Cultivating Spiritual Authority in a Healthy Way

As a leader, you can never escape the reality of authority and its reflection on your character.

“However, if you can’t handle authority, you will struggle with leadership, and your confidence may be challenged because of the pressures you face.

“Authority is the currency through which leaders get things done. Some people prefer to use the term influence, and that word does more accurately describe the innate function of leadership.

“Perhaps a helpful way to see how this leadership concept plays out is to compare three closely related words: authority, influence, and power.

“Authority is something given to you. Influence is what you possess within you. Power is your ability to cause good or harm.

Excerpt from my book Confident Leader, (Ch. 7 on Authority)

The important thing to understand is that authority is always transferred.

  • Jesus’ authority was transferred from the Father John 10:17–18; John 17:1–2
  • Jesus transferred his authority to the disciples Luke 9:1–2; Luke 10:19
  • Jesus’ authority transferred to all believers Matthew 28:18–20

The wisest of leaders understand that their authority wasn’t theirs in the first place and steward it with wisdom, grace, and strength of character.

There are two primary sources of authority, God, and man. (Spiritual and organizational) The two are usually integrated. The important thing to remember is that you are never the source of your own authority.

If you forget where your authority came from, that’s often when your leadership missteps begin.

Understandably, much of our leadership training is in the organizational realm, developing our competency in a variety of things from strategy to empowerment.

But we can also develop and nurture our spiritual authority, and truly, the two (spiritual and organizational) should never be separated because we are, in fact, spiritual leaders.


Two Notes:

  • The following character traits and practices do not replace competence in leadership; they partner with human competence to bring spiritual power and greater impact.
  • This is a lifelong path, not a finite journey where you “arrive” at a predetermined destination.

1. Spiritual authority is grounded in humility.

Humility is not related to your place on the org chart; it reflects the disposition of your heart.

To aspire to leadership is an admirable ambition, as long as it’s for the good of others and the glory of God.

Humility comes mainly from a profound awareness of God’s grace and kindness in your life.

You can find pride anywhere on an org chart; it’s not connected to “rank,” but it’s often tied to fear or insecurity.

Humility acknowledges the gifts and talents you have been given but also recognizes the great gap in your own power and ability to make anything happen of eternal consequence.

Humble doesn’t mean insecure. Don’t confuse the two. Humility is an attractive virtue; insecurity is not. Humility is directly connected to strength; insecurity is tied to fear and our weaknesses.

Jesus’ life modeled humility for us. For example, he washed the disciple’s feet (John 13:1–17) and humbled himself by taking the nature of a servant in human likeness and becoming obedient even to death. (Phil. 2:6–8).

2. Spiritual authority is sustained through surrender.

Spiritual authority is something we steward, not own. (See introduction.)

The great temptation connected to spiritual authority is to hold on tightly as if it is something we can control, rather than see it as a form of God’s favor that we use wisely but hold loosely.

We are merely the conduit of God’s spiritual authority, and He is the conductor. When we surrender all rights to it, God can trust us with more.

The longer we serve in a place of ministry, our ownership of it grows deeper. On a human level, that’s a good thing, as long as it means we carry a deeper sense of responsibility.

We must always remember, however, that God is the ultimate owner, and when it’s time for us to surrender it back to him, we must let go.

3. Spiritual authority is cultivated through intimacy.

To access spiritual power, we must be close to the source, Jesus, who gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This familiar passage clearly communicates the intimate relationship we all desire.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” —John 15:5–9

How would you describe your relationship with Jesus? Does it reflect what you desire?

4. Spiritual authority is demonstrated by submission.

You can sense the connection between humility, surrender, and intimacy in the idea of submission.

As Jesus considered the cross, He submitted to the authority of the Father. This required and demonstrated humility in relation to the Father, surrender to the will of the Father, and intimacy with his Father.

That is our example.

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. Abba, Father, he said, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:35–36

This is so very difficult because rebellion is in our nature. (Gen. 3:6–21) However, redeemed nature (2 Cor. 5:17) gives us the ability to live a life of surrender to God through Christ.

Personally, I find this to be a daily choice. I wish I could have declared a “once and done” surrender decades ago, but my temptation is to grab control back when under pressure.

So, it’s a daily surrender for me; how about you?

5. Spiritual authority is activated by sacrificial serving.

Serving others is generally something most pastoral leaders enjoy and do well; however, to serve consistently in a sacrificial manner requires consistent, intentional commitment.

Serving sacrificially is to give yourself away for the good of others. It is not to the detriment of yourself where you have nothing left to give but consistently putting others first, even when inconvenient.

Spiritual authority cannot be humanly engineered or manufactured, but we can receive it as a measure of grace by asking through prayer and by how we live and demonstrate our faith.

Read more from Dan Reiland »

This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.

Dan Reiland
Dan Reiland

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and the author of several books including Confident Leader! Become One, Stay One (Thomas Nelson).