Basic Principles of Spiritual Leadership

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principles of spiritual leadership7 principles of spiritual leadership

When some of the Lord’s disciples became interested in receiving positions of leadership Jesus taught his disciples some basic principles that determine how God distributes leadership. His answer to the mother of James and John provide basic principles in seed-form that are vital to understand and properly apply in the ministry of the gospel.

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20-28)

When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to seat each of them on either side of His throne in the kingdom, she was thinking of a position of dominion and leadership. Evidently, they only wanted a position and status of leadership. We can see the true essence of spiritual leadership in the Lord’s answer.

Leadership is predetermined (v. 21)

The woman asked the Lord to grant her something that he was not willing to guarantee. It is necessary for the Lord to determine, to grant. We do not choose if we will lead or not. We merely obey the call of God. We are not volunteers but called servants.

Leadership is a prepared position (v. 23)

The answer that Jesus gave is that the Father has prepared someone for each position. For God to prepare us means that we have the tools, the gifts and the ability necessary to develop the function of leadership to which He calls us.

Leadership requires a price to be paid (v. 22)

Each position of leadership has its own price. You will never reach the purpose if you fail to pay the price.

The laws of price:

  • There is a price tag for everything that has value
  • You can achieve anything depending on the price that you are willing to pay
  • Not everyone pays the same price. Each one of us has a different cross to carry
  • The more you want something the higher price you will pay
  • If you complain of the price, you will probably give up before you pay it
  • Your talents do not determine your success in life, but the price that you are willing to pay to reach it
  • You will be criticized for paying the price
  • The price never goes down. Each time you are successful the next challenge will be more difficult, the criticisms will be more severe, the tests stronger and the price higher
  • The real price will increase and the perception of the price will decrease when your desire to improve grows and become more and more intimate with God
  • All spiritual payment is made beforehand

Leadership is within every man (v. 24)

The fact that the other disciples became indignant shows the yearning for leadership that existed in all of them. Just as back then, today disciples become indignant with those who want to be great leaders. Jesus did not tell His disciples: “don’t try to be great because that is pride”. He did not say that their aspiration to be great was wrong. He just explained how to arrive, how to become a great leader.

God is pleased when his people desire leadership

We do not know why James and John were among the three closest disciples to Jesus. However we can suppose that one of the reasons was their desire to be great leaders.

This is a faithful saying: if a man desires the position of a Bishop, he desires a good work. (1 Timothy 3:1)

Leadership is not for your own benefit but for the benefit of others (v. 28)

To serve is to seek the interests of the person that you are serving. Therefore, the goal of the leader is not to take advantage of or profit from his followers, but to discover how to contribute to the fulfillment of the full potential of each follower.

Leadership is to fulfill the purpose of benefiting others (v. 28)

The way that the Lord served was by fulfilling the purpose of God. We serve the members of our cell when we serve God, and not the other way around. It would be difficult for someone to say that the Lord was serving His disciples by dying on the cross. However, Jesus served God on the cross by doing His will.

The natural results of this leadership are:

  • Authenticity (the authority comes from the authorization of those who are called)
  • Originality (God’s call is individual)
  • Genuine trust (based on the conviction that the one who calls is also the one who enables and equips)
  • Personal fulfillment (because the fulfillment comes when we fulfill the purpose)
  • Sense of value (because every call of God includes a purpose that has eternal implications)
  • Absence of competition (because of the uniqueness of the call of each one)
  • Absence of jealousy (because each person who has been called has his own value)
  • Absence of fear (because of the conviction of all of the above)


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adequate leadershipThree signs of adequate spiritual leadership

Any great endeavor either fails or succeeds because of leadership. Leadership is foundational and an adequate leadership is the key to success. We can express and describe the characteristics of an adequate leadership with the following equation widely used in some leadership materials and courses that helps us understand the equilibrium that must exist in the exercise of spiritual authority:

The equation for balanced authority

  • Position = character + gift + call + time

If we invert this equation we can also conclude that:

  • Position – character = irresponsibility
  • Position – gift = inefficiency
  • Position – call = violence
  • Position – time = immaturity and pride

An adequate position of authority demands the combination of these four factors. This is what God desires.


No man can adequately exercise authority without first having submitted to it. Lack of submission breeds confusion and imbalance. Therefore, it is necessary to understand this concept clearly. I have already presented definitions and examples of what submission is. Now I will suggest what it is not.

Submission is not annulment – submission is not an emotional conditioning in which a person annuls him or herself because of fear and rejection or by threats of retaliation. This is mere subservience.

Submission is not blind obedience – submission does not exclude the right to understand the situation. As I already suggested here, no man may demand unquestionable obedience. This does not mean that we only obey if we agree, but that the submission must always be conscious.

Submission is not bondage – true submission is never forced or demanded but is supported by responsibility and willingness. Not even God forces submission, because it must come from the heart.

Submission is not omission – many people motivated by fear use the strategy of silence and clam up for everything. Omission can mean indifference to the leader or repressed anger. Submission must be the fruit of a conscious and voluntary intention of the follower to do God’s will through the conviction given by the Holy Spirit.


The exercise of authority is proportional to the maturity of the follower, since it exists to protect him. We can perceive this in a clearer way when we understand the relationship of dependence, independence and interdependence between parents and children.

Dependence – In infancy, we are all totally dependent. The parents must care for the child and therefore they exercise greater authority.

Independence – In adolescence, we want to be independent. As an adolescent child begins to assume responsibility for himself, the demands of authority also decrease.

Interdependence – In adulthood we are independent. Here authority begins to exercise itself in a more subtle way, since both have reached the same level. The mature adult knows that he must obtain mutual cooperation to continue growing.

The goal of authority is to neither produce nor perpetuate dependence, but interdependence, where everyone works in harmony to fulfill the purpose for which they were created.


Sometimes our submission also demonstrates our spirituality. When we spontaneously decide to follow certain types of leaders that are outside God’s pattern, we reveal the reality of our heart Jeremiah prophesied that the prophets prophesied falsely, and the priests ruled by their own power; and God’s people loved to have it so. (Jeremiah 5:31). When we do not accept God ordained leaders, invariably we end up following foolish and libertine leaders. The responsibility for this error belongs to the follower as much as it does to the leader.

There are two very important principles with respect to this:

A church or a nation rises or falls upon its leadership. The leadership that we follow determines what we are. People may suffer the consequences of the sins and mistakes of their leaders, as happened with those who followed David, whose sin of numbering the people without God’s authorization, caused all the people to suffer (1 Chronicles 21:1-8). However, the reverse also is true: because of the faithfulness of the leader the people can be blessed. We see an example of this in the life of Moses when because of his intercession by asking God to spare the people or else blot his name out of the book of life; everyone was saved (Exodus 32:30-35). Therefore, we need to be very careful in the manner that we lead, because it determines who our followers are and what they will become.

The leadership limits spiritual growth. The leader is the limit of the people. If we are under a poor leadership in God, we will have little chance for growth. The majority of people will never go beyond the level of their leaders. In order for a church to grow, the leaders must grow first. In order for the church to change, the leader must change first.

An adequate leadership is one that is most similar to that of Jesus. Therefore, we must hold Him up as the model and choose leaders who also do this, because what we are and what we do is largely determined by our leaders and their leadership.