Leadership, Vision, and the Holy Spirit

For many years, I was a confessed “leadershipaholic.”  With a desire to be as effective and influential as possible for Christ, I devoured all the latest and greatest expertise from Christian and non-Christian gurus.  Naturally, I hoped to be more respected, productive, and validated as a “leader.”

I was also a “visionaholic”, working hard to borrow all the best ideas from other successful ministries so I could inspire the congregation with the bigger and better ideas the Lord had “laid on my heart” in order for our church to continue to grow our numbers and expand our impact.  Common wisdom stated that the bigger the dream, the clearer the path, and the more long-term the plans – the better the leader.

Uncertain Assumptions

Over time, my assumptions about vision and leadership began to disintegrate.  In spite of the cultural love affair with these concepts, usually viewed as essential for ecclesiastical success, I felt significant unrest as I read my Bible.  (The Bible has a way of dismantling our pre-conceived notions.) I finally had to admit that the Bible has very little explicit teaching on the Western ideas of “leadership” and “vision” with which we are so fascinated.

Leadership and Vision in the Bible

I recently did a search of the word “leadership” in the NKJV, ESV, NASB, and NIV versions of the Bible.  The word appears in Exodus 33:1, referring once to the leadership of Aaron and Moses.  It appears in a prophecy in Psalm 109:8 (NIV only), referring to the replacement of Judas, and is then quoted in Acts 1:20 as they actually replaced the defected disciple.  Only the NIV mentions it again in Romans 12:8, within a list of six other spiritual gifts, where it says, “…if it is leadership, let him govern diligently.”  Similar discoveries occur when you search for “leader” and “lead”.  It is mentioned incidentally (particularly in the Old Testament) and rarely in the New Testament.  The Bible is virtually silent on our modern-day notions of Type-A, high-powered, skill-based influence.

Over the years, I often felt compelled to give a “vision” sermon.  This word is referred to, largely in the Old Testament and Acts, as an actual unannounced, unanticipated, supernatural revelation from God or one of His angels.  The word never occurs in any teaching passage in the Epistles.  Still, we work hard to script a motivational long-term picture of where the church needs to go, typically using some verses out of context to do so.  Seldom is it supernatural.  Rarely is it the result of extraordinary corporate prayer and fasting.  Typically, it is the product of borrowed ideas from other “successful” leaders and is prompted by pressure from other type-A congregants who are imposing a business model on the dynamic life of the church of Jesus Christ.

His Sufficient Spirit

I am increasingly convinced that the devil doesn’t care what we do to replace the sufficiency, power, and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, as long as we replace Him with something.  The more culturally successful, subtle, effective, and clever the replacement – the more dangerous it can become.  I would suggest that our obsession with “leadership” and “vision” has replaced our pure and passionate reliance on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  In our day and age, we view the Holy Spirit as an “app” to download along the way to enhance our plans and programs.  In reality, the Holy Spirit is the operating system of all that we do.  If we want a supernaturally empowered life and ministry – and an eternally significant destiny – we must discern this subtle but important distinction.

Finding the heart and will of the Holy Spirit cannot be assumed, especially in our fast-paced society filled with countless distractions and alternatives.  Our challenge is that living and serving in the prompting, wisdom, and power of the Holy Spirit requires us to slow down and pay full attention, often for extended periods of time.  It requires self-emptying and the full surrender of our predetermined plans, assumptions, and strategies.  This is not easy when our proud flesh is hard-wired for productivity, affirmation, and a sense of earthly significance.

Still, the promise of the Spirit’s work compels us to a focused and full reliance on His leadership and inspiration.  The Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16), which is the sufficient source of wisdom for aspiring spiritual influencers. He is the indwelling Guide (John 16:13), Teacher (John 14:26), and Revealer of Truth (John 14:17; 16:13). He is our Comforter and Counselor and produces true leadership character in believers by the fruit of His life (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Power of His Presence

Years ago, I did a thorough study of the lives of those throughout the Bible whom God used powerfully.  The single common denominator was the phrase, “the Lord was with Him.” This sense of the Lord’s presence and power transcended all the secondary factors of skill, personality, and training.  This was also Jesus’ final promise and reassurance: “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20).  This is a strong reminder that His presence, now living in us by the person of the Holy Spirit, is our sufficiency for influence in this world.

A New Testament Understanding of “Vision”

We’ve become accustomed to vision by “imitation”, which amounts to motivating people based on the ideas and models of other ministries.  We even embrace vision by “intimidation”, which is the approach of a leader “hearing from God” and imposing his revelation on everyone else based on some mystical and special hotline to Heaven. 

Vision by “inspiration” is seen in the model of Acts 13:1-3, where the leaders were emptied of personal agendas and simply fasted and ministered to the Lord in community, waiting on the affirmed direction of the Holy Spirit.  As one friend of mine states, they “stayed one step behind the Lord and one step ahead of the people.”  I’ve come to believe that the Lord entrusts His most fruitful plans to those who embrace the most focused passion. 

When it comes to “leadership” and “vision”, this most focused passion is seeking Him, His presence, His power, and His plans as He chooses to reveal them to a praying and abiding people, for His church and His glory.

Copyright © 2014 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.