Becoming a Spiritual Leader


Bishop John Schol writes about the spiritual qualities of leadership: deep faith, discipleship, and the heart and mind of Christ, and the fruits of leadership.

“The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers,” said Max De Pree in his book Leadership Is an Art. He also added, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.” Even though he is writing primarily to secular leaders, Max De Pree is describing “spiritual leadership.”

Spiritual leadership combines the spiritual — deep faith, discipleship, and the heart and mind of Christ (Philippians 2:4-8) — with the leadership competencies of vision, organizing, strategic thinking, and servanthood. It is not enough only to be spiritual. It is not enough to lead only out of one’s competencies. Spiritual leaders combine both of these qualities to transform people and effect change. Without this combination, the church will falter, stumble, and fail.

Jesus clearly demonstrated this type of leadership. Jesus had a clear vision of the kingdom of God, organized and taught people around the vision, and made strategic decisions (choosing the twelve disciples). Jesus also prayed before making decisions, read and studied Scripture regularly, worshipped, fasted, went on spiritual retreats, and fellowshipped with other believers. Jesus regularly combined an inward spiritual journey with outward leadership competence.

Faith, Fire, and Fruits

Spiritual leaders also exhibit faith, fire, and fruits. John Wesley identified these three things as the hallmarks of spiritual leadership. (Works of John Wesley, Volume VIII, 323-325)

Spiritual leaders exhibit faith through their conviction, their character, and their understanding of the theological and cultural context of ministry. Conviction is evident in a spiritual leader’s strong faith, clear beliefs, and respect for the convictions of others. Character is what makes others want to follow a spiritual leader. Spiritual leaders are Christ-centered, authentic, compassionate, and exhibit moral integrity. They are purposeful, dedicated, punctual, and have a good work ethic. They are open and flexible, willing to accept criticism, and able to think and act multi-culturally. Spiritual leaders have the ability to motivate and inspire others (charisma). They equip, support, and lead others in ministry, working as part of a team. And they possess a positive, joyful, celebrative attitude. Finally, spiritual leaders have a broad theological and cultural understanding that enables them to dialogue with the culture, and present faith and theology in culturally relevant ways.

Spiritual leaders exhibit fire in the calling, passion,and vision required for ministry. They experience and recognize that God has called them to help a congregation understand and fulfill its calling. Spiritual leaders have a deep and burning desire to give themselves completely and humbly to the purposes of God’s ministry in the congregation and community. Spiritual leaders have a profound love and concern for people, a longing to develop new disciples, and a determination to improve a congregation’s ability to make disciples. They have a hunger for excellence in ministry, aspiring to be their best for the sake of the church and the world. They are compelled by the hope of becoming Christ-like and by the vision of God’s reign.

The fruits of spiritual leadership are evidenced in competency for ministry as well as the results of ministry. Spiritual leaders demonstrate competence by discerning a compelling vision and leading people to follow it; by identifying and developing other leaders; by communicating in ways that teach and excite people about the vision; and by organizing the church to carry out its mission.

Finally, spiritual leaders achieve results. Scripture provides a measure of fruitful leadership in Acts 2:41-47:

So those who welcomed his message were baptized and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Accordingly, spiritual leaders lead people into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ as evidenced by confessions and reaffirmations of faith. They organize and lead a congregation to attract disciples evidenced by increasing worship attendance and starting new congregations. Spiritual leaders engage disciples in ministry in the community as evidenced in ministry that addresses the conditions and systemic issues of the poor, engages a high percentage of worshipers in ministry, and financially supports mission beyond the local church. And they lead churches to live and act by faith as evidenced by signs and wonders in the congregation and community.

This article is based on material first published in the Baltimore-Washington Conference’s UM Connection and on its website

Related Resources


About Author

Photo of John Schol

John R. Schol is the Resident Bishop of the Greater New Jersey Area, which includes the Greater New Jersey Conference in the Northeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. He also serves as the Interim Bishop for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference - Philadelphia Episcopal Area. He was previously Bishop of the Baltimore-Washington, DC, Conference. While Director at the Office of Urban Ministries at the General Board of Global Ministries, he led the development of the Holy Boldness Urban Academy and the Communities of Shalom.

Cover of Discovering God's Future for Your Church showing a blank wooden signpostLewis Center video tool kit resource
Discovering God’s Future for Your Church

Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is a turn-key tool kit to help your congregation discern and implement God’s vision for its future. The resource guides your church in discovering clues to your vision in your history and culture, your current congregational strengths and weaknesses, and the needs of your surrounding community. The tool kit features videos, leader’s guides, discussion exercises, planning tools, handouts, diagrams, worksheets, and more. Learn more and watch an introductory video now.