People follow certain kinds of people. Some they follow because of fear. The leader will punish them if they dont do what theyre told, and this is not necessarily a wrong way to lead because certain people can only be led with a firm hand. They will only obey a particular law because they might get caught and punished if they dont. But there is also another kind of leader who people follow willingly. This person is given authority out of respect, which means in some way they have earned it. People have watched this person over a period of time and have seen how they handle situations. They may possess a skill others want to learn. They may have a history of making good decisions so that people seek their wisdom. They may exhibit a high level of character so that people want to become like them. This kind of leader doesnt need to threaten those who follow them. They may not even be aware theyre leading. But the fact remains: People are following, and neither titles nor rank can bestow this kind of authority on anyone. It has nothing to do with that persons position in life; its given to them because of who they are. This type of leader might be the youngest or oldest, the best-looking or plain, male or female, wealthy or poor, employer or employee, captor or prisoner. Those who know this person see something inside them thats more important than whats outside.
Spiritual leadership is based on this type of respect and trust, but it includes a quality we havent mentioned yet: a deep relationship with God. There is something about that persons life that convinces others that God is with them. Put simply: God seems to favor that person. When they pray, things happen. When they say God told them something, time proves they were right. And they actually live the kind of self-disciplined and pure life God wants people to live. That doesnt mean they are perfect, but it does mean they have integrity. And one more thing: They genuinely love those they lead. They put their needs ahead of their own.
From prisoner to pastor (Acts 28:1-10)
So, lets reflect for a moment on what happened to Paul, first on-board the ship and now on the island of Malta. Hes a prisoner on his way to a trial; hes a Jew on an Egyptian wheat freighter. He has absolutely no position of authority, no political, military or economic power over anybody. But clearly, by the time they are spending winter on the island of Malta he has become the spiritual leader, not only of those on-board the ship but of many on the island of Malta, including its leading family. The prisoner has become the pastor. Lets observe how God lifted him into that position.
On the ship
On, at least, two occasions Paul spoke out prophetically. The first time he warned everyone that the ship should remain in its harbor on Crete. If it left, the ship, its cargo, and the people would be lost. The leaders ignored his warning and everyone paid the price. The ship was caught in a horrible storm for two weeks. The second time he prophesied, he told the people that he had been praying, asking God to spare their lives, and that He had sent an angel to announce that the ship and wheat would be lost, but their lives would be spared. He added that the ship would run aground on an island.
On the night before this happened, Paul did something else that both reveals the respect he was already being given by everyone and his pastors heart toward them. They hadnt eaten in two weeks and were huddled together waiting to die, when Paul stood in their midst, took a loaf of bread, held it up and asked God to bless it, and then he began to eat it in front of them. He encouraged them and told them that they too needed to eat because God was going to save them just as He had promised. They would soon need their strength, and as everyone began to eat a wonderful joy swept through them. They felt hope. And then exactly what Paul said would happen, happened. By this point in time even the Roman centurion so respected him he even carefully guarded Pauls life.
What started out as a military transport of a prisoner to Rome, had now become an all-expense-paid missionary journey. Once on Malta, God quickly established Pauls spiritual authority there as well. He was attacked by a viper while gathering brush but suffered no harm. The local inhabitants went from thinking he had been struck down by divine justice, to thinking he must be a god. Then, after he healed the father of the leader of the island, for the next three months, everyone who was sick came to him for prayer. By the time these castaways boarded another ship bound for Rome, the Maltese people had thankfully lavished them with gifts and supplies. And tradition says a church was planted there.
Spiritual leadership is based on three things:
1) Evidence that you know God
2) A personality that proves you can be trusted
3) A love for people that can be seen in some form of selfless service
Lets look at each one:
At the end of Marks gospel this statement is made: And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed (Mk 16:20).
People watch carefully to see if theres evidence that a spiritual leader knows God. Its one thing to say, This is the truth about God, but its another when God comes along and validates it by doing something miraculous, as if to say, Yes, it is! Luke hasnt recorded all that Paul said about Jesus during this voyage, but knowing Paul, he proclaimed the gospel at every opportunity. But what set Paul apart from other religious leaders? There are so many faiths in the world, how can anyone know which one is true? There are a number of ways God can reveal truth to a sincere seeker, but the gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy, healing, deliverance, divine wisdom and miracles have always been ways He confirmed His leaders. Joseph, Moses and Daniel are examples of people who rose to positions of great authority this way.
Paul didnt undermine the leadership God gave him by living an immoral life or by being selfish or unreliable. He lived the faith he proclaimed. Its a small thing, but the fact that Paul took the initiative to go out and gather wood in the pouring rain says a lot about him. He actually took the initiative to do hard, humble work to care for the needs of others. The very fact that they were all alive was because he had done the labor of interceding for them in prayer during the storm at sea.
Jesus said, The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called Benefactors. But it is not this way with you, but the one who is great among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant (Lk 22:25-26).
Our character matters. We are to be moral, trustworthy and guided by a servants heart. People can tell when someone loves them. Real love is never just words; it always expresses itself in selfless service.
The gifts of the Spirit combined with godly character and selfless service will always tend to lift a believer into a role of spiritual leadership. And thats all part of a great plan. God wants to lift His people into leadership, all of them. King David reflected on how God did this in his life. Listen: He makes my feet like hinds feet, and sets me upon my high places (Ps 18:33). David spent countless hours in the wilderness watching wild goats walk up steep cliffs without slipping, and in this psalm hes declaring that God could do that for him. God had raised him to a high level of leadership and would uphold him so that he wouldnt fall. The same is true for us. As believers, were not to be afraid when God promotes us, when we look around and discover that people are following us. Hes doing this for a reason. He wants us to lead them to Jesus. He doesnt lift us up so we can exalt ourselves, but like Paul, Hes making us their pastor. In one way or another, every believer is meant to take this role: to become a shepherd people can safely follow and who will lead them to the true Shepherd. And we dont need to be afraid, because hes able to keep us from falling (Jude 24), no matter how high the path leads.
Willing to lead
Its surprising, but there are a lot of people who dont want to lead. They run away from it. In order to lead a person must:
Be willing to accept responsibility for others. Their success must become my success.
Be willing to commit time and effort to the care of others. It means my schedule will have less time for me.
Be willing to be criticized by those they lead. As a leader my mistakes are magnified and some people are quick to point out my failures.
But the Lord said He can keep me from falling, so if Im willing I can do it
Because of love (Jn 21:15-17)
Jesus turned a fisherman into a shepherd. He said to him, [if you love Me] shepherd My sheep. They are His sheep, not ours, and we do it to please Him, not them. We lead simply because He asked us to. There are way too many people needing care, and way too few people giving care
all over the world. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Has He asked you to tend His sheep? Are you willing to become a spiritual leader?
1) Name someone whos been a spiritual leader in your life. What was it that you saw in that person that caused you to want to follow him or her?
2) Has God made you a shepherd over a flock? When did you first realize God wanted you to take a responsibility for them?
3) Have you run away from the thought of leading others? Why? What would need to change for you to let God make your feet like hinds feet?