Spiritual Leadership: The Role of Leadership in the Church

According to the Malphurs Group and other sources, 80-85% of churches in America are plateaued or declining. In addition, in many cases, the pace of culture is outpacing the growth of the church. Why is this happening? One of the answers is quite simple: a lack of spiritual leadership in our churches today.

What is Spiritual Leadership?

Spiritual leadership involves leading God’s people towards God’s purposes. A spiritual leader isn’t called to lead people toward their own preferences, the building of a brand, or even the building of a particular church. It is a servant-hearted role that promotes others ahead of yourself (Philippians 2:3-4) for the glory of God alone. Spiritual leaders confidently step into what God is calling them to do – regardless of the cost – and are relentless in their pursuit of Jesus.

The Role of Spiritual Leadership in the Church

From Moses to Joshua to David, God has long used spiritual leaders to advance His purposes. In the same way, Jesus identified 12 apostles who were to serve as leaders in the early church. These leaders boldly declared the Good News of Jesus even though they were heavily persecuted, tortured, and killed for proclaiming faith in Christ.

Jesus was the ultimate example of leading people toward to glory of God. His life was spent pursuing the purposes of God and leading others toward those purposes. But his example of leadership was, and still is, counterintuitive. When asked who is greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus points to the way of servanthood. Effective spiritual leadership is not measured by the one who is successful in getting people to listen to them. Effective spiritual leadership in God’s kingdom is often measured by the one who works to serve those around them. What a challenge! It is done by clearly casting the vision that moves a people to embrace the truth and beauty of the Word.

After Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, the church grew rapidly. The apostles quickly realized that there were not enough leaders to care for the people well, so they decided to appoint leaders to care for the needs of the people. These people were “full of the Spirit and of wisdom”. They were appointed to carry out God’s purposes for His glory. In addition, in Ephesians 4:11, Paul writes about specific leadership roles within the church. These leaders are to “equip the saints for the work of ministry”.

“And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.” –Acts 1:2-6

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry” –Ephesians 4:11

4 Key Characteristics of Spiritual Leaders

  1. Spiritual Leaders Are Spirit-Led: Leadership without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is not spiritual leadership. Spiritual leaders are indwelled with the Holy Spirit so they can set their hearts, eyes, and minds on God’s call to serve His people. The Holy Spirit enables the ministry of the spiritual leader.
  2. Spiritual Leaders Cast Vision: Casting vision is essential to every spiritual leader. By enabling people to see the bigger picture based on the Word of God, spiritual leaders clearly communicate what it is that God requires of his people and the amazing benefits of a life lived with God.
  3. Spiritual Leaders Promote Unity: In John 17, Jesus prays for the unity of the future church. Unity is vital to any ministry. If a church is not unified, the leadership will be distracted by trying to solve quarrels rather than with casting vision, building confidence, discipling, and equipping God’s people for God’s work.
  4. Spiritual Leaders Build Confidence: By communicating a consistent message and through encouraging those around them, spiritual leaders share the wonders of God’s love and the truth of his grace. They challenge others to live in the confidence of Christ by giving them opportunities to serve, lead, and share.


If you have the power of the Holy Spirit, you have the ability to be a spiritual leader. What next steps will you take today to live by the power of the Spirit to cast vision, promote unity, and build confidence in those around you?

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