Leading by the Spirit
As we approach Pentecost 2021, I thought I would focus today on leadership as a function of the Holy Spirit’s work in and through us. One of my life Scriptures is found in John 5:19-20:
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.”
What John Wimber pointed out back in the 1970s and 1980s about this passage has stuck with me through over 30 years of life and ministry – Jesus was so effective in what He did because He ONLY did what He saw the Father was doing. Whatever the Father was already doing, Jesus joined Him in it. His ability to be led by the Holy Spirit in every situation made miraculous, powerful, fruitful ministry possible.
We can see how Jesus made this work in Mark 1:35-39:
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Jesus got His marching orders and real-time spiritual awareness by living in constant communion with the Father through prayer. In this instance, He even walks away from an outbreak of spiritual revival towards what the Father had for Him next! In fact, when you read the Gospel narrative, Jesus moves from one place of communion with the Father to another and in between does miracles! His focus is not on what He may see in the natural, but the bigger-picture leading of the Spirit. He was effective because of His relationship with God realized in and through the Person of the Holy Spirit. The wonderful Trinitarian blessing of 2 Corinthians 13:14 gives us insight into the reality of this:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
The koinōnia, the fellowship, literally means the participation in or with the Spirit. Through the indwelling of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, we have communion with God and participate with Him in His mission. That’s why Mike Perkinson and I hardwired into our Rule of Life two very critical affirmation statements about the Holy Spirit:
"I will practice daily the presence of the Holy Spirit through reflective prayer"
"I will depend on the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in my life and ministry"
It is our communion with God and our trust in His ability to lead us through both life and mission that genuinely empowers us. This is where Jesus was at. Practicing the presence of the Spirit and trusting Him for real-time, real-world guidance in everyday life and individual ministry situations is essential for Kingdom living. This is what Jesus did. Without the Holy Spirit, we are both lost and powerless. For those who lead, such leadership and empowerment by the Holy Spirit are mission-critical as we endeavor to lead others in Christ. Leadership without the Spirit is the leadership of blind guides and powerless fools. Lead out of our own hearts and minds, as well-intentioned as it may be, will not bring people life in Christ but instead bring them death.
As with all things, Jesus is our model for life in the Spirit. In Luke’s account of Jesus beginning His public ministry, we see Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit (3:21-22), full of the Spirit and led by the Spirit (4:1), and functioning in the power of the Holy Spirit (4:14). He testifies to this factor Himself when He comes to Nazareth, where He quotes from Isaiah 61:1-2a, indicating that this passage speaks of Him:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).
The anointing of the Spirit, which Jesus claimed was not just positional, identifying Him as the Messiah, but was actual, in that the leading and empowering of the Spirit was demonstrated through Him. The actual demonstration WAS the authentication of His Messianic role.
Now here is why this is important to us: most people think that Jesus did the works of power, which He did because of His divinity. But that is not accurate. He did what He did by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Incarnation, He left the “divine prerogative” behind – His power – while retaining His divine nature. Paul points this out in Philippians 2:5-11 when he is instructing the church on how to walk together:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The key phrase here is what I have emphasized in the text. The term “a thing to be grasped” literally means not taking what is by right your own. In His humanity, Jesus left the power but kept the nature. He did this for us so that we, too, might walk in the leading and empowerment of the Spirit.
Hence Pentecost, God pouring out His Spirit on His Church. It is in Christ that we enter into His baptism with the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit with which we are filled, led, and empowered for life and mission. Indeed, Jesus indicated in John 20:21-22 that in sending us, He was doing it in the same way that the Father sent Him – in the Spirit:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Regrettably, many today lead the Church in their own human strength, with human understanding devoid of the Spirit’s guidance and influence. Even their attempts at interpreting the Scriptures is without the Spirit’s illumination, ending up with anthropocentric and aberrant teaching, which has the effect of leading people away from God’s Kingdom. For some leaders, there is a simple lack of understanding of the Spirit and His role. An incorrect or incomplete understanding of the Holy Spirit and His work produces certain spiritual blindness that limits the knowledge of Christ – and how to live His Kingdom way. All of this has a direct impact upon their leadership of others.
I have always taken the Scripture at face value – I believe what it says about the Holy Spirit and my need for Him to be the active agent of God in my life and ministry. Without Him, we are lost, and without His leadership, those who seek to lead others represent a danger to the Body of Christ. I believe in and trust in His ability to speak to me through the Scripture and in my spirit as I daily engage with Him, maintaining both fellowship and communion. In Him, I can see the “big picture” for my leadership of the flock as a whole and the “real-time” insight I need in specific ministry situations. I just want to do what the Father is doing!
My encouragement for you, dear leader, is that you will seek His baptism, be continually filled with Him, be led by Him, and always be empowered by Him as you seek to lead others towards Christ and His Kingdom. Seek Him, trust His ability to speak more than your ability to hear – and follow Him into the Kingdom future which He has for you and those whom you lead.