Written by Marcus Honeysett.
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
The Heart of Spiritual Leadership
In part 1 of this introduction we saw that the goal of biblical, spiritual leadership is growing missional disciples and churches. Believers with mission, community and engagement with their surrounding culture at the heart of their worldview and understanding of living out the gospel.
Frequently, however, leaders fall into the mistake of substituting disciple-making for church-making, and simply devote themselves to making the organisation of a local church run effectively. The result is often services that are provided by religious professionals and consumed by passive religious consumers. Leaders can easily collude in this – it is nice to be wanted! – and in the process forget that the Bible teaches that they are given to facilitate the ministries of all the believers, as they seek to fulfil The Great Commission (Eph 4:11). Leaders equip everyone for works of service – by which I mean God-exalting living, speaking and acting for Jesus.
We get our ideas about leadership from many different places:
- Historical or
- Parts of the Bible we try to get models from and who our favourite biblical leaders are
- Leaders we know and admire (and ones we don’t admire!)
The most common place is simply how we see it being done in our local setting. Even among biblical Christians this leads to lots of variety according to whether your church develops leaders from within or gets them from outside; whether they are chose by the congregation, or by existing leaders or by the denomination; whether they are strongly integrated into the community or maintain a degree of professional detachment; whether authority lies with the leader, the congregation or the denomination; whether leadership is perceived to be about vision or about running activities. Some even assume (quite wrongly) that there is no concept of leadership in the New Testament – woe betide the person who tries to lead that group!
The critical thing to note is that our ideas about leadership are likely to be strongly informed and reinforced by our local church environment and tradition. Maybe as strongly as by the Bible. After all, if we question something as foundational as the way the church is led, it might be that we can’t lead there anymore. It is vital that we get our understanding of leadership from the Bible and not from merely what is acceptable in our church at the moment. That is to confuse our existing structures with orthodoxy.
Group discussion question:
Read the following Bible verses: Philippians 1:25-26; 2 Corinthians 1:24
- What is the Apostle Paul’s aim as he works with these churches?
- The 2 Corinthians verse strangely connects growing in the joy of the Lord with developing firm and secure faith. Why does overflowing with joy in Christ lead to firm faith?
The energising strength for leadership – as for everything in the Christian life – comes from the joy of the Lord. Hence Paul’s definition of leadership (discipling others) is to be workers with them for their progress in the faith and their joy in God. This puts God, a hunger for God, a delight in the purposes of God and worshipping God squarely at the centre of the task of leading. It is the foundation for growing believers and growing the Kingdom of God.
When a church is full of joy in God it doesn’t take much to see why it will attract people to Christ. When that godly joy has disappeared to be replaced by religious activities, then that attraction disappears. People may join for nice activities or to have a comforting “spiritual bit” in their lives, but in a very meaningful way it has ceased to be a God-centred biblical church.
Here are three simple statements that get to the heart of spiritual leadership.
The heart of spiritual leadership is:
- Equipping disciple-making disciples
- Who are passionate about bringing God glory in the world
- And who are overflowing with joy in Christ
Group discussion questions
- How novel or radical
would this understanding of the purpose of the Church – and therefore the
purpose of leadership be to most people in your church? Explain your
- If you think it would be alien to the majority, what do they think the Church and leadership are for?
The task of leadership is much broader than merely putting on a programme, leading a Bible study, preaching a sermon, doing a pastoral visit or running some activity. We are developing people’s souls and their walk with the Lord. We are helping them participate with God in growing the Kingdom. Which means that our investment in them is a much bigger thing than merely training or pastoring. It is discipling them. Or, as Paul put it, working with them for their joy. That is my definition of discipling people: working with them for their progress in the faith and their joy in God.
Group discussion question:
How do we actually do leading for people’s progress in the faith and their joy in God? What might that look like in practice?
Here are a few of my top answers:
- Help people to delight themselves in the Lord. Help them love God, love the Son of God, love the Holy Spirit, and to give expression to their love. (This means that leaders have to be growing as worshippers themselves. It’s the easiest thing in the world for leaders to eventually replace being a worshipper with being a professional Christian).
- Help them love the word
- Help people appreciate the benefits of Christ. Adoption, forgiveness of sins, a home in heaven, entrance into God’s family, freedom from guilt and the curse of the Law, the gift of the Spirit, a new heart, new desires, a Heavenly Father, a great high priest through whom we have redemption.
- Helppeople see the glory of God in the gospel of his grace. Romans 5 says we reign in life by receiving his grace and the gift of eternal life. Help them know how to receive and seek God for his grace with them.
- Love people at all times and do them good, especially those in difficulty and distress.
- Have ambitions for where God might take people in their discipleship. Show them some of what is possible in the Lord if they live and act in faith. Take them with you and show them how you are serving God and growing as a disciple.
- Help others pray. Pray with them. Show them how you pray. Tell them what you pray for them.
© Marcus Honeysett