The military boasts of its ability to build leaders “from the ground up.” But God is interested in building leaders from Heaven down.
Jesus Himself exercised the downward mobility that modeled the highest form of spiritual leadership (Philippians 2:5–8). And His Holy Spirit now indwells our hearts, enabling us to lead by serving.
Servant leadership begins with grace and continues with grace.
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.—2 Peter 3:18
And how is this grace exercised in the life of a spiritual leader?
The Grace of God’s Preeminence
A heart of grace rejects idolatry—in any form.
Idolatry is the dedication of our love, affection, and allegiance to any person, object, pursuit, or pleasure in place of, apart from, or above our love and loyalty to God.
Yes, it’s a long definition; but it’s also a weighty sin. Especially considering how easily we turn God’s gifts into personal idols. A spouse or child, job or ministry, habit or hobby, material possessions, monetary wealth, financial security—all of these, though not inherently sinful, can become idols to a heart empty of God’s grace.
For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace…—Hebrews 13:9
Is your heart established in grace? Or is there a person, object, pursuit, or pleasure in your life vying for Christ’s rightful place?
The Grace of Humility
Perhaps the most pervasive idol facing all of us is the one within us—the god of self. When self is on the throne, we may even obey God; but we reserve the right to choose, depending on what fits with our personal ambitions or desires. But a heart of grace resists this pride.
Allowing pride in our lives is equivalent to rejecting grace, for God only gives grace to the humble.
But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.—James 4:6
Another manifestation of pride is expecting to be recognized or served by those we lead rather than seeking to be the servant of all.
Remember, Christ repudiates status seeking. Jesus Himself shed status and lifted a towel. Perhaps no test so accurately measures pride and humility as that of seeking unappreciated and unrequired service to those you lead.
The Grace of Weakness
God is not attracted to our strength—but our weakness. It is our weakness that makes room for his strength. It is our weakness that best displays His strength. It is our weakness that helps us to humbly receive His strength.
It was through Paul’s weakness that he found the sufficiency of God’s grace.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.—2 Corinthians 12:9
Why is it then that we try so hard to hide our weaknesses? When we are slow to recognize or acknowledge our needs, we manifest pride and cheat ourselves of the opportunity to receive God’s grace.
The Grace of Worship
The key to effective public leadership is a genuine private walk with God. We are not ready to lead until we have worshipped.
Too often, we assume leadership roles with a proud self-sufficiency that assumes God is honored to have us on His team.
Joshua learned the opposite is true. The night before he launched the campaign against Jericho, the Lord met him. When Joshua asked, “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” the Lord answered, in effect, “Joshua, I’m not on your side. You are on My side.”
And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant?—Joshua 5:13–14
Grace-filled spiritual leaders worship God—personally, privately, regularly.
The Grace of Joy in Service
The New Testament symbol of leadership is not a scepter, but a towel. A servant leader is not a king, but a shepherd.
He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.—John 13:4–5
Paul saw his role in ministry as a servant—a helper of others.
Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand… For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.—2 Corinthians 1:24; 4:5
Simply put, a heart of grace rejoices in serving others.
Servant leadership can only be sustained by the grace of God. It is grace that gives us the desire to serve others. It is grace that gives us the wisdom to lead. It begins with us experiencing the grace of God in our hearts and then graciously ministering to others as we lead.
Look again at the list above. Do these five traits characterize your life? Your leadership?
We all have room to grow. May that growth come as we “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).