It is all too easy to allow the responsibilities of leadership to morph into the routines of management.
Management, of course, is necessary for leaders. We manage projects and coordinate efforts to match them. Good leadership includes wise structures of management. But make no mistake about it, leadership is more than management.
Leadership—especially spiritual leadership—involves shepherding people. It involves connecting hearts with the life-changing truths of God’s Word. This requires a Spirit-filled leader with a heart large enough for people. It requires a leader who sees management as necessary to leadership but not defining of leadership.
In what ways, then, does a spiritual leader serve through their position as a leader? There are many, but these four are crucial to any work for God:
1. Servant leaders serve by providing an example in ministry.
Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.—Philippians 4:9
It is not enough to say, “Do as I say.” Servant leaders must live a Christian life that is worthy of emulation. None of us are perfect, and every leader should be seeking to become more like Christ every day. But we should be able, with a clear conscience, to say, “Do as I do.”
This applies not only to our lifestyle but also to our zeal for the Lord and our involvement in ministry. The best leadership is not done from a desk or an armchair but with those we lead and serve.
2. Servant leaders serve by providing support in ministry.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:—Ephesians 4:11–12
As kids, we envision leadership as a chance to be in the limelight. We think recognition and leadership are synonyms. The truth is, leadership is about enabling others. As a pastor, for instance, I want to see our church family succeed in their Christian walk. I want to see members grow in their walk with God, their marriages, their family life, their Christian witness—in every way. My goal is to lead and equip them in these ways.
What does practical support in ministry look like? In my case, it includes writing notes of encouragement, making visits, preparing and preaching messages with doctrinal truths and practical applications. In short, it means equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.
3. Servant leaders serve by providing structure in ministry.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.—Acts 20:28
Spiritual leaders—particularly pastors—are to be overseers of the flock. This oversight which we are to provide necessitates order—structure. We are to, as Paul wrote to Titus, “set in order the things that are wanting” (Titus 1:5).
Structure requires both delegation and inspection. As we first equip others in the work of the ministry, we delegate responsibilities to other leaders in the church. These may be Sunday school teachers, ushers, staff, or deacons. Whatever the case, in order to delegate, we must always be developing new leaders according to the pattern of 2 Timothy 2:2.
The second component to structure is inspection. Because a leader is ultimately responsible as the overseer, it is vital that we have pre-determined checkpoints to provide accountability and continued training.
4. Servant leaders serve by confronting indifference in ministry.
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.—Revelation 2:4
One of the most difficult—and therefore perhaps the most neglected—aspects of leadership is lovingly confronting those who are slipping. Sometimes confrontation is needed to address work and/or character flaws in a staff member. Sometimes it is needed to challenge a church member in your Sunday school class or sphere of influence to renew their heart for God. Always, it requires sensitivity to and the filling of the Holy Spirit as well as careful compassion in your timing and approach.
By this list—providing an example, providing support, providing structure, and confronting indifference—are you a servant leader? Or are you simply managing the status quo?
I’ve primarily used pastoral examples in this post because I am a pastor! But all four of these points apply to spiritual leadership in any form—parenting, teaching, youth work, individual areas of ministry oversight, and many more. In whatever position you lead or influence, don’t let yourself slip into ruts of simply managing responsibilities. Lead by serving others!