My generation tends to think of a strong spiritual leader as someone who is authoritative and able to administrate from a position of command. Indeed, we see leaders like this throughout the Bible—Joshua, Nehemiah, perhaps Paul.
Millennials, however, have a greater tendency to see a strong spiritual leader as someone who is relationally connected and able to persuade from a position of understanding.
Sometimes, for all the chatter about generational preferences, we forget that the Bible not only has examples of both kinds of leaders, but it also teaches all of us to develop in both areas.
Perhaps no area of a spiritual leader’s life demonstrates his Christlikeness or fleshliness like his relationships.
This is because relationships aren’t as visible as pulpit ministry or administrative responsibilities. Additionally, the interaction of relationships has a way of scraping our pride and revealing fleshliness in ways preaching may not.
Being a spiritual leader isn’t about having a commanding personality or having a winsome personality. It isn’t about powerful preaching or persuasive teaching. It is about being Spirit-filled, declaring the truth, and being gracious in relationships.
In 1 Peter 3:8–9 we see six characteristics of a spiritual leader.
Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.—1 Peter 3:8–9
1. Unity—be ye all of one mind
If a relationship doesn’t share the same goals and direction, there is no way for it to be effective. We know from Philippians 2 that this is not achieved by conforming others’ minds to ours, but by all of us conforming our minds to Christ.
Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind….Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:—Philippians 2:2, 5
2. Compassion—having compassion one of another
Compassion is more than a feeling, but isn’t less than a feeling. It is a feeling with response and action.
Without compassion as one of our motivators in ministry—such as the bus ministry or soulwinning or preaching—we will become self-focused in our efforts (or in our lack of effort).
I always think of Nehemiah when I think of compassion. He saw the desolation of Jerusalem, and it moved him to intercessory prayer and causative leadership.
And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven…Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.—Nehemiah 1:4, 2:17
3. Love—love as brethren
Remember that this is a command for all Christians for any relationship. Everyone we interact with should see Christ’s love through us.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.—John 13:35
4. Pity—be pitiful
The word pitiful literally means “full of pity.” It speaks of being tenderhearted.
Sometimes we find it easier to be tenderhearted in an aspect of ministry than in the nitty gritty of daily relationships. (Sometimes we find it easier to have a soft heart toward a bus child than toward our spouse or co-laborers.) This should not be. God calls us to be pitiful in all of our relationships.
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.—Ephesians 4:32
5. Courtesy—be courteous
To be courteous requires us to be humble. When you are proud, you think highly of yourself and look down on others. When you are humble, you courteously place others before yourself. D. L. Moody wisely said, “Be humble or you’ll stumble.”
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.—Philippians 2:3
6. Blessing—Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing
The Christians to whom Peter first penned these words would find it easy indeed to speak badly of others. They lived in a culture where the government and their neighbors could do them evil and rail on them for their faith.
Even without that level of pressure, however, we so easily speak poorly of others. A spiritual leader, however, will speak well of others in or out of their presence. He will look for ways to bless and thank others.
Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.—Luke 6:28
Do these six characteristics describe your relationships? Would those closest to you say they describe your relationshsip? What about those you lead?
If who you are in the visible aspects of your life is not the same as who you are in the relational aspects of your life, then you are not a truly spiritual leader.