7 Unique Traits of Spiritual Leaders

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It’s not uncommon to hear a phrase like, “He’s not a very spiritual leader.” Or, She’s a strong spiritual leader.”

These may be reasonable observations, but they’re not necessarily clear. What do they mean?

What does it mean to be a spiritual leader?

Does it suggest pious and pure?

Does it hint at potentially pretentious?

Of course, these can’t be the goal.

It may be obvious to most who are reading this post, but for clear context, we need to add Christian to the equation. For example, I have friends who consider themselves to be very spiritual, but acknowledge that they are New Age by belief and practice.

A spiritual leader is more like this: An authentic human being, who genuinely seeks to live their life by Jesus’ example, filled by the Spirit, and leading in alignment with God’s will, purpose and plan.  

So, what are the unique distinctives of a Christian spiritual leader?

Let’s start with some traits that are not unique to Christian leaders, but often considered to be.

Here are a few examples:

  • Loving and kind
  • Serving others putting them first
  • Generous and helpful
  • Moral and of good character

These are practiced by spiritual leaders but also by many secular leaders.

The potential for spiritual leadership is established in transformation to new life in Christ. The process of spiritual maturity, in combination with spiritual gifting, leads, over time, to influence of an eternal nature.

Spiritual leadership isn’t something better than, or above others, it’s a humble recognition that all of our efforts and outcomes are based on the favor, power and authority of Christ, not our own.

Spiritual leadership isn’t something better than, or above others, it’s a humble recognition that all of our efforts and outcomes are based on the favor, power and authority of Christ, not our own.Click & Tweet!

7 Unique Traits of Spiritual Leaders

(Please fee free to add a unique trait in the comment section below. Let’s learn from each other.)

1) They submit their will to the will of God

Jesus modeled submission to the Father’s will in His prayer on the Mount of Olives. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42

Jesus submission was greater than anything we’ll be asked to do, but the example is still clear.

Can you think of a time where God wanted you to do a certain thing, like leave a church and move to another state, and you didn’t want to, but you did anyway?

When it comes to the major decisions in life, it’s not always easy. In fact, its easier to rationalize why we don’t need to or shouldn’t.

Submitting our will to God’s will has three parts:

  • Hearing God’s will. (Are we listening?)
  • Agreeing with God’s will. (Are we aligned?)
  • Obeying God’s will. (Will we do it?)

At any point in this process, submission can easily be abandoned in the absence of deep resolve.

If our heart and mind have not pre-decided to submit to God’s will before He asks, the likelihood of a yes is greatly diminished.

2) They establish their values directly from Scripture

As our values are consistently challenged, our resilience to stand firm can get worn down. As spiritual leaders we don’t like to admit that, but it’s true.

After enough time and pressure, its not uncommon to experience a softening in our resolve as culture muddies perspective. We shouldn’t make excuses or blame culture, but we can be honest about the effect.

It is Scripture that keeps our true north clear, strengthens our resolve, and helps us establish our true values.

As spiritual leaders, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to consistently live one set of values and lead from another. Our lives must maintain the integrity of values worth living and the same values worth leading.

3) They consistently seek guidance from the Holy Spirit

We can ask and receive wise counsel from trusted advisors, and we should, but nothing replaces the voice and value of the Holy Spirit.

Similar to seeking and submitting to the Will of God, spiritual leaders listen for and follow the prompts of the Holy Spirit. They are often subtle, but when we are in tune they are very clear.

In addition to our prayer life, we can pause throughout the day to ask and listen. For example, during a meeting, while you are writing a talk, or working on solving a problem, the Holy Spirit’s wisdom is available.

Don’t let the hustle of your daily pressures rob you of Heaven’s wisdom. Slow down and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance.

We can ask and receive wise counsel from trusted advisors, and we should, but nothing replaces the voice and value of the Holy Spirit.Click & Tweet!

4) They make decisions based on biblical principles

I’ve made decisions based on pressure, time limitations, financial burdens and personal preference. Yes, a good bit of this is natural. But that’s the point. We have a supernatural option, a source to guide our leadership and decision-making.

Not every decision we need to make has direct biblical guidance, but there is always a guiding principle to help set the direction and tone for our decisions.

We can’t prevent making occasional mistakes in our decision making, but we can avoid displeasing God by always acknowledging His Word as our guide to life principles.

Can you think of a recent and significant decision where your knowledge of Scripture and God’s heart influenced your decision?

5) They experience personal communion with a resurrected Savior   

It’s kind of mind-blowing to know that we can talk with God Himself — that we can live in communion with a resurrected Savior!

There is great joy in the simplicity, freedom and grace of a personal relationship with Jesus. Yet, it also comes with clear guidance for the life He wants us to live. Spiritual leadership has clear standards to be followed.

Our consistent communion with God is a great gift for us to enjoy and the conduit from which we lead from the overflow. Without Him (vine and branches) we have little to offer different than the world.

Are you happy with your prayer life? What might you change?

There is great joy in the simplicity, freedom and grace of a personal relationship with Jesus. Yet, it also comes with clear guidance for the life He wants us to live. Spiritual leadership has clear standards to be followed.Click & Tweet!

6) They have the hope of eternal life and lead with that perspective

Spiritual leaders with a Christian worldview have the hope of eternal life and lead with that perspective in mind.

Over the course of forty years in church leadership I have often led in shortsighted ways, but wise spiritual leaders lead with the long-view in mind. That is, how does our spiritual leadership fit within the values of eternity, rather than merely the pressures of the day?

Candidly, with an eternal perspective in mind, we will often have more peace amidst daily pressure because not everything we think is so big and important actually is in the light of eternity.

7) They acknowledge and cultivate the gifts and fruit of the Spirit

We know the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is a great aspirational representation of the character of a spiritual leader.

I don’t think I’ve ever lived a day with all nine solidly in action, but I continue to pursue them all with passion. What one or two are you intentionally pursuing in this season?

God’s Spirit also gives us gifts. For example, serving, teaching, leadership, encouraging, hospitality, prophesy, wisdom, knowledge, healing, discernment etc.  For more detail, there are several passages such as Romans 12:4-8;  I Corinthians 12:4-11; and Ephesians 4:11-12.

In short, without the fruit of the Spirit, we cannot replicate the character of God, and without the gifts of the Spirit we cannot lead with our full potential for the will of God.

Spiritual leadership is a Divine partnership, one that you and the Creator of the universe share. It’s truly amazing. You do your part, and God does what you cannot do.