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The Holy Spirit’s Role in Leadership

It’s very easy in leadership to grow increasingly dependent on our own abilities and skills. This tendency exists in all arenas of leadership whether business, education, media, or the church. Because of this temptation, leaders often fail to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit in leadership.

Last year I studied the Holy Spirit’s role throughout the book of Acts. During the study, I began to understand the Holy Spirit’s role in leadership too. Unfortunately, some leaders view the Holy Spirit as spooky, weird, or even bizarre. The truth is, people are weird, not the Holy Spirit.

Robert Morris observes, people who are weird with the Holy Spirit were weird before they received the Holy Spirit…they’re just weird people. So regardless of how you view the Holy Spirit, if you want to fully embrace what the Spirit desires to do in you and through your leadership, you may need to unload your pre-conceived baggage first.

Francis Chan, author of Forgotten God, says it like this: “No matter what religious tradition you come from, you likely carry baggage and harbor stereotypes when it comes to the Holy Spirit. It’s going to require laying aside your baggage and stereotypes so you can be open to what God wants to teach you. Are you willing to do that?”

Regardless of what your baggage looks like, I want you to know that the book of Acts describes the Holy Spirit in very practical terms. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are six lessons on the Holy Spirit’s role in leadership that I gleaned from Acts. Each lesson is refreshingly practical and is accompanied by a question for reflection and application:

1.  The Holy Spirit is Active in Leadership Recruitment and Selection

Luke begins the book of Acts, “Dear Theophilus, in the first volume of this book I wrote on everything that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he said good-bye to the apostles, the ones he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven.” Jesus himself was guided by the Holy Spirit in selecting His leaders. That same pattern is continued throughout Acts.

  • The presence of the Holy Spirit was a qualifier for leadership when choosing seven leaders to care for widows (Acts 6:3-6).
  • The Holy Spirit guided the selection of two leaders-Saul and Barnabas-and commissioned them to preach the Gospel in Salamis (Acts 13:2-5).
  • The Holy Spirit chose and appointed leaders to shepherd the church. Acts 20:28 says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

Question: What does it look like for the Holy Spirit to guide your leadership recruitment and development process?

2. The Holy Spirit Empowers Leaders with Boldness

In Acts 4, the text acknowledges that Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke to the leaders. Peter and John were empowered by the Spirit with courage and boldness to speak unapologetic truth to the influential leaders of their day. Acts 4:13 records their response: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” This same boldness accompanied Stephen in Acts 6:9b: “These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.” The Holy Spirit empowers us to embrace courageous leadership.

Question: What bold leadership decisions do you need to make or actions do you need to take? Have you asked the Holy Spirit to empower you in this crucial leadership moment?

3. The Holy Spirit Brings Encouragement, Strength, and Peace in Leadership Storms

The church and its leaders experienced plenty of suffering and persecution. However, the Holy Spirit wasn’t absent during these trials.

  • The Holy Spirit was present when Stephen was stoned (Acts 7:54-56)
  • The Holy Spirit warned Paul about going to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4-14)
  • The Holy Spirit brought seasons of peace and comfort to the church. Acts 9:31 says, “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”

Question: Are you in need of the Holy Spirit’s encouragement, strength, or peace right now? Has your leadership storm overshadowed your ability to see the Holy Spirit at work within you and around you? How do you need to respond?

4. The Holy Spirit Provides Guidance, Discernment, and Direction to Leaders

When Paul encountered Elymas the Sorcerer, the Holy Spirit gave Paul the discernment to see Elymas as a “child of the devil” and then the Lord struck Elymas blind (Acts 13:7-12). And in Acts 16, the Holy Spirit directed Paul’s journeys as he preached the Gospel.

Question: In what leadership issue do you need the Holy Spirit’s guidance, discernment, or direction? Have you asked Him to guide you? Are you listening for his response?

5. The Holy Spirit Helps Leaders Successfully Manage Conflict

In Acts 15, a conflict arose in the church where some Jews insisted that non-Jewish people must be circumcised in order to be saved. After considerable discussion on the issue among Paul, Barnabas, James, the apostles, and some believing Pharisees, a conclusion was finally reached.

A letter was drafted and sent to Antioch with this message: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things” (Acts 15:28-29). The Spirit of God was interested and active in the proper management of conflict in the church. Here’s a more thorough look at lessons in Biblical conflict resolution from Acts 15.

Question: As a leader, how do you welcome the Holy Spirit in the management and resolution of conflict?

6. The Holy Spirit Compels Leaders to Move Out of Their Comfort Zones

Paul was profoundly used by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel. Was it always comfortable? Hardly! Acts 20:22-24 says, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Without the Holy Spirit’s prompting, we’ll find ourselves confined to our cul-de-sac of comfort.

Question: How is the Holy Spirit prompting you to lead outside of your comfort zone? How are you responding to His prompting?

The Holy Spirit’s presence and influence in your day-to-day leadership may be very active. Or you might find yourself doing leadership solely in your own wisdom and strength. As Francis Chan observes, “We all have to answer the question: Do I want to lead or be led by the Spirit?” Why not start your day with a simple but sincere prayer: “Holy Spirit, lead my leadership.”