Spiritual Leadership Foundation and Values

by Syung Young Lee

Leadership is one of the most important aspects in the 21st century. Everything rises and falls based on leadership. Today’s Christian society and generation are more and more looking for authentic spiritual leaders.  Also, everyone has the responsibility of leadership in some relationship but we must understand that spiritual leadership is not identical to leadership in general.  Other form of leadership are easily obtainable through change of style or method and principle but a spiritual leader leads others to grow spiritually.  It is huge challenge to every spiritual leader to lead people to grow spiritually if the leader lacks a solid foundation and strong values.

I.  Foundation of Spiritual leadership.

A spiritual leader will first and foremost, have a calling from God.  The spiritual leader’s work will not be a profession or job, but a calling. The tragedy today is that the vast majority of Christian workers in our society are working to earn their living. It is a profession or job for them but many have not been called by God. There is a big different between “profession or Job” and “a divine calling”.  Spiritual leaders are not elected, appointed, or created by synods and churchly assemblies but only God alone makes spiritual leaders for His kingdom.  We can’t appoint ourselves as spiritual leaders. Heb.5:4 says “He has to be called by God for this work”. This is an important principle that cannot be changed. The following verse describes that even Jesus Christ did not appoint Himself as our High Priest. The father made and appointed Him to be our High Priest. If Jesus was appointed by God, how much more this should be true of us, in our calling.

Here is a great example of Moses from Exodus chapter two:

Moses is a very smart, intelligent man. He is educated and he has power and he has a compassionate heart for the Israelites.  And one day Moses is watching his brothers because he has a heart for saving his brothers, He was watching with deep concern, He saw their suffering and agony. Finally he made a decision to help his brothers “run toward it before the problem gets worse.”  But it ends up with killing and he became a murderer. However, Israelites didn’t recognize him as their spiritual leader even though he helped them from suffering and agony.  Instead, they were afraid him and refused him involvement in their lives. “The man said, Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” No one was willing to follow Moses’ efforts for his brothers.  His good deeds, his good thoughts, and his courageous action are in vain.  Because God didn’t direct Him, he made own decision to liberate the Israelites. But chapter 3: God called to him from the midst of the burning bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Moses had a divine confirmation of his calling from God as a spiritual leader for the Israelites. God appointed Moses to be a spiritual leader. A spiritual leader’s appointment is not by ourselves, not by any other people, not by synods; but only  by God.

A spiritual leader must have a solid, strong spiritual leadership among people.  The question is, how can we obtain great spiritual leadership?

Many leaders read powerful books to improve their leadership, attend some great conferences and seminars to develop better leadership, also have developed great leadership skills and principle, and sharpened their leadership abilities to develop leadership.  However, we need to understand that spiritual leadership is not generated from outside sources.  It comes from an inner life shaped by the Holy spirit. There is a very important foundation that all spiritual leader must understand; that spiritual leadership begins from being “deep rooted in Christ”. When we are deep rooted in Christ, when we have a good, healthy relationship with God; at that moment a leader influences others spiritually because we cannot generate spiritual influence by our own.

J. Oswald Sanders said “Spiritual leadership transcends the power of personality and all other natural gifts. The personality of a spiritual leader influences others because it is penetrated, saturated, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As the leader gives control of his life to the Spirit, the Spirit’s power flows through him to others”. Also “Spiritual leadership requires superior spiritual power, which can never by generated by the self. There is no such thing as a self-made spiritual leader. A true leader influences others spiritually only because the Spirit works in and through him to a greater degree than in those he leads.”[1]

Oswald Sanders clearly said spiritual leadership cannot be created on our own but it comes from God. Our foundation of spiritual leadership is from God. That is why all spiritual leaders must have a deep intimacy with God, we cannot lead without spiritually superior power and followers will not follow us if we lack this power.  Spiritual leaders must understand the root of leadership power that comes from God Henry Blackaby said “The core of Jesus’ leadership is in the intimacy with God”[2] so spiritual leaders fully need to rely on the Holy Spirit before we lead others.

II. Values of spiritual Leadership

New spiritual leadership values will begin to develop in to leader’s mind when the leader has a right relationship with God. We can find lots of leadership value but here is what I believe from my own perspective are the values of spiritual leadership.

            1)  Leadership begins with following Christ

Leaders must be followers of Jesus Christ’s leadership.  It is all about being led by God; because leadership is all about moving people onto God’s agenda. Leader need to follow him! We are called to follow Him (Matt 4:19). Spiritual leadership begins with following Jesus Christ. When we become a great follower of Jesus, it actually leads us to become a great spiritual leader.

2)  Spiritual leaders should consistently and intentionally develop the following characteristics:

a. Humility: Humility is the attitude that puts others ahead of the leader, that considers followers and team members are more important than me. Humility is one of the most important aspects in spiritual leadership. If we truly believe every gift, talent, success, and accomplishment are from God then we can’t be proud about what we have, what we have done,  what we accomplish. We can’t be boastful about our talents and gifts that we earned because everything came from God.  Humility is one of the most important virtues for the spiritual leader.

b. Servant heart: Paul emphasized many times in his letter to believers that we are called to serve others. He introduced himself as a servant of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to serve others. John 3:15   “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”Luke 22:27 “But I am among you as one who serves.”

c. Trustworthy: Trustworthiness is one of the important aspects in leadership and a trustworthy person is reliable and responsible. Also a leader needs to have integrity and transparency.  I Corinthians 4: 3-4; “we maybe can hide from people but we cannot hide anything from of God.” Integrity is one of the top attributes of a leader.  Integrity will bring transparency of a leader’s life and relationship to the followers. Followers will not follow if they can’t trust the leader. Leaders must have integrity to earn the trust from followers.

d. Patience: Leaders must have patience and wait for the right time. Leaders should not try to react with hurriedness and quick judgment. Also, a leader doesn’t have all answers and cannot solve every problem. The Lord will solve the problem in His time. Leaders must eliminate hurriedness. Patience is a virtue of spiritual leadership.

f. Positive attitude: Leaders will consistently face many different circumstances in their leadership but positive attitude helps to produce positive things. Positive attitude is only generated by trusting God. Even leaders face difficult moments, but they can still stand and work toward their vision with a positive attitude because the leader is trusting the Lord and believing his times are in God’s hand. (Psalm 31:24-15)   John Maxwell described in his book “A positive attitude is one of the most valuable assets a person can have in life”[3]  “Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitude toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.” By Chuck Swindoll

            3) Leaders should be a good Communicators

a. Leaders continue to work to great communicators. God called us to lead others to Christ through our preaching ministry. Leaders continually need to develop their communication skills for the pulpit.

b. Leaders should have open communication with followers. Leaders must be good listeners and also able to persuade followers. It will generate a disconnection between followers if leaders are not open to communicating with followers.   A leader who cannot communicate will not lead well or long. Most leaders spend vast amounts of time and energy developing other skills, such as long-term planning, time management and public speaking. But what about taking time to develop the skill of listening? Those who wish to be good leaders will develop this skill.  Arthur Robertson, founder and president of Effective Communication and Development, Inc., wrote his book The Language of Effective Listening based on the premise that “effective listening is the number one communication skill requisite to success in your professional and personal life.”[4]

            4) Leaders must Sacrifice.

There is no success without sacrifice. Sacrifice is constant in spiritual Leadership and its ongoing process. Follower will not follow leaders who do not make sacrifices.  The power of inspiring others to service is only generated by a leader’s sacrifice. No sacrifice – No Crown.

            5) Leaders should be Team Players.

Leaders should know how to utilize and delegate their team. Leaders should have the ability to recognize the special abilities, capabilities and limitation of followers. If a leader can’t recognize capacity to fit each follower into the job where they will do their best, then the leader will not be able to create a great team and it will not bring successful results.  A leader can’t do everything himself. Leaders must understand this principle.

            6) Leaders must have a clear Vision from God.

Every great Spiritual leader was a visionary leader. Spiritual leaders must have a vision but the source of their vision must be from God. Leaders should move through God’s vision, not by the leader’s own vision.  Leaders should discern God’s vision for self and for the ministry all the time.

             7) Leaders continue to Develop Leaders.

Leaders continue to look for opportunities to develop the next generation of leaders for God’s ministry. Aubrey Malphurs described in his book “The importance of leadership development”[5]; a) Jesus modeled the priority of leadership development. b) The quality of leadership affects the quality of the ministry. c) Leaders extend ministry by making more leaders. d) Leadership development recognizes the value of people.  e) Godly protégé are the leader’s ministry legacy.

Leadership is influence and our spiritual influence is coming from Jesus who lives in me. So when we more led by Jesus, many followers will see the image of Jesus through us; that is the leadership. Spiritual Leadership is all about being led by God. Our best spiritual leadership model is God. Spiritual leaders should never forget that their relationship with God is the key and foundation of spiritual leadership. “The Bible clearly describes a spiritual leader as one who possesses the spiritual gift of leadership(Romans 12:6-8; I Corinthians 12:28)), the ability to lead others as a direct result of the gifting received from, and performed by the power of, the Holy Spirit.”[6]  When the leader is led by the Holy Spirit, spiritual leaders will have a strong, solid leadership foundation and values.  All spiritual leaders must seek God to give wisdom, and ask God to change their heart to develop Christ-like character, and rely on the power of God to give us the strength we need to exhibit spiritual leadership in our lives.



[1] Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. Moody Publishers 1967. Pg 28

[2] Spiritual Leadership by Henry & Richard Blackaby, Broadman & Holman Publisher 2001

[3] Developing the Leader within You by John C. Maxwell, Thomas Nelson Inc. 1997

[5] Building Leaders by Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini. Baker Books, 2004

[6] Gotquestions.org by Charles Stanley biblical spiritual gift

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