6 Characteristics of Spiritual Leaders

I am mostly offline, attending a business conference. I have asked several bloggers to post in my absence. This is a guest post by Bob Hamp, the Executive Pastor of Pastoral Care at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas. You can find his blog or follow him on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

As believers, we recognize the value of imitating Jesus and His leadership style. But if we really think about it, it’s strange that we try to emulate a leader who never developed an organization, regularly encouraged people to stop following Him, and ultimately saw His death as the pinnacle of His accomplishments.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/AurelianGogonea

What kind of perspective must a leader have to place high value on these kinds of strategies? Jesus was not a manager. His primary role was to function as a spiritual leader.

Not all leaders in religious organizations are spiritual leaders. This is not a criticism as much as a distinction. Distinguishing spiritual leadership from other forms of leadership can free people from unrealistic expectations of some leaders.

At the same time, making this distinction can help identify who the spiritual leaders in your organization are. Here are six characteristics that identify most spiritual leaders:

  1. They lead others into their own encounters with God. One of the most effective things about Jesus’ lifestyle was that He didn’t switch into another mode to introduce His disciples to the reality of God.

    Whether standing in the synagogue or picking wheat along the path, interacting with the Father was so natural that others around Him could not help but do the same. Whether a spiritual leader is training a new employee or working through a difficult conflict resolution, his followers will discover their own connection to God more deeply in the process.

  2. They lead others to discover their own purpose and identity. Spiritual leadership is characterized by great generosity. A spiritual leader genuinely wants others to fully discover who they were made to be.

    Workplace issues and strategic development become tools to help followers discover their own identity and overcome obstacles standing in their way. People functioning in an area of their created identity and strength will always be more productive than those who are simply trying to fill a position or role.

  3. They lead others into transformation—not just production. When the goal is spiritual growth and health, production will always be a natural outcome. People function at their peak when they function out of identity.

    Helping your followers discover that their own transformation can happen on the job will engender loyalty and a high level of morale. Spiritual leadership fosters passion in those who follow. Passion is the ingredient that moves people and organizations from production to transformational impact.

  4. They impact their atmosphere. While we may not stop a tempest with our words, spiritual leaders recognize that they can change the “temperature” of a room, interaction, or relationship.

    Changing the atmosphere is like casting vision, only it is immediate. When there is tension, fear, or apathy, a spiritual leader can transform the immediate power of these storms and restore vision, vitality and hope. A spiritual leader can fill a room with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness, even while speaking hard things.

  5. They help people see old things in new ways. Many people are stuck not in their circumstances, but in their perspectives and paradigms. The word “repent” means “to think differently, or to think in a different way.” Jesus called people to look again at old realities through new eyes. Changing ways of thinking always precedes meaningful change.
  6. They gain a following because of who they are—not because of a position they hold. Spiritual leaders can be found in secular organizations, in the same way managers and organizational leaders can be found in religious ones.

    Spiritual leaders influence more than they direct, and they inspire more than they instruct. They intuitively recognize that they are serving something—and Someone—larger than themselves and their own objectives.

Question: Who is someone who has been a spiritual leader in your life? What sets this person apart from other leaders? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1314031720 Rod George

    The truly spiritual leaders I experienced in my life, have in fact been an experience not just a meeting. Small things just seem to happen, ideas seem to appear. One such leader was a chess player I met many years ago, who in the middle of the game said I have to now make this move and preceded to make a move that allowed me to win in the very next move, I later asked what was his purpose for doing that. He simply said. “You needed to win more than I”. At that point in my life I did need to win. Two days later I moved away from there and had a new start.

    • http://bobhamp.com/ Bob Hamp

      Rod, so fascinating, and what an interesting story. Doesn’t sound at all the way I might consider a chess master. Spiritual leadership instead of competition. Love how he recognized and humbly provided something you needed, without considering his own reputation.

  • MichelleBentham

    Jan Greenwood. She is so naturally inclined to lead, think differently, challenge you at  the core of your being without demeaning who you are, and she comes alongside as she builds you up in both your faith in God and your faith in your own identity to live and breathe and be all that god created you to be.

    Beth Moore. One of the things she has always said is that good leaders will lead others to Christ in such a way that when they stop leading the followers will still be following Christ. 

    Last but not least… Not ever said this to you face-to-face, but Bob Hamp is my pastor, he is the chief supervisor on my hall in Pastoral Care and by far one of the most influential leaders I’ve  ever known in my life. He knows these things he writes of so well because he lives them all well. Thank you for being the kind of leader who loves, brings life and speaks identity to those who come after. You empower people everyday simply by being who you are! 

    • http://bobhamp.com/ Bob Hamp

      Thanks Michelle for your kind words and for your loving service!!

      • MichelleBentham

        My pleasure… Humbled to be counted among the awesomeness on the PC Hall! :) 

  • Jettie Omdahl

    Train your children in the way they should go, and when you are old, they will lead you.   What a blessing children are, and, oh my, what we learn from them.

  • Marsha Chancey

    My Pastor, Mark Smith, is a true spiritual leader in my life.  He is wise in leading us to discover how and where our strengths and talents will best serve our Lord.  I know I can trust him by the life he lives that shows his personal connection with God.  His desire is for us to “Go Deeper” in God’s word and to keep our relationship with God fresh and continually growing.  He urges us to keep in sight that we are God’s church and we are to consult Him in every decision and remember that it is God that we serve.

    He speaks the truth of the Gospel and doesn’t water down our responsibility to check our lives for hidden sin and our need for repentance.  All the while, teaching us of God’s love and grace.  We are a growing church, and he is a Christ-like leader in solving the issues of a church that faces challenges with space and obtaining enough spiritually lead staff to minister effectively.  He is strong, knowledgeable, and an excellent diplomat.

    My life is blessed to worship with him as he leads me into a deeper walk with Jesus.

  • Joel G. Quile

    The Holy Spirit knows that for me to “get” something, I have to hear it 3 times from 3 different sources. Thank you Bob (& Michael) for being the “third word.” God has been reminding me to “be” rather than “do” and to “follow” (Him first) before I “lead.” (others second) This post reminds me of Paul’s words to the Galatians, “since you started by the Spirit, stay in step with the Spirit.”

    Thank you so much for obediently sharing this truth. I am blessed. I’ve repented of wrong thinking. 

    • http://bobhamp.com/ Bob Hamp

      Joel, I am always happy to be in other peoples process. I bet you have been someone else’s “third word” on more than one occasion.

  • http://twitter.com/CoachTheresaIF Theresa Ip Froehlich

    Spiritual leadership is about lifting up Jesus Christ, empowering others to walk more closely with him, and all the while giving glory to God for all the leadership results.

    I love this post. It says it so well.

  • Vickiegoalen

    You are a spiritual leader to me Bob, leading me to discover true freedom.  I cannot begin to tell you the transformation in my life now that I am not depending on “information”, but “revelation.    Of course, this really messed with my religion and those in my life who are great leaders of organizations, but not sharing/teaching Life.  Thankful, that I now know I can hear, listen and obey, spreading life everywhere I go because we don’t go to church, we are the church.

  • Anonymous

    Great post.  Some leaders have failed to live up to this standard, in addition to the biblical standard.  In my case, I do not have an encouraging comment to share.  I was under a pastor for 10 years that I believed always had my best interests at heart as a leader.  He then failed in that responsibility towards me (morally and ethically) and nearly made a shipwreck of my faith.  I have now sharpened my discernment towards leaders, especially those who stand in the pulpit.  Hindsight is 20/20, and if I only had this information (your post) 10 years ago, I might have saved myself a lot of pain.  So to add to what you wrote, a leader must also live up to the biblical standard, as well as have the atttributes you listed.    Thanks.

    • http://bobhamp.com/ Bob Hamp

      Anonymous… I am so sorry to hear of your experience. Sadly, your story is too common. My observation is that the ship is turning. The very reason I write such a post is to help us all think about the things that God has designed for the human race, and how as leaders arise, they can cooperate with God’s purposes. What you have described is a very painful thing to go through. I hope you have re-discovered a living and vital faith that can be led by others, but does not depend on others. Thanks for sharing honestly.

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  • Simeon Grew

    There was a great man of God who preached in our church once, and i haven’t seen him now for four years. The way he lived his life empowered me and still does today!

  • http://tangoleadership.wordpress.com/ PoulAndreassen

    The
    uniqueness of your article is indeed something that is influential in
    nature if probed deeply, it eventually got connected to leadership
    and I realized it in my instincts.

    It
    is true”Spiritual leaders influence more than they direct, and
    they inspire more than they instruct. They intuitively recognize that
    they are serving something—and Someone—larger
    than themselves and their own objectives. “Hope
    fully this can be implemented in any sector.

    Thanks
    for sharing it in such a delightful manner..!

    • http://bobhamp.com/ Bob Hamp

      Thanks Poul. Part of my intent is to draw attention to the fact that spiritual leadership is not limited to only religious organizations. It is also true that religious organizations need management at times, and that should be a legitimate expression in churches and ministries. Having realistic expectations of leaders can help us all prevent disappointments, and more importantly, help us value what every leader contributes.

  • Kayarmstrong

    Love this blog Bob! What a beautiful picture of spirit filled leadership and empowerment. I spent many years following great leaders in the corporate world. They taught me how to shift paradigms, increase production and motivate people. Sadly, not one of them helped me discover my own identity & purpose or led me into a deeper encounter with God. Thankfully at church I get to work along side some of these spiritual leaders you’ve described, yourself included, and the difference has been life changing. My prayer is that we would see spiritual leaders ascend to high levels in the corporate world further transforming those environments! Great article!

  • MDT

    Hello Pastor Bob and followers of Christ. I enjoyed your blog and found my mind thinking about the section on generosity. Many years ago I was a member of a Vestry commitee and as usual the topic of parish funds were a discussion point after the treasurers report. The question of how much people should give was then discussed. The eldest member of Vestry said she felt an amount equal to what people spent on entertainment should be appropriate. This horrified one of the members of the Vestry and comments were traded.   As I got to know the members of the parish more I learnt that the elderly member was in her late 70′s had taught Sunday School for 30 + years, been on committees for year, acted as a voluntary treasurer, and been active in conservation in the environment for decades. All of this acts were carried out in a quiet, non attention seeking way. It makes me think about generosity and giving – the currency is not always in dollars.
    God Bless you all!

  • FreddieTeague

    This is a fantastic post for those of us who are young leaders just really getting started in becoming the influential and impacting men/women God has asked us to be.

    • http://bobhamp.com/ Bob Hamp

      Thanks Freddie, I am glad to know you are getting good input early…the Kingdom is ready for a generation of people who are spiritual leaders on purpose!

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  • http://www.AnnaMorten.com/ Anna Morten

    In my opinion, a spiritual leader’s most important quality is their ability to walk their talk. Only someone who who lives by what they seek to teach others is a (spiritual) leader to be taken seriously. 

    My spiritual teacher/leader was a middle-aged suburban lady who has a spiritual circle of which I was a member. She taught me for 10 years until she died and I owe her an immense amount of spiritual knowledge, and  the inner peace, contentment and a sense of happiness I enjoy every day. Thank you, Sharna.

  • Helios
  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.ragan.31 Jeremy Ragan

    I have only been walking the faith for 2 years.  Every bit of these 2 aside from 3months during winter I am on the road working.  So I have met many people who have poured into my life and continually do so on a hit or miss scale.  I thank God for these people and trully enjoy our conversations over the phone but due to always traveling I dont have a certain person who trully knows the ins and outs of my relationship with God nor can I fully explain to them what I see in scripture when they dont truly know me and where I am coming from.  And im sure you all know and understand the importance of mentors and vice versa.  I love my job and of course theres always a positive and a negative in most situations.  The most positive is there is plenty of oppurtunities to spend considerable time with God aswell as so many others but the negative is not having someone to disciple me on a regular basis.  Someone to show me an example by the way they live, someone to encourage me,  I think most importantly for me someone to inspire me and challenge me aswell as hold me accountable to that challenge.  I am hoping, thanking, and asking God to send me that person and know it is only a matter of time.  Your prayers will greatly be appreciated and may our Good Lord Bless every facet of your relationship with him and your neighbors.            Jeremy 

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  • Maria Wallis

    My story truly shows you can find a spiritual leader any where. I was 22 yrs old when I had a new horseshoer come to shoe my horse. 24 yrs later he has been more most influential person in my life. Larry’s insightfulness and relationship with God was something I wanted. I was so inspired that I was on a journey I could have never expected. It has been an amazing journey and God has blessed me in so many ways.  When a student is ready, a teacher appears.  What great life I have!

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    Dr. Yong, founder of Yongiway Wholesome Health. He’s more than an alternative health guru. His calling is to “Sparkle Life Back into People”, in which he has been carrying unconditionally for decades. I’ve known Doc for almost a decade by now, people suffering from major illnesses, relationship issues and even well known public figure seek for his humble advice. I strongly recommend anyone who is lost in life or suffering from serious health issues to seek for his advice. Even for those who are healthy, it’ll be an eye opener of what you could learn from him. 

  • betty

    i think there are this kind of people around we just don’t know it until we r lifted up to there level and start thinking in a new way..

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  • Elfinesh Zeleke

    My Biblical Leader for my life time was Muses,now in this time my Friend Evangelist Nigatu Tsgaye I’m blessed to have a friend and spiritual example and devote closed friend like him..

  • Gene Fig

    I dont have any one other than my own mom,she has been my mentor all my life. Its not easy trusting people. My husband and i have met some people in our congregation but have never clicked. My husband and i are willing to make friends with people but it seems people shy away to much. I have met some women a couple of times and when u see them its like they never met u..Its pretty frusterating. They have been in that church alot longer than me, am i expecting to much from them. I know better, but im expecting them to be that example. Am i wrong for thinking that way.

  • Mark Downham

    “Elderships need to be spiritual, able to impart and lay hands on people. There is something significant that happens when the eldership lays their hands on leaders and imparts spiritual blessings and anointing to them”. – Frank Damazio

    The Gift of Spiritual Leadership is capable of Impartation – it is a category of Real Energetic Pneumatology – it is a Real Energetic work of the Holy Spirit and it is capable of Transference and Impartation – what you receive is the Gift, but you have to grow up into that Gift – exactly like Imputed and progressively Imparted Grace or Sanctification – the Holy Spirit will determine how the Gift grows and manifests in you as to whether you primarily express Servant Leadership; (Complex) Adaptive Leadership or Transformative Leadership or various combinations – but the Gift can be imparted.

    Matthew 9:29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”

    1 Timothy 4:14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.

  • Jill Stone

    Bob Hamp, Allan Smith, Josiah Solis, Robert Chapman, Priscilla Shirer and Christine Caine. Bob, your teaching and example have been a powerful gift from God in my life and have brought so much practical freedom teaching in that I now live and breathe freedom at work, at Gateway and anywhere else I go!

  • Pastor Sharon Harris

    Thank you so much for this information. Very helpful. God bless you.