Spiritual leaders model the way. We model expectations and the pace for those we love and lead. In this episode we discuss 5 things we must model to those we love and lead. 

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Why it is Important to Model the Way: and 5 Ways to Model

Many know the story of David and Goliath, a shepherd boy striking down a giant in enemy in battle. Fewer know the story of Jonathan, David’s nephew victoriously going to battle against a second giant years later. This second story in 2 Samuel 21 reminded me of the importance of setting the example and being a model.

When we’ve been given a trust it is our responsibility to be faithful with that trust (1 Corinthians 4.2). Spiritual leadership, whatever form it takes, is a trust. We are called to be an example and lifting those we love and lead through that example. 

Are we comfortable with those we love and lead doing what we do? That’s always been a scary and a weighty responsibility that I’d rather not have. I’d rather just acknowledge my imperfection and encourage others to do better than me, but that isn’t transformational leadership. 

Apostle Paul wrote to the Christ-followers in Corinth, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11.1).” Modeling is about living in such a way as to be comfortable with being imitated. 

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Philippians 1.17

Here are 5 ways we model the way for those we love and lead. 

Model Through Your Imperfections

This sounds odd, but mentoring, developing, discipling, and leading is about equipping people to maturity and to successfully navigate the challenges of life. If I’m never appropriately transparent about my mistakes, my learning, and my journey, then how will those I love and lead grow from my example. 

When I was growing up our society was more closed. Leaders, even spiritual leaders kept distance from those they were leading. It was as if they wanted no one to see their flaws. The pendulum has swung, and now we post our flaws on social media for the entire world to see, and we post pictures to prove our ineptitude and failures. 

So, what is the proper gradient between transparency and opacity? 

I have a few basic rules that guide me in being appropriately transparent. 

First, am I sharing out of pain or wholeness? Have I healed? Have I overcome or am I still falling? 

When we are still in pain we haven’t gained redemptive perspective. I should not have done public speaking after my wife’s death for at least 6 months. Had a been the pastor of a church, and the people were sharing the loss with me it would have been different, but speaking in situations lacking intimate connection while walking through that pain was a mistake. During this season, I learned to speak out of healing rather than out of pain. I learned that sharing with others was commensurate to the relationship and the work of redemption in my own life. 

Second, does sharing a flaw or failure have any redemptive value? Is there a mentoring opportunity attached? To share a failure with no redeeming purpose may not be productive.

Third, is the information relationally appropriate and in context? Relational context is important. Does the person or the group I’m sharing with know me sufficiently to take what I am sharing within the entire context of who I am and my lifelong journey? 

Model Through Your Actions

Be who you should be, and then be who you are. Live a life worthy of imitation. Practice all of the things you want those you are leading to embrace. 

Keep your commitments. 

Always act with integrity. 

If you teach something, show how it’s done through your actions. 

If you preach something, demonstrate it in your own life. 

If you champion certain values, demonstrate those values in your living. 

If you have expectations of others, have those same expectations for yourself. 

Servant leaders do not get a pass, they demonstrate serving as the highest form of leadership.

Be who you should be, and then model who you are. 

You have to believe and be passionate about something first, before you can inspire others. 

To take a page out of our own lives, we are raising funds for a mission we believe in. We model that passion in a couple of ways. First, we sacrificed (though we don’t characterize it as a sacrifice). Christ’s mission was important enough to us to radically altar our lives and our future. Second, we’ve become more generous out of our need. Since we believe in the mission enough to ask people to participate in Christ’s mission, we must model generosity beyond just the resources we are raising and participate in Christ’s mission by helping to resource others. 

It matters even if no one else sees it! We are still modeling even if no one else sees!

If you are going to lead people to a destination, you have to inspire them out of your passion. One reason many U.S. churches are seeing few or no converts to Christ is because they are not proclaiming Christ out of a passion. If you do not believe in eternity, a heaven to gain and a hell to shun what’s the motivation? If you do not believe Jesus Christ to be who he claimed to be and you see Christianity as simply a way for people’s lives in the here and now to be better, what’s the motivation? 

If you believe it you will model it through your actions. If you are passionate about it others will pick up on that passion and the importance of the mission, and they will join you.

Model Through Your Words 

We must demonstrate alignment between what we say and what we do. We’ve already focused on the action part, but how must we model life and leadership through our words?

Model a positive attitude. This involves choosing your words wisely… this doubly applies to social media. It is not only the words you say, but how you say it. As a communicator, you have the skill to say things without saying them… that can be good, but it can be bad. Do not covertly make comments, innuendos, or double talk seeking to let your words be one thing, but your communication be something else. Do not confine yourself to only address the words someone says, but be courageous enough to explore what they were communicating beyond their words.

Model Through Your Celebrations

Model through what you get excited about. What do you measure, what do you celebrate? You can tell a lot about a person by what they celebrate. 

Celebrating wins has always been a weakness of mine, because when one thing is over I have a tendency to jump right in to the next thing. When you take the time to celebrate wins, you positively communicate to your team the things that are valued. 

Model Through the Stories You Tell

Model through telling stories important to you. Be intentional with your story telling. Let the stories model things important to your church, team, or organization. The stories we tell from the front of the room model the results we are leading toward. 


I will say it again, 

Be who you should be, and then model who you are. 

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