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Christmas: Emmanuel in public leadership

How 'God is with us' changes the way Christians lead in public

At a recent Public Leadership retreat, a succession of speakers declared, unprompted, that when we are in a situation of challenge, crisis or failure, the only thing that gets us through is relying on God.

It might seem like an obvious message, but there was great power in hearing these words from senior national leaders in politics, the army and the charity sector. These weren’t just theories, this is the reality for men and women who have spent decades fulfilling their calling from God. 

Knowing that God is with us is essential in carrying public leaders through times of opposition, giving boldness in pursuing work and comfort in failure. It doesn’t mean that crisis isn’t stressful or that failure doesn’t knock us back, but if we remain confident in our calling, crisis and failure become learning points rather than career-defining moments. Times of success, on the other hand, become celebrations of the work that God is doing through us. God reigns supreme and we do not always understand His ways. 

Knowing that God is with us should affect the way leaders pursue their calling as well as how they act as leaders. In Acts, Luke describes how the Holy Spirit prompted the missionary work of the early church. The Holy Spirit said, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (13:2). The Holy Spirit was at work in the decisions of the Jerusalem Council (15:28) and He prompted Paul’s missionary journey (16:6, 20:22, 21:4,11).

While these are evangelistic and church-based activities, the same Holy Spirit is in Christian public leaders, and receiving God’s guidance is essential for public leaders. The Holy Spirit is God with us, each and every day, and we need to know what God is calling us to do before we can think about how we do it. It may not be possible in a secular organisation to ask everyone to pause while you pray for direction (and listen for a response). But we can pray before big meetings – and ask others to pray too – that we would recognise the Holy Spirit’s prompting once the meeting begins. 

To have boldness in pursuing leadership, whether in the workplace, local community or an online forum, we need to receive ongoing guidance, or we cannot claim to be pursuing a calling’ from God. It’s one of the criticisms that the apostle Stephen makes before the Sanhedrin: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:55). I remember coming out of a job interview, which on paper was perfect, knowing that I shouldn’t take it. There was nothing that explained the sense of wrongness’ I felt at the idea of taking that job except the Holy Spirit responding to my pre-interview prayers, prompting me that I should stay where I was. 

Guidance doesn’t only come from the Holy Spirit in the form of the inward witness. In recent millennial leadership research from Forge Leadership, almost 50 per cent of respondents said that the Holy Spirit-breathed word of God was the highest authority in their lives, and many mentioned using the Bible in their everyday leadership. We often talk in church about Jesus the servant-leader, but we separate the ideas of service’ and leadership’ as if they’re separate concepts. Jesus served as a leader. When He fed the 5,000, He didn’t wait until someone else came up with a plan and then help to serve food to people. He took leadership by meeting physical needs that no one else was addressing. An ongoing examination of Jesus’ leadership should be a key part of a public leader’s development. 

Hebrews 11 is a list of some of God’s faithful people. It’s an odd list, full of people who made mistakes and would have failed today’s ethical tests. Moses tried to persuade God to send someone else, Abraham and Sarah tried to implement God’s plan without Him, and the young Joseph, perhaps, didn’t tread with caution. But when they fully trusted that God was with them, and then did as He asked, they achieved what He asked of them. 


During Advent, we’re exploring​Emmanuel, God is with us’ — how the presence of God shapes the work that the Evangelical Alliance cares so passionately about, mission, public leadership, public policy, and how this is all made possible by the generosity of the church. We hope that you’ll join us and in this Christmas celebration as we look forward to more of God with us in the year ahead.

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About the author

Abi Jarvis is the public leadership coordinator at the Evangelical Alliance, seeking to equip Christians with the skills and confidence to be leaders in the places where God has called them. She has a BA in Ancient History and a MSc in Political Communication. Abi loves going to the theatre, watches too many American TV dramas and somehow became responsible for daily office exercises despite her hatred of all things sporty. Much to her dismay, she ticks the box for pretty much every stereotypical feature of a PK - a pastor's kid.

See more from Abi Jarvis

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