404 Sin Management vs Holy Spirit Leadership

Sin Management vs Holy Spirit Leadership

Since coming on staff as the Communications Director for my church, my outlook on leadership has significantly changed. In all of my previous jobs, I’ve been managed. It wasn’t until I actually experienced healthy leadership that I realized management and leadership are two very different concepts.

My pastor is very much a visionary. His aim is to empower everyone on our team to excel in their area of gifting. He comes in to cast vision and provide overall guidance but he’s not a mirco manager and he extends a lot of freedom. Much more freedom than I’m used to.

This is a stark contrast to what I’ve seen in management. My managers were there to provide stability, structure and facilitate the status quo. I know all about policies, procedures and formal processes. My managed environments were safe, full of rules and they thrived when risk was minimized.

But this all got me thinking about the Holy Spirit’s role in my life. Is He a manager or a leader?

Management vs Leadership

This may sound overly simplistic but the first time I heard this it came to me as a revelation.

Managers manage. Leaders lead.

Having a good understanding of these two concepts has begun to revolutionize my relationship with Holy Spirit. Here are a few fundamental differences between the two:

  • Leaders promote change. Managers create stability.*
  • Leaders facilitate. Managers control.
  • Leaders appeal to the heart. Managers appeal to the head.
  • Leaders are concerned with what is right. Managers are concerned with being right.

This short list brings so much insight into how I’ve always related to the third Person of the trinity.

I’ve liked management. I’ve been exposed to it my entire life. It’s comfortable and stable. I don’t always like control but I’ve been taught that it is necessary to keep things safe.

Leadership on the other hand can feel scary. I don’t like change. I like to be told exactly what to do so I can always be sure of where I stand. Freedom can be intimidating.

So it begs the question, “What does a management mindset create in a believer?”

Sin Management

My whole life I’ve tried to manage my sin. I subscribed to the gospel of behavior modification. The way I studied the Bible was in an attempt to find out what I could and couldn’t do.

Rather than reading the Bible as a story, I read it as a User’s Manual. When I first heard the acronym for the Bible, I thought it was genius. You know the one:


But reading the Bible as a manual is contrary to it’s contents. It tells the story of creation, the dispensing of the law, the redemption of mankind and the fulfillment of the law. It’s a story of a God that does everything for the creation He loves. Even dying for them.

So we’re left with a love story that points to this Good News that many of us never fully grasp. And so we look to what we know: management.

We know that sin is wrong. So the more we know about sin, the more we can control it. We think that with more protection there will be less exposure. The problem is that all our efforts can never keep sin managed.

But there is a better way.

Holy Spirit Leadership

Throughout the Bible we see God leading men, not managing them. He constantly appeals to hearts. Sin is just a byproduct of the real issue at hand; our love for God.

A true leader is after hearts, not compliance. A true leader knows that willful obedience can only be sustained when hearts are in alignment.

Romans 8:14 says “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Then in Galatians 5:18 it says “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law“. Sons and daughters are not managed with a list of rules. They are led with freedom within boundaries.

We no longer need to use the law to manage our sin. We simply need to receive His Spirit. Under Holy Spirit’s leadership, we will thrive in freedom.

Management is stagnant. Leadership is fluid. Management is a lake. Leadership is a river.

Jesus himself said that whoever believes in Him will have rivers of living water flowing out of his heart (John 7:38).

Have you tried to manage your sin?
What does it mean to you to be led by the Spirit? 

*For a more comprehensive list of differences, check out this post called Leadership vs Management.


  1. Thanks for tackling a tough issue, Tony. The whole B.A.S.I.C. thing can get under my skin, though I know most people mean well when they say this. But you’re right, it’s more than a manual, or rule book. God wants to know us and change us from within, as opposed to leaving us with a list of chores to complete before he comes back.
    Stephen Haggerty recently posted..Your Life = SNL

  2. I certainly say that I have tried to manage sin and have failed time and time again. If we relegate our Christian lifestyle to a list of do’s and don’t we will never be lead by the spirit, because we are trying to manage sin with our head knowledge of what we are supposed to do and not do. But if we are lead by the Holy Spirit and truly have a change of heart sin won’t easily ensare us.

    I also can relate to what it means to be a manager vs a leader. As a manager, I manage processes but I lead my people. Many managers make the mistake of trying to manage both the process and the people. It’s ok to manage the process, there is room for that in the business world. But once people begin to be managed it’s really a recipe for disaster. Some of the consequences are that people are not empowered, thefore they cannot work independently, which in turns creates more work for the manager. It’s a catch 22 as they say. God Bless.
    Juan Cruz Jr recently posted..Don’t criticize, just do!

  3. It sounds like you are debunking the checklist theory of Christianity. I have my do’s and don’ts and I major on one to the exclusion of the other. That is how I have a “triumphant” Christian walk. Not so.

    “A true leader knows that willful obedience can only be sustained when hearts are in alignment.” And, HE is a true leader, isn’t HE?

    Good words, Tony.
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  4. “God leading men, not managing them.” Interesting point. God does give us free rein with out free will to be what He’s ultimately designed us to be. Managing in the flesh is like chasing the wind… Excellent post.

    • When people choose to follow and serve willingly, it is so much more powerful than being force to follow in fear or obligation. That’s been my experience. Thanks Floyd!

  5. Managing sin is the same as living by the law. It will kill you. Grace is so much better…

    The Holy Spirit leads us and reveals to us our choices…he opens our eyes to HIS word and reminds us of this in times of need…(all the time! lol)

    I truly believe with all my heart that The Holy Spirit guards our heart from desiring certain sins if you will…

    i never had any desire whats so ever to get druck with alcahol or live a “Party” life if you will growing up…

    I used to think it was the fear of the Lord…which in a since it could be…but more personal than that…

    The Holy Spirit was guarding my heart…an preparing more something bigger…to fufill what Jesus said…that we would do much greater things in his name…
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  6. ‘Freedom is intimidating.’

    I’d never thought about that, but I think you’re right! How often are we afraid to trust in the freedom that is so freely handed to us. We’re so used to be boxed in… Good stuff! 🙂

  7. Yeah, if Christianity is nothing more than sin management than I don’t want any part of it. That is an exhausting way to live. Sin management is like using God as a crutch to prop yourself up. Being led by the Spirit is like falling down on a stretcher in order to die to yourself.

    You could write a whole book on being led by the Spirit, and many smart people already have. But if you could boil it all down to one sentence I think it would be something like this:

    The Spirit isn’t just the “source” of life but the power to “sustain” life as well, and the mark you’ll hit by keeping in step with the Spirit is nothing less than jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, radical change.

    Great thought-provoking post, Tony. Thank you!
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  8. “I subscribed the the gospel of behavior management.”

    Oh, so true. Such a dead-end existence of being a try-hard! But don’t we all do it? It seems we have to wear ourselves out trying to behave like a Christian, while Jesus, long-suffering savior, waits for us to reach out, gasping for breath and finally seek his way. This being a Christian, being a leader, being a parent….being… is contradictory to the operational mindset of being human. Trusting goes against our grain, but it works. We cannot be without the power of the Holy Spirit, our attempts at being a good-fill-in-the-blank-here always digress to activity apart from his empowerment.

    Thanks Tony — insightful and straightforward.
    Alyssa Santos recently posted..Can God Earn My Trust?

    • You brought up a key issue here, Alyssa: TRUST. We can never be led by someone we don’t trust. We can never receive a gift if we’re holding on to something else.

  9. You are so right, Tony. Some are so petrified to be led (and I’ve been in that boat too many times myself), but Holy Spirit isn’t looking to be a manager and we try to make Him into that. You bring up some great points that everyone needs to understand (and all of us need to understand better). Thanks Tony.
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    • To be led requires trust. That’s not always easy, especially when you’ve been hurt and disappointed by leaders and authority in your life.

      It’s so much easier to manage ourselves. The only problem is that the harder we try, the more frustrated we become. At least that’s been my story!

  10. The Holy Spirit works in us to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He also works in us and with us. He’s for us, not against us. His presence is to encourage us to overcome, He gives us the victory over sin. There are people who foolishly work at trying to overcome sin but are not able to stand against the power of their convictions. They try to do it themselves, by methods and duties, to keep down sin. But they are strangers to the Spirit of God, all of this “work” is in vain They fight without victory, they never find peace, and are in slavery day after day. This is not what the Spirit provides. This is the saddest condition that any person can be engaged in. A person under the conviction from the law (which you have so intelligently described in your previous post) is destined to fight against sin, but has no strength for the fight. They go all out and fight, but they can never overcome. The law weakens them and sin beats them silly.

    Sometimes I wonder if people are so deceived that they are in a constant battle over and over again; and the lust which they thought they can overcome appears over and over again, and it shows up with no wound. That’s no way to live.

    The Holy Spirit is the fire which burns up the very root of lust and sin. It’s in Him, through Him, by Him. He leads, and doesn’t’ manage.
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  11. Excellent post!

    I could go on and on about being led by the Holy Spirit.

    1 Thessalonians 5:23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,

    We have the power to overcome sin because of the power of the Holy Spirit. When he sanctifies us, or fills us with Himself, we have that ability. But when we try to manage as you said, we will fail. And fail miserably.
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    • I meant also to say that we should allow the Bible to read us, not necessarily us read it.
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    • Definitely man. There are 2 key aspects of our victory in Jesus. First, we are no longer slaves. Before we sinned because we had no power to overcome it. Now that power is broken. Second, we’re not just slaves but we have POWER to be righteous.

      Grace is not just for “after” we sin, it is the power to live righteous and avoid sin all together. It makes me want to dance!

  12. Excellent post. I have been guilty over the years in trying to manage my sin – it is a waste of time and effort because it never works for the long haul.

    To me to be led by the spirit means to see the future as is painted by the Word of God and then have the Spirit who lives in me show me each step or steps to make to live a life in that future.
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    • I’ve been guilty of managing my sin up to this day! It’s really a concept that I’m still unlearning. It’s a complete shift in thought process…a true repentance on my part.

      As far as being led by the Spirit, I still feel it’s a bit of an esoteric concept to most of us. I have some thoughts on it that I’m going to let marinate over the weekend before I come back with my next post on the topic.

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