How to Lead by the Spirit

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God places greater demands on those who serve in positions of authority. Jesus' example reveals three important marks of effective spirit-driven leadership. 

In September 1904, a group of students gathered in Newcastle-Emlyn, Wales, to plead with God to send revival. A young man, Evan Roberts, took up that cry and became the primary person to spearhead a spiritual awakening that emptied jails and affected the skeptics and affluent in London.

The movement's impact expanded beyond the borders of Wales and directly influenced Pandita Ramabai in India, bringing brokenness and renewal to her orphans at Mukti. It also inspired Frank Bartleman and Joseph Smale in Los Angeles, who were praying for the "promised Holy Ghost."

Roberts was only 23 when God began to use him in a remarkable way, promising him 100,000 souls. History verifies that God kept that promise.

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Evan Roberts dropped off the scene almost as quickly as he had taken up the revival mantle. After serving an exhausting six months at the forefront of the movement, Roberts went away for some much needed rest and refreshment.

Initially this respite was scheduled to last 10 days, but Roberts never returned to the revival circuit. During those days of waiting upon God he received revelation that he could accomplish more through a life devoted to intercession.

Though his decision to walk in obedience to that revelation has been pondered and questioned by students of revival movements, it does not seem that strange when compared to the biblical record. For example, Philip the evangelist was at the forefront of the Samaritan revival when he suddenly vanished in order to obey the Spirit's promptings to witness to one man, an Ethiopian eunuch (see Acts 8:26-40).

In Mark's gospel we read that after the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, the house was inundated with the sick and demonized seeking healing and hope. Early the next morning, Peter excitedly met Jesus with the news, "'Everyone is looking for You'" (1:29-37, NKJV).

Unaffected by the crowds seeking Him, Jesus simply said, "'Let us go into the next towns'" (Mark 1:38). Jesus' sensitivity to the Father's will, honed through His early morning prayer encounter, resulted in an awareness that He was needed elsewhere (see v. 35).

A brief glimpse into Christ's life reveals that He lived in humility and dependence on the Father and was motivated by a desire to please Him. Mark 1:11 says that at the time of Jesus' baptism "a voice came from heaven, 'You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'" Yet in the next verse the Scripture says, "Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness."

This is the first use of "Spirit-driven" terminology. What a strange school of leadership Jesus was sent to--a barren wilderness of scorching sun, scorpions and serpents. But it became a proving ground in which the Word became His sword and shield and resulted in spiritual authority and a ministry rooted in kingdom power.

These models serve as lessons for those who desire to lead others and minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean to be a leader who is formed by the Spirit and living in step with the Father?

Looking at Christ's life, as well as at biblical and historical examples, reveals three marks of Spirit-driven leadership.

Leading others in the power of the Spirit means first of all living a life of profound humility. Just as Jesus said, "'The Son can do nothing of Himself'" (John 5:19), so the Spirit-driven leader says, "Without You, I am nothing and can do nothing" (see John 15:5).

If Jesus modeled the life of utter dependence on the Father, how can we do less than take the steps of obedience and humility that result in a ministry of spiritual depth and power? It is deeply humbling to realize that we are nothing and can do nothing apart from the grace and mercy of God and the help of the Spirit. Isaiah's admission, "All that we have accomplished, You have done for us" (26:12, NIV), acts as both admonition and reality check when we are tempted to take credit for ourselves.

The Spirit-driven leader is not only a person who is dependent on the Spirit for direction and daily help but also one who cares for his soul. For how can those who care for the souls of others attend to their needs if they do not stay focused and in touch with the great Shepherd of the sheep?

Those who are attentive to the Father's work on a personal level are also sensitive to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and make it a point to keep short accounts with God (see Ps. 66:18-19). Because they realize they are also people in need, at the nudging of the Holy Spirit they are willing to stop and admit failure, repent, and receive the forgiveness of God.

Spirit-driven leaders guard their quiet time and are tenacious about setting boundaries around their time set aside for spouses and family. They are aware of the seasons of the Spirit, and they understand the necessity of times of pruning, so that greater fruitfulness can be experienced; times of isolation, when the Spirit is strengthening them for the new season; and times of passion, when the harvest is ripe.

Those leaders who are led by the Spirit equally embrace every season because each season is ordained by a wise and loving Father. They recognize the fact that in addition to the habitual observance of the Sabbath, there is also a need for personal times of retreat and waiting upon God in order to clearly comprehend what the Spirit is doing with regard to internal spiritual formation.

The Spirit-driven leader plays to an audience of One and lives for His applause. There is a deepening sense of the pleasure of the Father and an overwhelming desire to please Him and Him alone. Accompanying this is an awareness of not being hounded by time but instead walking in stride with the Father and completing those tasks that flow out of His agenda and will.

These three qualities, when energized and shaped by the Spirit of God, foster a life that is lived in a measured and purposeful way and that ultimately fulfills God's destiny. It is a life that desires to please the Father, values time spent with Him and seeks to grow more intimate with Him. It is a life of dependence on the Spirit with sensitivity displayed toward His convictions and promptings.

Leaders who are thus led by the Spirit experience seasons of renewal and revitalization because they live close to the "rivers of water" and, therefore, are fruitful and prosperous (Ps. 1:3, NKJV). These men and women profoundly impact history because they know that they are on assignment and in step with the flow of the Spirit's current as He ushers in fresh seasons of harvest. The Spirit-driven leader affects the community and makes a difference in the lives of others because he or she lives in touch with Jesus, in tune with the Spirit and in time with the seasons mandated by the Father.

Jeannette Storms, D.Min. is a member of the faculty at The King's College and Seminary in California and is a former pastor and missionary.

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