John Piper defines spiritual leadership as “knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God’s methods to get them there in reliance on God’s power.” God receives His greatest glory when we place our full-reliance on Him. While that sounds good, it is a very difficult thing to do. Vision comes from God and rarely is it something that sounds comfortable and easy. Our problem as the people of God is the same issue people of all time and all places have had. If things happen that we don’t understand, or if it appears God is taking too much time in delivering on His promises, we lose focus, energy, passion and faith. We’d rather just go it alone.
I don’t suppose many people would actually admit to wanting to go it alone but actions reveal the innermost condition of the heart. I not only see it in others, I see it in myself. As long as I am given the Grace to be in leadership, I will never cease to be amazed at how quickly people give up. Being a follower of Jesus is a lifetime commitment demanding the best of our hearts and actions. This is where leadership steps in.
Someone once said that leading people was like herding cats. Spiritual leadership is different. It’s not so much pointing the direction where people should go as it is helping people discover true transformation and change. We are wired to exclude God from all of our lives. We call that original sin. But here’s something that took me many years to understand: even those who have discovered the truth of a living and loving God through Jesus Christ, the temptation to exclude God is still there. I have often referred to this as the civil war that rages within us all. If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves trusting on our own righteousness, our own understanding and leave God completely out of the equation.
So how do we get from the reality that sin is an ever-present reality to a place where people can truly be transformed? It cannot be taught, it must be caught. Even when a leader faces frustrations because of the gap between where people are, and where God wants to take them, the leader must not lose focus. If people are truly going to be changed, it must begin with the leader. The leader must embody the heart of a transformed believer. Piper lists the following characteristics that a successful spiritual leader must embody:
- Glorify God so that others might glorify Him as well.
- Love both friend and foe by trusting in God and hoping in His promises.
- Meditate on and pray over His Word.
- Acknowledge your helplessness.
As you look through the history of the Church and people of Israel, you will never find a person who said that leadership was easy. It demands our best. But remember, it’s not so much about what you teach and say, it begins and ends with one thing: be the kind of person that you hope others will become. Paul said “imitate my example.” If you said that, what would people become? None of us are perfect but all of us are called to be both faithful and fruitful. With God’s Grace, spiritual leadership can make a difference. Indeed, it can change the world, one person at a time.