The One Defining Quality of Spiritual Leadership (Response to a Recent Survey)

June 6, 2013


What is spiritual leadership? Such a vague question warrants caution.  Spiritual leadership cannot be defined by the same ethical evaluations found in corporate America, sports teams, or political platforms.   Certainly spiritual leadership has elements of integrity, passion, honesty, courage and the like, but it is much more than that, much more.   In short, spiritual leadership is simply the ability to lead others to a better understanding of God’s will for their lives.  It is influence from within.  It is the unseen quality of someone trying to guide someone else to the divine, and succeeding.  It is helping others shape their values, principles, and convictions from a biblical perspective.

Too often we think that only pastors, presidents, and prophets can be spiritual leaders, when in reality, a majority of spiritual leaders rarely hold titles or positions of prominence.  They can be seen taking their children to school, helping someone find a seat at church, or simply bringing water to the pastor.  Quite literally, spiritual leaders are everywhere, doing many things to bring others to the will of God.

If you are reading this as a follower of Christ, you are a spiritual leader on some level.  So the question becomes: what are the characteristics of a spiritual leader and more specifically, what is the one defining quality that embodies the most effective spiritual leaders?

I recently took a survey about the subject.  My question was:

What is the one defining word that best describes spiritual leadership?

I searched for the answer through various resources:

  • I conducted brief “interviews” via texts, emails, and phone conversations with many friends and colleagues in the ministry.
  • I took an impromptu poll on Facebook putting the question public.  I received over 70 different words describing spiritual leadership.
  • Finally, I asked those who have had the greatest influence on me (not just men in ministry, but those I have close relationships with).

I discovered that the answers were just as varied as the people who gave them.  Here are the top ten  words that others used to describe spiritual leadership:

1. Servant

2. Integrity

3. Influence

4. Faithful

5. Consistent

6. Compassionate

7. Example

8. Godly

9. Humble

10. Powerful

These are all wonderful descriptions of spiritual leadership.  I would venture to say that any effective leader should strive to embody all these characteristics.  But as I studied the list I noticed the parallel in all of these descriptions: Christ embody them all.  He was a servant of men, a man of integrity, an influential revolutionary, a faithful Son, consistent in word and deed, a compassionate Shepherd, the greatest example, the embodiment of godliness, a humble individual, and yet the most powerful human to ever grace our planet.

My conclusion is simply this: the greatest characteristic we can have as spiritual leaders is to be Christ-like (this is the one defining word); for in being like Christ all the other qualities freely flow.  This is the only characteristic that gives authentic and genuine direction to those you are leading; it takes the attention off of you and places it upon the Lord.  This is why John the Baptist was the greatest born among women.  John said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” Consider for just a moment those people who had the most influence in your life.  More than likely, they had characteristics of Christ.  Consider great leaders today in our churches and ministries; the most effective ones are those who have characteristics of Christ.

You see, anything less than Christ is a letdown, and anything more than Christ is an impossibility.  Therefore, as spiritual leaders we must strive to walk with the feet of Jesus, speak with the mouth of Jesus, love with the heart of Jesus, and live with the life of Jesus.

I conclude with a great thought from Mel Lawrenz, “The only enduring influence we have to offer others is the influence God has in our own lives.”  The one-defining characteristic of spiritual leadership is to be like the One-defining Christ of Heaven and History!  Christ-like, that’s a word worth implementing.


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