Recently I was asked to talk to a group of pastors and leaders about the Spirit-led leader. After thinking about it for a while I thought it would be more helpful to talk about spiritual leadership. Spiritual leadership is different than the leadership we’re used to in politics, the military, or in the world of business and sports, much of which is based on principles that appear sound but promote ideas contrary to the Scriptures. For starters, it leaves God out of the equation and clashes on the most fundamental issue of leadership: Who’s in charge? It doesn’t take into account God’s will and guidance.
Fact is, great leadership can achieve goals and still not be successful in God’s kingdom. It can gain the world and still lose its soul. By contrast, spiritual leaders are directed by the Holy Spirit not by their own agendas. Jesus Christ is our role model for this type of leadership. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. (John 5:19) You could say he didn’t develop a five-year plan nor did he cast a vision. He sought to pursue God’s will.
Spiritual leaders are Spirit-led. Their job is to move people on to God’s agenda. So in that sense they “lead from behind”. The phrase leading from behind is in need of some rehabbing. In some circles it carries a negative connotation. It implies indecisiveness and weakness. But I think it depends whom you’re behind and who’s doing the leading. It depends on who’s doing the initiating and whom you’re taking your cues from. It depends who’s influencing you – popular opinion, convenience, your own training and instincts, or God’s Spirit.
When I think of all the mistakes, missteps, and failures I’ve suffered as a leader over the years, most, if not all of them, have been because I got out in front of God. Leading from behind the Spirit isn’t easy for most strong, natural leaders. It takes quite a bit of getting used to. It’s counterintuitive. It requires a lot of denying of our natural strengths and becoming dependent. It requires lots of humility, patience and discipline and most of all, listening prayer. And most of us leaders are too busy leading to be still, pray and listen.
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal. 5:25) For me as a spiritual leader, ‘keeping in step’ means leading from behind. That means constantly asking God for the grace to control my natural instincts and strengths and to let the Holy Spirit initiate, direct, and empower my leadership. It’s been my biggest challenge.