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The Marks of a Spiritual Leader by John Piper

The Marks of a Spiritual Leader by John PiperThe Marks of a Spiritual Leader by John Piper. Desiring God. 38 pages. 2014

Piper defines spiritual leadership as: “…knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God’s methods to get them there in reliance on God’s power.”

He states that his concern in his short e-book is: “…with the characteristics that a person must have in order to be a spiritual leader who excels both in the quality of his direction and the numbers of people who follow him.”

He states that biblical leadership contains an inner circle and an outer circle: “The inner circle of spiritual leadership is that sequence of events in the human soul that must happen if anyone is to take the first step in spiritual leadership. These are the absolute bare essentials. They are things that all Christians must attain in some degree and when they are attained with high fervor and deep conviction they very often lead one into strong leadership. In the outer circle are qualities that characterize both spiritual and non-spiritual leaders.”

I highlighted a number of passages in this short book and would like to share a few of them with you below:

  • The ultimate goal of all spiritual leadership is that other people might come to glorify God, that is, might so feel and think and act as to magnify the true character of God.
  • A spiritual leader must be a person who has strong confidence in the sovereign goodness of God to work everything together for his good. Otherwise, he will inevitably fall into the trap of manipulating circumstances and exploiting people in order to secure for himself a happy future which he is not certain God will provide.
  • The spiritual leader must be a person who meditates on the Scriptures and prayers for spiritual illumination.
  • All true spiritual leadership has its roots in desperation.
  • The qualities of spiritual leadership are:
  1. Restless. Spiritual leaders have a holy discontentment with the status quo. Leaders have a hankering to change, to move, to reach out, to grow, and to take a group or an institution to new dimensions of ministry.
  2. Optimistic. Spiritual leaders are optimistic not because man is good, but because God is in control. The leader must not let his discontentment become disconsolation. Without optimism, restlessness become despair.
  3. Intense. The great quality Piper wants in his associates is one of intensity.
  4. Self-Controlled. By self-controlled, Piper does not mean prim and proper, but rather master of our drives. If we are to lead others toward God, we cannot be led ourselves toward the world. Spiritual leaders ruthlessly track down bad habits and break them by the power of the Spirit.
  5. Thick-Skinned. If you begin to lead others, you will be criticized. No one will be a significant spiritual leader if his aim is to please others and seek their approval. Spiritual leaders do not seek the praises of men. They seek to please God. If criticism disables us, we will never make it as spiritual leaders.
  6. Energetic. Lazy people cannot be leaders. A leader must learn to live with pressure. He loves to be productive.
  7. A Hard Thinker. A leader must be one who, when he sees a set of circumstances, thinks about it. He tests all things with his mind and holds fast to what is good. God’s way of imparting to us insight is not to short-circuit the intellectual process.
  8. Articulate. It is hard to lead others if you cannot state your thoughts clearly and forcefully.
  9. Able to Teach. It is not surprising to Piper that some of the great leaders at his church have been men who are also significant teachers.
  10. A Good Judge of Character. Leaders must know who is fit for what kind of work. They can detect potential when they see it in a beginning.
  11. Tactful. Tact is that quality of grace that wins the confidence of people who are sure you won’t do or say something stupid. Tact is especially needed in a leader to help cope with embarrassing or tragic situations. The tact of a leader must demonstrate itself in forthright confrontation.
  12. Theologically Oriented. If we are to lead people to see and reflect God’s glory, we must think theologically about everything. We must work toward a synthesis of all things. We must probe to see how things fit together.
  13. A Dreamer. We must not only be discontent with the present but also dreaming dreams of what could be in the future. Leaders can see the power of God overshadowing the problems of the future. This is a rare gift – to see the sovereign power of God in the midst of seemingly overwhelming opposition. We need people who will devote just five minutes a week to dream of what might possible be.
  14. Organized and efficient. A leader does not like clutter. He likes to know where and when things are for quick access and use. He sees ways to use time to the full and shapes his schedule to maximize his usefulness.
  15. Decisive. A leader cannot be paralyzed by indecisiveness. He will take risks rather than do nothing. He will soak himself in prayer and the gospel and then rest himself in God’s sovereignty as he makes decisions, knowing that he will very likely make some mistakes.
  16. Perseverant. Vision without perseverance results in fairy tales, not fruitful ministry.
  17. A Love. What we need today are leaders who are great lovers.
  18. Restful. The spiritual leader knows that ultimately the productivity of his labors rests in God and that God can do more while he is asleep than he could do while awake without God. He is not so addicted to work that he is unable to rest. He is a good steward of his life and health.
  • It is the inner circle that makes the leadership spiritual. All genuine leadership begins in a sense of desperation; knowledge that we are helpless sinners in need of a great Savior. That moves us to listen to Godin the Scriptures and cry out to him for help and for insight in prayer. That leads us to trust in God and to hope in his great and precious promises. This frees us for a life of love and service which, in the end, causes people to see and give glory to our Father in heaven.

The E-book version of this book is free from Desiring God at

One thought on “The Marks of a Spiritual Leader by John Piper

  1. Thank you for this review. I will download the ebook and give to my Bible Study facilitators. May the Lord richly bless you. Karen

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