The question is often asked, “Are successful leaders born or built?” The answer you get depends on which book or conference you consult. Successful leadership is most often defined by things such as profit or popularity. But it’s dangerous to evaluate spiritual leadership by worldly standards. Someone can be a natural born leader yet fail to lead spiritually. So rather than looking at one’s successes, we need to measure their effectiveness.
I believe that God calls and conditions us to lead. At its core, leadership is influence. So, anyone who has spiritual influence with at least one person is a spiritual leader. Henry Blackaby describes a spiritual leader as someone who moves people from where they are to where God wants them to be. It’s having a heart that longs for God’s people to be in a right relationship with Him, beginning with oneself. The characteristics of effective spiritual leadership are built on this foundation.
Service and Sacrifice
These two traits are essential in every spiritual leader. They were evident in how Jesus lived and in what He taught. He demonstrated both the form and function of a servant, willingly sacrificing Himself for the benefit of others. We talk about servant leadership as if it’s just one style of leading. But if Jesus lived in service to others, then shouldn’t we?
Philippians 2:5-7 tells us to “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…”
Humility and Obedience
Of course, this type of leadership demands humility. In his book, Leadership as an Identity, Crawford Loritts Jr. writes, “When a leader gets to the point at which he or she trusts more in skills, abilities, or experience to accomplish God’s assignments, then he just walked away from the place of God’s blessing and enabling power.” Many leaders either walk away from serving God or simply wear out because they try to accomplish God-given tasks with talent and giftedness rather than in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Again, we look to Jesus’ example. “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Jesus lived His earthly life in total obedience to the heavenly Father. Obedience still requires humility. In order to achieve anything of eternal value, we have to admit our weaknesses and live in full dependence on the guidance and the power of the Holy Spirit. Failure to do this explains how someone can be a natural born leader yet fail to lead spiritually.
Answering the Call
Many families and churches are in trouble today due to a lack of spiritual leadership. In other words, too few are willing to answer God’s call and submit to His conditioning. This isn’t just an issue in our churches, but also in our homes, places of work, and schools. Rather than having influence, many believers are being influenced. But remember, you don’t have to be a natural born leader to lead spiritually. Some of the greatest leaders in Scripture grew into their roles.
Moses was insecure and had a hard time talking in front of people before he confronted Pharaoh and led millions. Remember Gideon? He was consumed with doubt before leading an army of 300 to defeat thousands. And despite the fact that Paul’s manner and physical presence was considered unimpressive, he became the greatest missionary the world has ever known. What made them effective spiritual leaders? They each answered God’s call. They humbly obeyed the Lord and sacrificially served others.
That’s my prayer. I want to live and serve with that mindset—as a husband, a father, and a pastor. I want to focus on the nature of the work, not the numbers that attend. So, I have to remember that successful spiritual leadership is not defined by profit or popularity, but by my obedience to God. And I must understand that while I serve for the benefit of others, it’s ultimately for the glory of God. I want to answer the call. “I searched for a man among them who would build up a wall and stand in the gap before Me” (Ezekiel 22:30).