Traditionally, American businesses have ignored the importance of spiritual leaders in their organizations. Seeing this neglect, enterprising business leaders are now employing corporate chaplains to offer spiritual guidance in the workplace. Spiritual leaders are usually the chancellors and deans of Christian colleges and universities who are engaged in the task of encouraging spiritual growth among the faculty and students. Spiritual leaders are the revivalists called by God to stir a nation to revival and draw His people into a closer walk with Him (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
In the last half of the twentieth century, many would say that Billy Graham has filled this role as the spiritual leader for the United States. In his early life, he was painfully shy to the point where he would not speak in class. However, when God called him to preaching, this changed. He became outgoing and personable. In spite of these changes and the increasing number of invitations that were coming his way to preach, he knew that he was helpless without the power of God. The event that changed his life and his ministry was meeting with Stephen Olford. It was during two days of meetings that Olford mentored Graham to develop a deeper commitment and dedication to God. This was the watershed event for Graham as he remarked in an interview that he came to understand the power of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. It was from this time forward that he developed into the recognized spiritual leader he is today at ninety years old among the American people (Myra, Harold, 2005).
Ezra was such a leader in his time for the post-exilic Jews. His name translates from the Hebrew as “treasure” or “helper”. No truer name could be given to any Old Testament figure for he was a spiritual treasure for his people as well as their spiritual helper. The implication which may be drawn from the Scripture accounts about him is that he was a student, an interpreter, and a copyist. As a student of the Scripture so that he could meditate upon the meaning and through this meditation he was able to discern the will of God. This aided him as a copyist since it was his responsibility to ensure the accurate multiplication of God’s Word. These two tasks enabled him to be an interpreter for the people in his own generation. He taught the people and led them to a closer relationship with God. Ezra’s mission was to bring his people to repentance for their sins. According to traditional history, Ezra settled the matter of the canon of the Old Testament as well as started the first synagogue and spread synagogues to the Jewish towns and villages. His passion as a spiritual leader was to know the Law, to follow the Law, and to teach the Law to others (Lockyer, Herbert, 1958).
In today’s environment of uncertainty and cultural landmarks either being moved or destroyed, it is imperative to rear up a new generation of spiritual leaders in this nation. There is a greater need now for pastors who will provide for the spiritual needs of the sheep which God has given them so that the sheep may experience long term spiritual growth in their personal lives thus being able to experience the Kingdom of God in their lives. A careful study of Ezra will provide profitable lessons which pastors and laypeople may apply to their daily lives. A careful study would be the examination of the strengths and principles evident in the life of Ezra (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
According to Towns, Ezra had prepared for his call to ministry before his even knew he was called. Ezra 7:6 points out that Ezra was working as a scribe before God called him (Towns, Elmer, 2007). This career had given him many advantages which he was able to use later as the spiritual leader of the Jews. It made him very familiar with the Scriptures as he worked to insure the faithful and accurate copying of the texts. This familiarity with God’s Word enabled him to hide God’s Word in his heart for later meditation upon it which led to his ability to discern the will of God. This is called the Law of Process by John Maxwell. Maxwell points out that leadership is a process which is a daily exercise for any person wishing to enhance their leadership abilities (Maxwell, John, 1998/2007). He grew in his walk with the Lord during these days which developed into a discipline from which he never departed. This personal growth inspired him to lead others in growing closer to God. This was the priority of his life (Towns, Elmer, 2007).
It was during this time that he learned to work with those in positions of authority over him as well as seeking the face of God and His blessings upon his life. Ezra knew God as Jehovah–Jireh, the Lord who Provides because the intimacy of his relationship with God. He knew that God primary provider for all his needs even if it came through human agents. This intimacy with God was further enhanced by his practice of fasting and praying. This practice was a means of humbling himself before God. He did it time and again as he faced challenges as the leader of the Jews. He practiced what is known as “identification repentance” in that he prayed confessing the sins of his people and leaders before God during his personal prayer time. It was by his example that the leaders of the people became concerned about their corporate and private sins which gave Ezra the opportunity to lead them in repentance. Repentance for Ezra was more than the confession of sin but also instituting the changes necessary to flee sin and to live by godly standards.
Ezra knew the importance of team ministry. He knew that he could not accomplish the task God laid out for him by himself. He enhanced his strengths and built a team that would be able to help him manage his weaknesses. Billy Graham is a modern day model of this as when he built his team. For instance, he enlisted Cliff Barrows to deal with the music. This helped Graham to focus on his message while not having to concern himself with the worship service and music (Myra, Harold, 2005). In this, both leaders demonstrated an innate knowledge of what Maxwell termed the Law of the Inner Circle. A leader’s potential is either enhanced or hampered by the people closest to him (Maxwell, John, 2007). It is crucial for a leader to show discernment in the selection of his inner circle.
A leader must always remember that God is always at work around the leader. In being around the leader at all times, the leader must remember that God wishes to cultivate a relationship that is built on the foundation of love. God has already demonstrated His love towards the world as Romans 5:8 says, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (KJV). A leader must seek God’s will and discern God’s guidance since God has given an open invitation for all to become involved in His work. This discernment of God’s will, purpose, and ways is developed through the careful study of His Word, prayer, proper interpretation of circumstances, and active membership in the local church. It is in these ways that God speaks this day and a leader must turn his ear towards God’s voice. An intimate way with the Lord will enable the leader through a crisis of belief. This relationship will empower the leader to action and faith even during the darkest hours and circumstances. This intimacy with God will enable the leader to put aside that which is unprofitable to the kingdom of God. By following these principles, a leader may experience the power and presence of God.
Ezra is an excellent biblical example of a spiritual leader. From his life, any leader may enhance not only personal spiritual growth but also the growth of her inner circle. Today, this nation needs spiritual leaders to study Ezra so they become leaders of the highest caliber.
Lockyer, Herbert. (1958). All the Men of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.
Maxwell, John C. (2007). The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing. (Original work published 1998)
Myra, Harold L. (2005). The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.
Towns, Elmer. (2007). Biblical Models for Leadership. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.