There is a view of leadership today that is disappointingly simplistic: merely getting people to do things. Many are successful in their efforts. They can get people to give money, attend large meetings, vote a certain way, develop a group identity, even to sacrifice. These are good things, but are not the apex of what Christian leaders are called to do.
A higher view of leadership includes higher purposes. This leadership aims at great aspirations, brilliant ideas, and high ideals. It aims at the betterment of people—their character and dignity, not just their pocketbook and status. It is committed to transformation. This is spiritual leadership—spiritual because it is empowered by the Spirit of God and its ends are spiritual vitality and growth. And the amazing thing is that God uses us even in our brokenness and sinfulness to lead people toward this transformation.
Is there any doubt we need wider and deeper spiritual leadership in our world today?
If You Influence Others, You Are a Leader
If you exercise influence in any way in the lives of other people, whether they are members of your family, participants in your church or organization, workers under your management, students under your teaching, or anyone whom you can influence toward higher purposes—yes, you are a leader.
That is one of the great new developments in spiritual leadership today. An ever-wider body of people are realizing that influence is at the heart of leadership and that spiritual leadership is possible for anyone in any station in life who is able to influence others in the direction of God’s character and will.
You do not need a business card and a title to be a leader. You do not need an office. You do not need to be ordained. Far too often Christians have made the mistake of thinking that only pastors or other duly ordained people were able to exercise spiritual leadership. This is understandable at one level because chaos ensues if everyone thinks he or she should have the authority to direct whole groups of people. But, on the other hand, it has been a tragic mistake for the majority of the people to go passive and let a few people take responsibility for all influence and leadership. Our great obligation, according to the teaching of Jesus in the parable of the talents, is to employ all of God’s gifts in all of God’s people in the service of God’s great work to promote restoration to broken people.
I do not believe we should focus on identifying “spiritual leaders,” but rather, to speak about “spiritual leadership.” As soon as we talk about the “spiritual leaders” in our world today we tend to focus on gurus and clerics, everyone from Billy Graham to the Dali Lama to the beloved missionary your church supports, instead of focussing on the multitudes of ordinary men and women who should be exercising spiritual leadership exactly where they are. This is what is needed today. In its strongest forms, leadership is action and movement and response, not fixed roles and statuses. Leadership is when people are moved toward a good end, not when one person grabs a place of privilege.
There are many people called leaders today, but there is a desperate need for leadership that has spiritual substance. The only enduring influence is God, so we must guide people to the place where God does his transforming work. This form of leadership understands God as the influence and we as his instruments. We stand in a kind of nexus—where God’s power meets human need. The greatest Christian leaders have all lived out of this conviction: they knew that they were not the real influencers, but that they were being used by God, who brought enduring, transforming influence upon people’s lives. God is the leader, we are sub-leaders, and the dividing line between us is not just one step of rank. On one side of the line is Creator; on the other, created. Our best days are when we realize that we get to have a small part in the healing of the world that the Creator has determined he will do. Amazing.
God is the true influence, and we must keep that in the forefront of our thinking at all times because as much as we talk about God, we keep defaulting to ourselves. We love real-world pragmatism— the grease under our fingernails, the blisters on our hands, the sweat on our foreheads. God’s word points us in the direction of spiritual influence and leadership, but we can’t wait to build the next machine. If we’re wise we’ll realize the necessity for and the limits of pragmatism, because we know what it’s like to drive the machine, we’ve been in the ditch, we’ve fixed the engine many times over— but we are refreshed when someone reminds us of the Real Destination over the horizon, and that the purpose of driving is greater than drivenness.
[to be continued…]
Excerpt from Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (paperback, Zondervan, 2016).