Excellence—it’s important in any area, and it’s vital in leadership, particularly spiritual leadership.

The quality of a work is unlikely to rise above the quality of the leader. This is why—when it comes to local church ministry—spiritual leaders must maintain a quest for personal excellence.

What does excellence in a spiritual leader look like? And what areas of excellence should a spiritual leader pursue?

All of them—of course. But here are nine essentials—nine areas in which a spiritual leader should be continually growing:

1. Personal walk with God

Whether you’re the senior pastor or a Sunday school teacher, make your heart for God the first priority of your life. You can be excellent in casting vision, executing projects, developing budgets, working with people, and any number of other skills. But if you don’t have a walk with God, you are not a spiritual leader.

Guard your walk with God like you guard nothing else. Protect it. Value it. Make time for it.

Jesus did. In the midst of an insanely demanding ministry, he made time to spend with the Father: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35).

Of course, excellence in your personal walk with God is not measured only in time spent with Him. It’s measured also in your obedience to Him. Excellent spiritual leaders are quick to obey every impulse of the Holy Spirit.

2. Right spirit

The defining and distinguishing mark of Daniel’s life was “an excellent spirit” (Daniel 6:3).

When it comes to any area of leadership, a right spirit is of greater value than both education and experience—and those are both of value! But the quality of your spirit trumps it all.

A right spirit is the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. The first martyr, Stephen, was such a man: “And…they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 6:5).

Stephen could have had any level of training, but nothing would have substituted for the Holy Spirit’s fullness in his life as he preached Christ—in word and example—to his persecutors.

3. Passion for souls

Our hearts must remain stirred for souls—that’s why we entered the ministry in the first place. Too easily, however, our compassion wanes and our witness declines.

One of the convicting aspects of the Apostle Paul’s ministry was his continual burden for souls. Even while in Athens waiting for Timothy, presumably there for a season of rest, “his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry” (Acts 17:16). After years of ministry, seeing the needs of lost people still stirred Paul’s heart.

As spiritual leaders, our example in passionately sharing the gospel should challenge others—our families, friends, and—not less importantly—those we lead.

4. Healthy relationship with the pastor

If you are not the senior pastor, make it your goal to know and reflect the heart of your pastor as you serve in the church.

First Thessalonians 5:12–13 admonishes, “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.”

Work to understand your pastor’s vision, and pursue it. Work to catch his heart for others and communicate it to them. You encourage unity and spiritual health in the local church when you strengthen your relationship with the pastor and express his care to others as you serve.

5. Execution of responsibility

A frustrated spiritual leader is one who loves to dream, plan, and strategize but lacks the skills to execute. He or she has great vision, but lives in a last minute world of stress and unfulfilled expectations. Sooner or later (usually sooner), these types of leaders lose the respect of the teams they lead.

Futuristic thinking and vision casting are important in ministry, but leadership that actually follows through is essential.

6. Measured expectations

Vague expectations in any area of leadership—be it a project outcome, team structure, or ministry goals—lead to undefined success. Simply put, to meet your objectives, you must first define them.

Leaders must plan for specific results and structure their resources and teams for excellence.

They must have periodic checks and make ongoing assessments. They must coach along the way encouraging others to likewise aim for excellence—a standard of excellence that has been specifically set and defined.

7. Faith

Spiritual leaders do more than calculate, structure, and use available assets. They rely on God. Through faith, they reach beyond the resources at their disposal to lay hold on the resources of God.

Every great leader in the Bible had great faith in God. Abraham, Moses, David, Esther, Paul—they all excelled in faith.

8. Resolution of potential conflict

Wise leaders identify vulnerability for conflict in its earliest moments. Obviously then, they cannot be isolated from those they lead.

Leaders who are only in the pulpit, classroom, or office miss some of the greatest mentoring opportunities. We cannot lose touch with those we lead.

Excellent leaders also care enough to intervene when problems arise. And they care enough to follow through in seeing resolution to its completion.

9. Desire to be used of God

In the secular world, excellence in leadership is connected to a desire for personal advancement. In the life of the spiritual leader, excellence in leadership is connected to a deep hunger to simply be used of God—to serve others, to make a difference for Christ, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to glorify God.

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