It may sound obvious enough, but if you want to lead people spiritually, we need Jesus. In Acts 19, we learn that Paul is in Ephesus. God is doing extraordinary miracles through him. Some itinerant Jewish exorcists see the power of God working through Paul. Presumably they hear Paul doing amazing work by calling on the name of Jesus. These Jewish exorcists start copying Paul and try to engage in spiritual warfare against demons by saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” They don’t really know Jesus. They have no intimacy with Jesus and they just are using his name. As a spiritual leader we can fall into a similar rut. We can speak about Jesus or talk about spiritual matters in religious language or look the part, but all out of intimacy with Jesus. When we fail to cultivate our own relationship with Jesus we really have no authority or ability to lead others. This is what happens to the Jewish preachers.
The evil spirit answers them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know but who are you.” Acts goes on to tell us that, “And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, so that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.” The story is on one hand comic. You can imagine these guys being utterly shocked when the possessed man speaks back to them. And they run away naked and wounded. On the other hand, it is tragic because it is a story that gets repeated in so much in ministry and Church leadership. People get burned out because they have put the work of ministry ahead of an intimate relationship with Christ and so they have nothing to offer.
Or worst happens, people continue to work for the Church and they get by on skill or charisma or personality running the Church but they no longer have anything to really offer people because their own relationship with Jesus is stagnant. Eventually Churches without spiritual leaders who follow Jesus become stagnant.
In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the vine you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he is it that bears much fruit for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus tells us pretty plainly that if we want to bear fruit as spiritual leaders we have to abide in him, remain in him, stay connected to him. Just as the branch receives nutrients and hydration and then can bear fruit, we receive the power and ability to produce fruit and produce disciples by remaining connected to him. On the other hand, apart from him we can do nothing. Apart from Jesus our works and our efforts are useless. We need him to lead others spiritually and no giftedness or ability on our part can make up for a lack of intimacy with Jesus.
If we don’t stay connected to Jesus either we will wind up beaten up and wounded like the itinerant Jewish exorcists or we will look successful superficially but not really produce fruit.
Why do we try and lead separately from Jesus?