There are several definitions for “spiritual leader” and the term brings to mind different things to different people. Some think of a spiritual leader as a sort of guru. Others think of him/her as a life coach, one who can guide others through the problems and trials of life. The Bible describes a spiritual leader as one who possesses the spiritual gift of leadership, the ability to lead others as a direct result of the gifting received from, and performed by the power of, the Holy Spirit.
The biblical spiritual leader understands that his/her leadership is one of servanthood. The spiritual leader leads by example, as Jesus did, who said He came to serve others, not to be served by them (Matthew 20:25-28). The spiritual leader recognizes that he is first and foremost a servant. Jesus modeled the true servant style of leadership, when He, the Lord incarnate, bent down and washed the feet of His disciples, teaching them that the true measure of a leader is one who first serves others (John 13:12-17).
The spiritual leader also recognizes that his role in the church is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12), and he concerns himself with doing just that. Spiritual leaders know that their main task is to sanctify the people of God and their prayer is the same as Jesus’ prayer to the Father: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Like Jesus, the spiritual leader knows that the Word of God is the food of the soul and that it alone sanctifies. Rather than acquiescing to the “felt needs” of the people he leads, he shepherds others to maturity in the faith by speaking the truth in love so that those he leads “will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
Finally, the spiritual leader is concerned with the souls of those he leads. This is not to say that he cares nothing for the physical needs of his people. But his primarily responsibility is leading them to spiritual maturity so that they will be fully equipped and “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).