Perhaps the simplest definition of spiritual leadership is that it is influence: influencing the attitudes and actions of others toward God, toward things of the Spirit. It is helping others come to know Christ and grow in knowledge of him. It is serving one another in love. An appropriate title for a true spiritual leader is servant. Another is helper.
This spiritual influence is without regard to position. Being a full time Christian worker doesn’t necessarily make you a spiritual influencer. When Jesus told the apostles not to be called Rabbi or father or teacher (Matthew 23:8-10), he was saying in effect that they didn’t need a title or position to do the job he gave them to do.
Spiritual influence must begin with God. It is always a gift from God. The fundamentals of spiritual influence are set forth in our Lord’s prayer in John 17, in which he mentioned what God had given him:
I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. (John 17:4)
I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. (John 17:6)
I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. (John 17:8)
Jesus describes his ministry as one that was given by God. God gave him work to do, people, and his message.
The Work God Gives
In John 4:34, after he had talked with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus told his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” What is this work he is talking about?
Jesus went on to explain, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life.” Have we opened our eyes to the spiritual harvest around us, as Jesus exhorted the disciples to do? Do we see the needs of people? I’m reminded of Matthew 9:36-37.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”
This is a must for every spiritual leader to keep in mind: The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. The work of the harvest is a God-given work in which every Christian can and should have a part.
What does it mean to be this kind of laborer? I believe Acts 10:38 provides a beautiful summary of what it means.
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and…he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
First of all, just as God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit, so we cannot be laborers without the Holy Spirit. We cannot do spiritual work without the Spirit’s power. We must be spiritually energized.
But being filled with the Spirit is not an ecstatic experience to be enjoyed only for our own sake. When God fills and empowers us, it is always for the sake of others. In Acts 10:38, this empowering for Jesus resulted in two things: doing good, and healing those who were under the power of the devil.
Those who are really effective as spiritual influencers are those who are alert to doing good-seeing needs and meeting them, whether or not they get a chance to preach or teach or witness. Too many of us are like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan. They saw the man who had been beaten by the robbers, but passed by on the other side. Too few of us are like the Samaritan, who may well have been a businessman with much less time to spare than the two religious workers who went before him, but who stopped and was moved with compassion for the robbers’ victim. A laborer is a Good Samaritan.
A laborer also heals those who are oppressed by the devil. For us, this will mean sharing the gospel, because the devil “has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus also prayed in John 17, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.” Jesus died for the whole world, but he ministered closely to a small group of people, his disciples, that God had given him.
Someone has called this bifocal vision. You and I should have a vision for the entire world-that’s the top half of our bifocal glasses. But we can’t minister to the whole world. We ought to have a ministry to a small group of people whom God has given us-this is the bottom part of the bifocals. Each one of us should have a group of people around us who have been given to us by God as our special responsibility.
Well, you say, like who? You start with your family-your spouse, then your own children. How about your parents, or other relatives, and of course the people you work with? All you have to do is look around you. God has given you all the people you need to have a ministry outreach. They’re there.
The question then becomes, are you revealing God to them, as Jesus said he had done to those whom God gave him? What does it mean to reveal God?
Exodus 34:5-7 is a remarkable passage telling about God. Moses had asked God if he could see him. God answered that he would pass by Moses and allow him to see his back, but not his face. As God did this for Moses, this is what he said about himself:
The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
These words say that God is love.
But he went on to say,
Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.
This says God is holy.
God is love, and God is holy. There we have two basic aspects of God’s character which we are to reveal to others. Those around us should see evidence in our lives of growth in love and holiness. Love is an unselfish concern that freely accepts another and seeks his good. And holiness, I believe, begins with humility. If pride is the great vice, as we discussed earlier, then humility must be the great virtue. Furthermore, only once did Jesus tell us specifically to learn from him, and this was when he said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart’ (Matthew 11:29).
We read in James 4:6 that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” No one can have spiritual influence if God is against him. But God gives his grace to the humble.
The Words God Gives
Finally, Jesus also prayed in John 17, “I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.” God gave him a message.
Billy Graham sometimes says that he is merely God’s messenger-boy. When we’re God’s messengers, we deliver his words to others just as they were handed to us, without reconstructing them.
If we want to be spiritual influencers, we must place ourselves and our ministry under the authority of the Bible. We follow the guidelines in 2 Corinthians 4:2.
We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
We don’t get clever, or shrewd, or smooth. We don’t try to get up on people’s blind side. Instead, we set forth the truth plainly.
The authority of a spiritual influencer is this: He confronts the conscience of another with the word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The essence of spiritual leadership is that “we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). Spiritual leadership can be summed up as servanthood for the sake of Christ.