Friday, September 18, 2015

Spiritual Leaders as Followers

This Sunday's Lectionary Texts: Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:8; Mark 9:30-37.

John Maxwell has famously said, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.” However, there is one fundamental difference between secular and spiritual leadership. The secular leader listens to his own voice and is his own boss: he dictates the terms and lay down the rules. In contrast, the spiritual leader is essentially a follower—he listens to God’s voice and obeys his heavenly Boss. He answers to no one else—and that is why it is the most challenging responsibility, for he will have to contend not only against human adversaries but demonic ones as well.


Much of the Christian leadership literature follows the secular management books. But spiritual leadership is fundamentally different because spiritual leadership is the art of followership of God, rather than the art of leadership of men. While many of the principles of secular leadership (vision, strategies and structures, etc) are relevant to spiritual leadership (after all, Christians are humans too), but the assumption of secular leadership is that leadership is all about human dynamics. So, when a pastor speaks of "my vision for my church", he is speaking like a secular leader, not a spiritual leader. The spiritual leader is not appointed to build his own church, according to his own preferences and desires. He is called instead to build Jesus' church. Only Jesus alone can say, "I will build my church" (Mt 16:18).

Spiritual leadership dynamics must include the dimension of the world of Spirit and spirits. The spiritual leaders must first of all be men or women who walk by the Spirit of God, for ultimately, God is the Leader, not men. So, when Jeremiah was called to prophesy to Judah and Israel, he was violating many of the secular tenets of effective leadership: identification with the people, creating a common vision, etc. He essentially told them they were all wrong and needed to turn around or else face the judgment of God. Jeremiah's leadership style alienated the elders and priests of Israel who rejected him and plotted to kill him. But for Jeremiah, his priority as God's chosen leader was simply to follow instructions from the Lord who was his ultimate Leader.

The same went for David and Jesus too. David was a leader par excellence, transforming Israel into a powerful nation. But he was a spiritual leader only because he was a man anointed by the Spirit of God. And even for David, Israel’s greatest king, he was basically a follower of Yahweh his God. He did nothing without first consulting the Lord. And as a spiritual leader, he had to contend with not just human adversaries but demonic ones as well. Satan instigated Saul with hatred for David. Filled with demon-inspired jealousy, Saul pursued David relentlessly to destroy him to prevent him from ascending the throne as king over Israel. And when Satan could not kill David because of God's protection, he tempted him twice to sin against God. Once, he succeeded in causing David to commit adultery and then murder. At another time, he succeeded in instigating David to conduct a national census that brought God’s judgment upon Israel. 

Jesus’ leadership follows the same spiritual dynamics of obeying the Spirit of God to contend  demonic and human adversaries. He was anointed by the Spirit and was an obedient follower of His Father—He did nothing except what the Father told him. He was obedient unto death, even though he could have use his popularity to mobilize the people to his side in a religious/political uprising. But he didn’t. He was not there to follow his own agenda, but God's. 

In short, a spiritual leader must firstly be a man anointed by the Spirit. Secondly, a spiritual leader must be a faithful follower of God so he is indifferent to the temptation of power, pay and position within the church hierarchy. Jesus himself had no political connection nor religious position in Israel's religious hierarchy. He was not even an officially-approved Rabbi, having not gone through the theological school for Rabbis. He only had the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit and his priority as a leader of men was to obey God unreservedly. At the end of his life, all his followers abandoned him and he hung on the Cross alone. 

The spiritual leader’s priority is not getting people to follow him, but getting people to follow God, through the Holy Spirit.

Father, help us to listen to Your voice, not voice of men or demons so that we might be a servant-leader among men. Amen.

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