Talking 100 Years – Spiritual Leadership

11 Mar 2020

Issue One: A Fresh Hope Horizon Paper – March 2020



Fresh Hope has five strategic themes emerging from our ethos within a 100-year horizon framework. One of these is Spiritual Leadership. The primary objective is:

To raise and release courageous spiritual leaders capable of transforming communities and lives with fresh hope, establishing new Kingdom outposts, leading vibrant churches and facilitating healthy ministries.

This article is genuinely offered as a resource to assist your church to discuss and cultivate Spiritual Leadership; including its perils, conquests, joys and challenges! For over 15 years, I have been advocating, promulgating, teaching and preaching that Spiritual Leadership (contextualised from within Christian spirituality) is the only legitimate biblical posture and orientation validated to facilitate the church into a vibrant future. 


Understanding Spiritual Leadership:

There is a wonderful interchange in Matthew’s Gospel between Jesus and his disciples where they query his use of parables while teaching (see Matthew 13:10 ff). In reading this passage, one might presume the disciples were somewhat tired of simple stories; given much of Jesus’ teaching style was about relating to people in and through their everyday lives.

Importantly, Jesus’ response to their questioning is unexpected and cuts to the heart of spiritual leadership. He responds: Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.’

I suspect the disciples were flummoxed by this response. Essentially Jesus is referring to ‘mysteries’ or ‘secrets’ that are only truly understood in submission to His Lordship and with an informed understanding of the Kingdom of God. His Kingdom is His reign and rule, His government; His agenda! His mission and mandate can only be fully integrated into our mission through the interpretation of the Kingdom being primary for living and for spiritual leadership. The late Dallas Willard put it this way: The Kingdom of God is where what God wants done is done.

Of even greater interest, is an assurance or promise that when we have access to Kingdom mysteries, we will be given more in abundance. This is the realm of the supernatural; God speaking and prompting us to take action. Spiritual leaders intuitively learn to discern the work of the Spirit through complete dependence on God and through the submission of their own ego and agenda. They avoid ‘God told me’ language as their focus is service, collegiate team shaping, giftedness and mutual discernment. They simply reject ‘borrowing’ or ‘making things up’ as instant religious commodities inserted into church life.

From this biblical interchange, we begin to see that spiritual leadership gains credibility, integrity, authority and focus to the extent that the leader is actively cultivating their relationship with God through the indwelling power and presence of the Spirit and the active reading of the Word of God. Anything else is counterfeit and biblically illegitimate.

Renowned executive leadership specialist Peter Drucker [1] provides a great insight: ‘There seems to be little correlation between a man’s effectiveness and his intelligence, his imagination, or his knowledge.’ If this is true, then our own abilities are insufficient and inadequate to lead the mission of God into a compelling future. We might hope we are exceptional and talented, only to find ourselves bereft of the necessary inner resources required to lead people into the reality of God’s love and presence. 

Spiritual leadership is uniquely orientated within a healthy mindset that reflects the greatest commandment as taught by Jesus; to love God and to love others. This mindset requires humble service and a predisposition to act in the best interests of the ‘other’. This orientation is about empowerment instead of control.

Spiritual leadership is acutely aware of inner drivers or motivations that are either ego-driven or Kingdom-aligned. Everything is filtered through a primary question – what is God up to here? The leader constantly evaluates their own strategic focus, drive and posture through this filter in order to pursue God’s agenda.

Spiritual leadership is attuned by being responsive and attentive to the ‘God-surprise’. These leaders understand that God is not simply ‘present’ but ‘active’ in his creation and Kingdom economy and learn to wait and discern the activity of God. They partner with God, as opposed to acting and waiting for God’s tick of approval. Such responsiveness is a direct reflection of the leader’s faith, attentiveness and wisdom.

Spiritual leadership displays a hunger and a thirst for the presence and glory of God to manifest in community as an important dynamic that promulgates personal and corporate renewal. They understand that personal spirituality (cultivated through purposeful living) is an encouragement to others’ in their growth and well-being. In their world, renewal is the foundation for restoration and revival.

Spiritual leadership takes seriously an orientation to spiritually nurture or ‘parent’ younger disciples in holistic growth. These disciples are not seen as volunteer labourers; rather they are citizens within God’s Kingdom that participate in his redemptive and restorative mission on earth. True parenthood seeks to nurture, protect and invest into offspring to enable them the best possible chance to live life to the full under God’s direction.

Spiritual leadership is self-differentiated to the extent that ‘soul’ or ‘inner work’ validates the leader’s credibility and integrity. These leaders constantly seek feedback and work intentionally to understand their own character, purposefulness, sincerity, personality, strengths, emotional intelligence and giftedness. They remain a work in progress; clay in the potter’s hand.  

Spiritual leadership is at times ‘disruptive’, as it calls people to account and encourages courageous living and collegiate change into new frontiers. Throughout scripture, we see multiple examples of how God uses an individual to change the course of history. Spiritual leaders care passionately about the future spiritual well-being of God’s church, their communities and their nation. They proactively engage in challenging issues and tough conversations with courage and conviction.


Spiritual Potency Necessary for the Transformation of Churches:

‘Currency’ is a key orientation that helps churches in benchmarking their fruitfulness and effectiveness.  A key question emerges, relating to the ministry and mission practice within church life; namely: are our methods and activities current or are we living in a bygone era?

To answer this question, we must discern that our mindsets and past experiences may substantially impact our spiritual potency including church culture. The genuine transformation [2] of churches correlates substantially to the transformation of its leaders. Stuck or stagnant leaders have little or no energy, motivation or spiritual potency to lead the church on a journey of change and transformation. They prefer the status quo instead of ‘uncharted’ waters.

Many leaders have an over-exposure to global information and digital benchmarking of new ideas and resources for churches, thereby precipitating a constant anxiety around what ‘works’ and what new things need implementation into the life of a church. The constant need for new information and ideas, can also deplete the spiritual fervour of both leaders and church attenders as competing demands are made on time-poor faith communities. Spiritual leaders move from reading mere ‘content’ to insightful application.

Similarly, an over-reliance on past methods, or a stubborn resistance to change, leaves the church in a holding pattern where future viability is called into question. A lack of longer-term planning and decision making can also hamper spiritual hope thereby leaving people disillusioned and discouraged.

The extent to which spiritual leaders resource their own spiritual well-being, vitality and resilience substantially impacts their capacity to cultivate the collective spiritual potency of the church. The old adage ‘as goes the leader, so goes the church’ is always compelling, when leaders find themselves in the wilderness or the barrenness of lost God connections.

Paradoxically, we recharge our spiritual fervour when we rest, slow down, retreat, pray and apply discipline to our own spiritual personhood. Our reliance on ‘Abba’, our allegiance to Jesus and our invitation to the Spirit as counsellor all impact our sense of well-being and forward momentum. The activity of ministry carries substantial risks to mental health through unrealistic expectations, criticism or unkind attitudes projected onto leaders. 

Churches transform when leadership communities covenant to work as a synchronistic team to encourage, equip and spur one another in their spiritual potency and vitality. Here in this sweet spot, comes energy, genuine care and empowerment to pursue passions, giftings and calling.


Shaping Dynamics & Environments – A Pipeline of Spiritual Leaders:

The last four decades of church practice within Western cultures, has seen an overwhelming emphasis on church programs as the primary methodology to help build and grow healthy faith communities. At the onset of 2020, due to many mitigating factors, Aussies are voting with their feet and abandoning church at unprecedented rates. This is partly attributable to Sunday no longer being a day of sabbath, with sporting events, shopping centres and lifestyle decisions impacting families and individuals. Another contributing factor includes the broader reputation and trust towards the church following the Royal Commission into how institutions deal with child abuse. Many Australians now see religion as irrelevant or damaging.

I raise this, not to be alarmist, but to be intentional and hopeful in confronting the predicament of our future together. People don’t want programs, they want God, or, they want to discover healthy places to explore faith and belief. People also long for genuine community where relationships are forged in trust and collegiate learning. When God is present, people are genuinely intrigued and open to spiritual conversations.

Unequivocally, the local church is the God-shaped, God-designed community where spiritual leaders are identified, trained, equipped and released into service in God’s Kingdom economy. These leaders should start their learning and development, prior to considering their commencement of formal training in ministry or theology.

A ground-breaking work published in the Harvard Business Review in 2003 [3] highlights how important it is for organisations to manage their talent pool and build a ‘pipeline’ of leadership for their future health and vitality. Within the church context, this is ‘spiritual work’ with a focus on ‘engagement’ as opposed to ‘attendance’.

Church leaders need to reshape and redesign how leadership is expressed and championed in the life of the church. In many ways, this is a major shift in mindset and orientation. It involves shaping environments and creating dynamics where teams move away from digesting information and learn the art of team expression, engagement and action. The spiritual ecosystem is much more important than the telling or promulgation of leadership principles.

These dynamics move beyond the classroom, theory or course work and enter the realm of holistic learning and practice for intentional spiritual leadership cultivation and equipping. Sadly, most churches simply believe that by doing a course, people are equipped to lead. The true nature of training and equipping is about life-long learning within apprenticeship environments.     


A Final Word about Power:

Every spiritual leader needs to learn how to carry authority and power. There are times in scripture where followers are encouraged to ‘submit’ to those who lead them. The original Greek word for submission is ‘hupotasso’ which means to willingly arrange oneself under the leadership of another. Notice the context here: a conscious and willing decision to follow, because the leader is of high character, integrity and trust.  

There is a vast difference between ‘positional’ authority and ‘spiritual’ authority. One dynamic is evidenced by a person exercising power and control because they have been given a position. The other is vastly different, in that authority is held with considered care and high maturity. Spiritual authority is willingly vulnerable and open to life-long learning and accountability.

Spiritual leadership is proactive in its willingness to ‘come under’ authority in order to ‘exercise’ authority. When responsibilities and giftedness increase, so must the need for healthy and robust accountability.  

The late Irish spiritual writer and poet, John O’Donohue penned a beautiful prayer of blessing and encouragement for spiritual leaders as they hold their power on behalf of God. The last two verses of the blessing read:

May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.
May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy.
May you welcome your own vulnerability
As the ground where healing and truth join.

May integrity of soul be your first ideal.
The source that will guide and bless your work.

As you consider the place of spiritual leadership, our prayers are focused toward you.


Discussion Starters for Church Leaders

  • As you read the section titled ‘Understanding Spiritual Leadership’ please discuss how you benchmark leadership in your church? Do you have the same expectations and framework for your oversight board compared to your team leader or minister?

  • How do you think spiritual leadership differs from corporate leadership?

  • Does your church have a ‘charter’ or manual to help key leaders develop what defines their functions?  If not, do you think this is a resource that might be helpful going forward?

  • Do you have a personal strategy for spiritual growth during this year? What would this look like if you were asked to share it in team?

  • When was the last time you did an audit (either internal or external) that measured the spiritual growth and potency of your leadership team? Discuss together what you might measure including your fears or concerns should you pursue such an exercise.

  • When you consider transforming your church community, what areas of church life do you think need reforming, closing or sharpening? See if you can identify them and clarify some steps to articulate change.

  • Does your church have a leadership pipeline? Please discuss this concept and how this might work in your context.  

  • What criteria are used in appointing leaders in the life of your church? Please share your thoughts together.

  • On power and authority – how has your faith community managed power and authority previously? Please share examples where power is managed in healthy ways, and other situations where power has corrupted the leader or caused damage in others.

  • When you consider accountability in leadership, how is this managed and expressed in team?

  • Who do you identify in your church community who are spiritual leader trainers, able to apprentice younger leaders? If you were to design environments for training and equipping, what might you create?


Recommended Reading:

  • Blackaby, Richard & Henry. Spiritual Leadership:  Moving People onto God’s Agenda. Revised and Expanded Edition. © 2011. B&H Publishing Group.

  • Doohan, Leonard. Spiritual Leadership: The Quest for Integrity. © 2007. Paulist Press.

  • Geoffrion, Timothy. The Spirit-Led Leader:  Nine Leadership Practices and Soul Principles. © 2005. The Alban Institute.

  • Lorg, Jeff. The Character of Leadership: Nine Qualities that Define Great Leaders. © 2007. B&H Publishing Group.

  • Johnson, Abigail. Shaping Spiritual Leaders: Supervision and Formation in Congregations. © 2007. The Alban Institute.

  • Manning, Brennan. Abbas Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging. © 2015. Navpress.

  • O’Donohue, John. To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings. © 2008. Doubleday.

  • Oswald, John. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer. 2nd Ed. © 1994.  Moody Press.


Dr Andrew Ball
Executive Ministry Director
Churches of Christ in NSW & the ACT.

© Fresh Hope Resources 2020.


[1]   Drucker, Peter.  The Effective Executive.  © 1996. p. 525.  Harper Business.

[2]    Please note:  Another Fresh Hope 100 Year Horizon theme is Transformation.  This will feature in a future issue.

[3]   Confer, Jay A. & Fulmer, Robert M.  Developing Your Leadership Pipeline. © 2003 Harvard Business Review.  See:

[4]  O’Donohue, John. To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings. © 2008 p. 147. Doubleday.

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