the apostles not to be called Rabbi, He was saying in effect that it doesn’t matter what you are called, just do the job I gave you to do. Go ahead and function in the ministry, regardless of your position or title.
It is interesting to note that Jesus did not give the apostles authority over one another. He told them they were all brothers, and rather than give them positions of authority He taught them that spiritual leadership is exercised through function. He said, “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, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Your function is more important than your title. The title is simply the shorthand to identify you. The function of hearing is more important to the physical body than that the ear have the title Ear. And your spiritual function of teaching or administering or serving the body of Christ in whatever your responsibility is more important than that you be called a deacon or teacher or pastor or Bible study leader. The title provides handy identification, but the function is all-important.
Perhaps you are in a position where you feel you have limited opportunity for spiritual leadership. Forget your position –your position does not inhibit your opportunity for spiritual influence. Realize that you can function in the area of spiritual influence, which is leadership of the highest sort. Influencing people toward faith in Christ and toward love of their brothers. Influencing their attitudes and actions toward God.
Our functions are limited, true. One can do one thing, someone else another. We cannot do everything. An eye cannot throw a ball. An ear can’t walk, nor should it be envious of the feet. But our own unique function is that action or contribution or purpose for which we are especially fitted, equipped or suited. Therefore we should not punish ourselves for not doing what the other fellow is doing.
To Serve the Body
But what we can do we should do well, for God has given us each our own function for a special purpose – to serve the Body of Christ in specific ways. The direction of Scripture is: “Each one should use whatever spiritual gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
The Body thrives and grows when each member is functioning in dedicated service to others. Thus true spiritual leadership is demonstrated.
The essence of spiritual leadership is summarized by Paul: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” This is one of the basic ideals of the Christian ministry. However imperfectly, it’s an ideal we strive continually to reach.
Scriptures quoted or referred to in this article:
1 Corinthians 16:15-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Acts 17:11; 2 Corinthians 3:2-3; Matthew 23:8; John 13:13; Matthew 28:18-19; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; Luke 24:36-47; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Ephesians 6:17; Acts 26:22; Acts 8:29; Acts 13:4: Acts 16:6-7; 1 Corinthians 12:11; Matthew 20:25-28; Hebrews 10:24; 1 Corinthians 12:15-17; 1 Peter 4:10-11; Ephesians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 4:5. From the New International Version.
Lorne Sanny, NAVLOG