Lessons for Developing Spiritual Warriors

By: Dr. Larry Purcell

Have you ever been asked to take a spiritual gifts inventory or personality inventory to never see the information again? The initial meeting is called and a committee is assembled to explore the issue of discipleship. After the initial session, recommendations are offered to the leadership, but nothing follows. This scene takes place in many churches each year. It seems that many pastors and church leaders struggle with the process of developing spiritual leadership in a congregation.

The Scriptures are clear on the mandate of passing along what we have received. The future of the church lies with leaders accepting a significant responsibility of developing the next generation of leadership. We read in 2 Timothy 2 that we have been entrusted with the responsibility of passing along to faithful men what we have learned. In recent years I have asked my seminary students to describe leadership development. I get a confused look because many of them have not had the benefit of someone pouring into their lives as an ongoing ministry.

I learned many valuable lessons on leadership while serving in the Marines and Army. The military has been in the business of leadership development for more than two centuries. Harvard Press highlights four lessons from the military on leadership development that could benefit many church leaders.

Lesson one is Meet the Troops. Creating a personal link is crucial during times of great challenge. All through history we hear of stories of how commanders inspired their men to fight on because the men sensed a personal link to the commander and the cause. At Valley Forge Gen. Washington stayed the winter with his men. At Cowpens during a crucial moment in the Revolutionary Way, the commander Nathaniel Green went from fire to fire with his troops the night before battle. A rag tag group would overcome greater forces because of the sense of a greater cause.

Lesson two is a handshake and a look in the eyes: Those small actions make an inedible impression. We can read in Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose that on the eve of D-Day, Gen. Eisenhower visited the troops. This personal touch can make the difference between success and failure.

Lesson three is make decisions: Making good and timely decisions is the crux of responsibility in a leadership position. Leaders in developing other leaders cannot neglect the demands of decision-making during times of challenge or crisis. The difference between delegation and dumping often resides in making hard choices as the leader. This provides a role model for the developing leader. In the classroom I attempt to provide a semblance of reality for leadership development by use of ambiguity. This can be very uncomfortable and hesitation is often the response for a new leader. Hesitation in combat can have an immediate cost of lives, and hesitation to confront critical issues in the churches can have eternal costs.

Lesson four is focus on mission. Establish a common purpose, buttress those who will help you achieve it, and eschew personal gain. We hear much today about mission and vision. We can spend weeks and months developing a mission statement. The emphasis of the above mission focus is a common purpose. This means bringing someone along with you as you develop it, not just when you implement the new mission/vision. The common concept that I have experienced as a pastor is that it is my responsibility to develop the vision. Since I am primarily responsible for the vision statement, then I am responsible to make carry it out.

Lessons one to three for a military commander can be ways to develop esprit de corps among his or her troops. Lesson four changes the focus to developing others as leaders. The lower ranks of officers and enlisted do not develop the mission but they are included in how it will be executed. Eisenhower realized that after the plans for Operation Overlord on D-Day was started its success would lie in the hands of the lowest ranks on the beaches and in the trenches.

Commanders Intent or Strategic Intent: Make the objectives clear, but avoid micromanaging those who will execute on them. In times of great confusion and ambiguity, indecision can be the worst decision. Ground troops are taught from the day they enter training to work in teams as they tackle problems. If you watch the movie with Clint Eastwood, Heartbreak Ridge, you hear Eastwood’s character cry out often – improvise, adapt, overcome. He presents his men with challenges that do not offer a quick easy solution all the time. Ambiguity is used to create a critical thinker who learns to read a situation quickly and respond within the limits of the Commander’s Intent.


We can learn from each of these four lessons as we seek to develop spiritual warriors. 2 Timothy 2, I can see these four lessons reflected in these teachings. Paul had been entrusted by our Lord to pass along what he had learned. He had received this deposit and was on a mission of passing it along to a trusted friend, Timothy. The opening lines of this chapter demonstrate a special relationship between Paul and Timothy. Paul modeled to his son in the ministry how to pass it along, in the presence of many witnesses, lessons one and two. According to Expositors, Paul wrote in the Pastorals about preserving and transmitting the tradition of truth. Paul did not create a mission, but our Lord had entrusted this to him. This elevates the cause of passing along truth to a sense of urgency for Timothy.  Paul had made the decision to entrust to Timothy, lesson three. Paul and Timothy had been given a deposit and would now pass it along to men who will also be qualified to teach others. The Commander’s Intent or Strategic Intent is provided in Paul’s opening verses. A strategy has been provided, you pass along to faithful men, but the specific tactics are not provided.

The metaphor of a soldier is used to further convey the Commander’s Intent for His soldiers. The spiritual warrior is to not get entangled in any issues that may detract him from his mission. The One who enlisted him in this great cause, the Commander, demands complete obedience. The Lord Jesus Christ has enlisted us in the great cause of passing along truth. Elements of the process will remain the same, such as identifying faithful believers and investing in them as Paul did Timothy. This process may vary according to context, personalities, or stages of our lives. Our Commander, Christ has not rescinded or changed His orders. We must improvise, adapt, overcome as we face the ambiguity of changing times, yet remain faithful to passing along truth to faithful men who can teach others also.

Dr. Larry Purcell is Associate Professor of Leadership and Discipleship and the Associate Dean for Advanced Degree Program Administration at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

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