The 3 Main Roles of Spiritual Leaders

Last Sunday evening, I had the privilege to meet with nine men from our church who are sensing a call into pastoral ministry. God is working in each of their lives. They are growing in their personal relationship with Jesus. They have a desire for people to come to faith in Christ. They are serving the Lord in ministries, impacting the lives of others spiritually in a positive way.

The Bible gives us guidance on the main roles of spiritual leaders. We find three terms in the New Testament – elder, shepherd, and overseer – that are used interchangeably to refer to the same church leaders. Here is one example:

1 Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you: 2 Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4)

It’s important to realize this: God desires that all of the followers of Jesus be involved in ministering to others in the ways that pastors and other spiritual leaders minister. The spiritual leaders simply lead the way.

Role #1: Provide spiritual care. The word “shepherd” (v2) teaches spiritual leaders to care for those that they lead with the same attitude and skill that shepherds use when caring for sheep, in the same ways that Jesus cares for all of us (v4). Feed them spiritually with God’s Word, care for them when they are hurting, rescue them with they are in danger, and guide them skillfully on paths that are good for them.

Role #2: Provide spiritual wisdom. The term “elder” (v1) indicates that spiritual leaders give sound guidance and practical wisdom. And the reason that all spiritual leaders can do this regardless of their chronological age is because their wisdom is drawn from the teaching of the Bible. When you seek advice from your pastor or another spiritual leader in your church, they should not give you their opinion. They should help you discover what the Bible says about your situation.

Role #3: Provide spiritual leadership. We learn from the Bible that spiritual leaders are to be “overseeing” (v2) the work of ministry. This means that they literally “look over” things. This indicates a managing, administrative role that pastors and spiritual leaders have. They lead people, manage budgets, oversee ministries, and more.

One important thing to remember: God did not call pastors and other spiritual leaders to do all of the work of the ministry. There is too much work to be done. He calls us all to serve Him! What a amazing privilege, to serve the Creator of the universe and impact the lives of others. Wow.

Spiritual leaders, I implore you: lead the way. Provide spiritual care, spiritual wisdom and spiritual leadership. Inspire, encourage and equip all of the people who are following you to be all that God created them to be!

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