If leadership is at its most fundamental level influence then one can readily identify Ezra as someone who was a very significant leader in the Old Testament most especially on spiritual or Biblical matters. Ezra is not your typical leader in position or title. He is a “ready scribe in the Book of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). Yet the Bible also indicates that he led about 5000 exiles to return to Jerusalem from Babylon after the captivity (Easton 1996, n.p.). Although God did not choose to preserve the details of the journey to Jerusalem one can readily imagine the administrative leadership necessary for such a journey. Yet the narrative ignores this aspect of Ezra and the Holy Spirit has preserved a record of Ezra as a leader of a revival in Jerusalem. The spiritual leader has as his primary objective the desire to influence people toward experiencing God. Ezra provides a model of a spiritual leader whose life can be studied for example and principle for application in the twenty-first century. With the revelation of Jesus in the New Testament and the religious pluralism of this century perhaps a spiritual leader should be further defined as a leader who desires to lead his people into a full and complete relationship with the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Towns suggests that spiritual leaders work in the business world as corporate chaplains, in colleges and universities as chancellors and deans, on the road as revivalists and in the local congregations as the senior pastor (Towns 2007, 111-112). At this point, it is important to distinguish between leaders who must be spiritual or have a spiritual component to their life and those who have as their primary focus spiritual matters. Throughout chapter sixteen, Towns seems to blur between emphasizing the necessity of all leaders walking with God and those who are, in fact, spiritual leaders. Perhaps, Paul makes more of a distinction in 1st Timothy 5.17 between “elders who rule well” and those who “labor in preaching and teaching.” Elders who labor in preaching and teaching are spiritual leaders. All Christian leaders need to be spiritual leaders to a great degree, but the Christian leader whose primary function is to labor in preaching and teaching is not the same as the Christian leader who owns and manages his own construction company (or similar entity) with regard to spiritual leadership. The world’s growing anti-absolute truth culture makes it distinctively harder to be a spiritual leader in the corporate world including the Department of Defense and other governmental organization, whose regulatory restrictions interfere with a message of “repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
One of the clear distinctions between the spiritual leader and the leader who is Christian or practices his faith as a leader is the need for divine blessing upon the spiritual leader’s work. Obviously, both leaders would prefer God’s blessing, but the teaching pastor cannot truly accomplish his purpose without God. This is because of the nature of the work of a spiritual leader. According to Dr. David Reid, in the article “Spiritual Leadership,”
The reason for this is that there is an added dimension to spiritual leadership; it requires more than dedicated natural abilities. Spiritual leadership, simply defined, is God-given spiritual ability and responsibility to lead God's people. This all-important dimension is a "must" for effective leadership in any Christian service (Reid, 1984, n.p.).
A spiritual leader needs those who he is working with to be converted and actively pursuing sanctification—both of which are impossibilities without the hand of God working (John 1.12-13; Titus 2:11-12). The spiritual leader is completely dependent upon God’s grace.
Clearly an absolute critical distinction of a spiritual leader modeled by Ezra is the leader’s skill in the Word of God. It is impossible to overstate this point. Two leaders can build a large church but the leader who labors in the Word of God is building the work of God. The spiritual leader’s job is to communicate truth from the Bible to people in a way that challenges them to experience God and all He has for their lives. This is precisely why spiritual leaders must be on guard with their application of secular leadership principles, theories and philosophies. The reader of Nehemiah is introduced to Ezra in the midst of a spiritual crisis in chapter 8. Ezra is described as a scribe and he bring the Law of Moses before the people. The spiritual leader preaches and teaches from the Bible. He is not a story teller and he does not entertain his people with clever illustrations and cute ideas. Like Ezra, he is on the platform to present the Word of God. Nehemiah 8:8 truly captures the heart of the spiritual leader’s mission. Spiritual leaders read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and they give the sense and cause their people to understand what they are reading. This is the difference. The spiritual leader has one standard, the Bible, for his guidebook, under the influence and direction of God the Holy Spirit.
John MacArthur addresses this problem in The Book on Leadership; he addresses the issue of twentieth century leadership books which show how “entrepreneurial and administrative techniques used at Google.com or Starbucks” are modeled for the spiritual leader (MacArthur 2004, vii). He continues, “The authors of the book occasionally try to insert a biblical proof-text or two to buttress some of the principles they teach, but for the most part, they uncritically accept whatever seems to produce ‘success’ as a good model for the church leaders to imitate” (Ibid.). God’s spiritual leaders must reject the application of this in their ministries. The message of Luke 13:3 and 5 is still valid for the country and culture the spiritual leader is serving; he leads people to “repent.” He is God’s servant leader who has a passion to address the soul of man. This revivalist or teaching pastor has embraced Christ warning that a man has gained nothing if he gains the world but loses his own soul (Mt. 16.26).
Towns’ use of Henry Blackaby’s principals for experiencing God are designed for every follower of God to experience God. Thus Towns is communicating not principles which guide the spiritual leader in doing his work, but moving him to a point to become a spiritual leader. These principles are principles the spiritual leader hopes his people, for whom he is trying to influence toward God, experience. He wants people to realize God is always at work around them and God desires to have a loving relationship with them in real and personal sense (Towns 2007, 117). Towns does not put sufficient emphasis on exactly what Ezra does with the people. Ezra stands in the gap and calls people to repentance. This is what makes him a spiritual leader.
He is an expert in the law of God. He and his staff have the mission in Nehemiah 8 of giving the people the sense of the law and causing them to understand what they are hearing. In Nehemiah, the law had been ignored and the people were ignorant of God’s word. So Ezra is called in to take over for Nehemiah and lead a national revival of sorts. In Nehemiah 9, the people are confessing sin, repenting, and in verse 38 they make a covenant with God to obey his law. This is what must be modeled and learned from Ezra as an example of a spiritual leader worth emulating.
Ezra 7:10 provides a theme verse for the spiritual leader. The spiritual leader must prepare his heart to seek the Word of God, “and do it, and to teach it” to his people. John MacArthur has some strong advice for the spiritual leader in his work Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically; he strongly stresses that the spiritual leader “must model every aspect of spiritual leadership” for his people (MacArthur 2005, 310). Ezra strove to know the Word of God and “do it” (emphasis is mine). In the same work, George Zemek writes, “An often neglected part of leading a local church is the element of providing an exemplary life-style for the flock to follow” (Ibid., 214). It appears the Nike advertising slogan of “Just Do It!” applies to spiritual leaders more than anyone. Ezra’s righteous personal lifestyle was critical to his ability to call the people toward establishing a right covenantal relationship with God. In Developing the Leader within You, Maxwell says the “most important ingredient of leadership is integrity” and certainly there is not a single type of leader for whom this is more important than the spiritual leader (Maxwell 1993, 35). Furthermore, he writes, “when I have integrity, my words and my deeds match up” (Ibid.). For the spiritual leader his words and his deeds must match up or he is labeled a hypocrite and unlike any other type of leader he is ineffective. Thus, Paul tells Timothy that spiritual leaders must be above reproach or found to be “blameless” (1 Timothy 3.2).
The book of James contains a strong warning for any man who desires to be a spiritual leader. In spite of the fact that Paul calls this office of spiritual leader “a good work,” James instructs that those who teach “will be judged with a greater strictness” (1 Tim. 3:1; James 3:2). Men like Ezra who knew God and knew His Word are called to live to a higher standard in order to influence others toward God. The apostles were remarkable spiritual leaders whose influence is described as those who “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). As a model for all spiritual leaders, Luke provides a remarkable summary of the message of the spiritual leader in Acts 20:21. He summarizes their message as one of “repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Even greater than Ezra and second only to the Lord, Himself, is the Apostle Paul who was a great spiritual leader. His example for all spiritual leaders is remarkable. The heart of the spiritual leader is to “see Christ formed” in those he is serves. Like Ezra, Paul has a remarkable commitment toward those who he is called to shepherd. To those at the church of Galatia he writes that he “is again in the anguish of childbirth” because Christ is not being formed in them (Gal. 4:19). The goal of the spiritual leader is to see Christ formed in those who he leads. The pastor must be both the spiritual leader that Ezra and Paul model and the servant leader that Christ most perfectly modeled for all.
Easton, M. 1996. Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
MacArthur, John. 2005. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
MacArthur, John. 2004. The Book of Leadership. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Maxwell, John C. 1993. Developing the Leader within You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Reid, David. 1984. Growing Christian Ministries. Spiritual Leadership. http://www.growingchristians.org/dfgc/leader.htm [accessed June 2, 2009].
Towns, Elmer L. 2007. Biblical Models for Leadership. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.