8 Habits of Healthy Spiritual Leaders by Matt Brown
God calls, prepares and empowers spiritual leaders to lead His Church. Spiritual leadership is not a job for everybody. While every Christian is called to follow Christ wholeheartedly, and make an impact on the world around them – some are called to equip the Body of Christ as spiritual leaders.
Spiritual leadership is vitally important. People rise and fall to the level of our leadership. People are drawn into the Kingdom, and drawn into Christian service because of faithful, healthy spiritual leadership.
It is so important for those God calls to spiritual leadership to be eager to grow into everything God calls them to be.
WE ARE CALLED BY A GREAT GOD – MAY WE NEVER BE STAGNANT OR HALF-HEARTED IN THAT CALLING!
1. WALK WITH GOD
Spiritual leadership is primarily about walking with God. It is His Kingdom, and His reign that we are seeking to establish, not our own. We must keep our hearts daily submissive to His Word and rule in our lives. We should seek to know Him more, and then make Him known to those we lead.
The primary way we walk with God is through engagement with His Word: reading, meditating, applying His eternal wisdom to our daily lives of spiritual leadership.
Spiritual leaders need to seek God more than they seek ministry. Their first priority everyday should be to know God more, to follow Him more wholeheartedly, to grow in their knowledge of Him.
God may have called them to influence others for the sake of the gospel, but they know closeness to and obedience to God is the prize they are after. If Jesus isn’t the prize, you are running the wrong race.
2. TAKE IN MORE THAN YOU GIVE OUT
As spiritual leaders, we should seek inner growth of character, wisdom and obedience more than outer growth of ministry impact. Yes, we want both, but we need to watch closely that we are in the Word of God, reading good books, spending time around mentors, as well as watching the overall health of our soul, relationships and emotions more than we are giving out.
This can be tricky for Pastors who are preaching every week. Sundays come with surprising regularity. But simple ways to work toward this end would be:
- Set time for healthy growth habits once a week
- Plan growth time in your schedule just like you plan out your to-do list
- Schedule another pastor to preach once or twice a month in your place to give your more time for intake than giving out.
What we don’t want as spiritual leaders is to sound like broken records. Yes, we have specific gifts we will camp on, and we drip vision continually, but God forbid we preach on the same themes week after week because we aren’t growing. This is one reason why expository preaching is so beneficial. We move beyond our personal gifting, and into God’s abundant Word which covers areas we would never think to cover.
3. SET HEALTHY MARGINS
We must realize and admit that we cannot do everything. For everything we say “yes” to, we are inadvertently saying “no” to something else. So be careful what you say “yes” to. Try to say “yes” to more of the right stuff – stuff in your strength zone, stuff that only you can do, and then either delegate to other leaders, or say “no” when appropriate.
Margin in the life of the leader allows space for creativity to flourish, thinking and decision-making to be possible, helps highlight the important over the urgent, and keeps you enjoying life and leadership over the long haul.
For some of you, you need to do way less unimportant work. For others, you just need to plan an hour or two a day where nothing is scheduled, and be mindful at how much overcrowding you are doing on your daily task list (does it overflow into all hours of the day, everyday? Are you keeping healthy expectations for how much you can accomplish each day?)
At some point, you have to happily put your unfinished work down until tomorrow, and head home to be fully present with, and fully enjoy your family.
4. ESTABLISH HEALTHY RHYTHMS
It is not good to go through life and leadership always in 5th gear. We need to be mindful of our exhaustion and motivation levels, and refill our tank with rest, connection with others, and healthy rhythms so we can be effective spiritual leadership for the long haul.
There will be seasons that are busier than others, and in those times we need to watch for and guard our rhythms (healthy habits, time with family, etc)
There will be seasons that will be slower than others, and in those moments we should not wish them by, but soak in rest to get ready for the next stage of the journey.
5. FIND HEALTHY OUTLETS FOR STRESS
We are often slow to realize we need a break, or are living at an unhealthy pace. As spiritual leaders, we need to live out what we believe and teach. This is our greatest test.
As stress builds, and work hurls at us at a consistently overwhelming pace, we can find ourselves exhausted, discouraged, not fully processing pain or rejection, and we need healthy, godly outlets for the daily stresses of spiritual leadership, otherwise we may find ourselves in unhealthy or ungodly outlets.
More than a decade ago, a pastor in Colorado told us their story about how they were running on all cylinders for an unrealistic period of time. Their spiritual tank was overflowing, but their relational, physical and emotional tanks were near empty, and this pastor found themselves secretly wanting to drive off a mountain. We must be mindful of these tanks in our lives. It is not enough to simply fill our spiritual tank – God in His Word has also called us to community, to steward our bodies, and to rest, rhythms and margin.
Exercise, vacation, true days off, processing pain in prayer, godly friends with whom we can process life and ministry, de-cluttering, simplifying life, eating healthy-nutritious food, deep breathing, drinking enough water – all of these things contribute to healthy living and healthy outlets for those in spiritual leadership. We need to come back to them often, and continually review where our soul and emotions are at.
There are times when we simply need to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” We can’t control everything, and life and people sometimes bring great pain. But we need God’s help and healthy outlets to endure hardship, process pain, and forgive people who hurt us.
6. ADMIT YOUR WEAKNESSES
Most people who follow you for a given period of time already know some of your flaws and weaknesses, but it pays big dividends for a leader to admit where they fail, where they went wrong, and where they are weak.
I knew a leader in the past who was amazingly gifted, but was never willing to admit their weaknesses. They always wanted to cover up weaknesses, and wouldn’t let people in. If this leader would’ve simply admitted their flaws, and know they were loved in spite of them, they would’ve been able to build a powerful and lasting team.
When a spiritual leader apologizes, or admits their weaknesses, they gain incredible amounts of credibility with their team.
I’m a very trusting person by nature. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that just about everybody talks a big game, but spiritual leaders who want to make an impact must be people who “watch their life and doctrine carefully” and “don’t think more highly of themselves than they ought, but rather with sober judgement.”
Spiritual leadership is less about how spiritual you sound, and more about keeping your word when it hurts, doing things for people who can do nothing for you, and watching for how subtly you undermine your leadership by saying one thing and doing another. Guard yourself, and grow in Christ to become more and more a spiritual leader with true character worth following.
7. EMBODY WHAT YOU WANT PEOPLE TO DO
As a leader, you don’t coach people to go where you have not gone. You need to call people to where you are.
Dave Ferguson recently stated in the 5 Leadership Questions podcast: “If everyone else lived the way I’m living, would we accomplish the mission?” That questions burns. This means, stop just talking big, and start living big – living to the full obedience potential God has called you to as a spiritual leader.
Don’t just tell people to pray. You seek God with a new vigor.
Don’t just tell people to love their family. You grow in graciousness to yours.
Don’t just tell people to reach the world. You show hospitality to a neighbor and live out the gospel.
Don’t just tell people to give. You sacrifice something important to you, and help the poor.
Our effectiveness as spiritual leaders is intrinsically linked to embodying what we want our people to do, and then sharing our successes and failures with them. We go together or we go nowhere at all.
8. TAKE PEOPLE WITH YOU
It should go without saying, but if you are a spiritual leader, your number one priority is to take people with you, not go on a walk all by yourself.
This means you need to constantly be meeting people where they are, and doing your best to communicate with clarity the next steps to take.
You can’t be 10 steps ahead, pointing people in unrealistic directions. You need to meet people where they are, and discover the next step together. This also means people need to have buy-in. When they help write the script, they become part of the story.
Stop telling people to reach the whole world, and begin dreaming about how God could use each of you to reach one person with the gospel.
Stop telling people to pray all day, and start casting the vision to dedicate time each week to personal prayer. (After all, prayer is addicting).
Stop telling people to be missionaries on the other end of the world, and start looking across the street.
Big vision is fine, but small steps are needed. You can see your effectiveness as a spiritual leader by whether or not people are actually tracking with you. If you sense a gap here, do your best to come back and meet people where they are and help them take the next step.