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Spiritual Leadership

by J. Oswald Sanders

 One of the most helpful books on Leadership I have read. Here are some of my notes.

 Chapter 1: An Honourable Ambition

 True greatness, true leadership, is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you. We must aim to put more into life than we take out.

 “The final estimate of men shows that history cares not an iota for the rank or title a man has borne, or the office he has held, but only the quality of his deeds and the character of his mind and heart.”

 Chapter 2: The Search for Leaders

 Give me a man of God – one man

One mighty prophet of the Lord,

And I will give you peace on earth,

Bought with a prayer and not a sword.

George Liddell

 If the world is to hear the church’s voice today, leaders are needed who are authoritative, spiritual, and sacrificial. Authoritative, because people desire leaders who know where they are going and are confident of getting there. Spiritual, because without a strong relationship to God, even the most attractive and competent person cannot lead people to God. Sacrificial, because this follows the model of Jesus, who gave himself for the whole world and who calls us to follow in His steps.

 Spiritual leaders are not elected, appointed, or created by synods or churchly assemblies. God alone makes them. One does not become a spiritual leader by merely filling an office, taking course work in the subject, or resolving in one’s own will to do this task. A person must qualify to be a spiritual leader.

 Chapter 3: The Master’s Master Principle

  • The sovereignty of spiritual leadership
  • The suffering of spiritual leadership
  • The Spirit of Servanthood
  • Dependence
  • Approval
  • Modesty
  • Empathy
  • Optimism
  • Anointing

 Chapter 4: Natural and Spiritual Leadership

Leadership is influence, the ability of one person to influence others to follow his or her lead. Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose, and the character that inspires confidence.

 Yet spiritual leadership transcends the power of personality and all other natural gifts. The personality of the spiritual leader influences others because it is irradiated, penetrated, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Al the leader gives control of his life to the Spirit, the Spirit’s power flows through him to others.

 We can lead others only as far along the road as we ourselves have travelled.

 When we contrast natural and spiritual leadership, we see just how different they are:

  • Natural
  • Self-confident
  • Know men
  • Makes own decisions
  • Ambitious
  • Creates methods
  • Enjoys command
  • Seeks personal reward
  • Independent
  • Spiritual
  • Confident in God
  • Also knows God
  • Seeks God’s will
  • Humble
  • Follows God’s example
  • Delights in obedience to God
  • Loves God and others
  • Depends on God

 We leave an indelible influence on people, who come within our influence, even when we are not aware of it. Dr. John Geddie went to Aneityum in 1848 and worked there for twenty-four years. Written in his memory are these words:

 When he landed, in 1848, there were no Christians.

When he left, in 1872, there were no heathen.

 Spirituality is not easy to define, but you can tell when it is present. It is the fragrance of the garden of the Lord, the power to change the atmosphere around you, the influence that makes Christ real to others.

 Spiritual goals can be achieved only by spiritual people who use spiritual methods. How our churches and mission agencies would change if leaders were Spirit-filled!

 Chapter 5: Can You Become a Leader?

 Have you ever broken a bad habit? To lead others, you must master your appetites.

Do you keep self-control when things go wrong? The leader who loses control under adversity forfeits respect and influence. A leader must be calm in crisis and resilient in disappointment.

Do you think independently? A leader must use the best ideas of others to make decisions. A leader cannot wait for others to make up his or her mind.

Can you handle criticism? Can you profit from it? The humble person can learn from petty criticism, even malicious criticism.

Can you turn disappointment into creative new opportunity?

Do you readily gain the cooperation of others and win their respect and confidence?

Can you exert discipline without making a power play? True leadership is an internal quality of the spirit and needs no show of external force.

Are you a peacemaker? A leader must be able to reconcile with opponents and make peace where arguments have created hostilities.

Do people trust you with difficult and delicate situations?

Can you induce people to do happily some legitimate thing that they would not normally wish to do?

Can you accept opposition to your viewpoint or decision without taking offence? Leaders always face opposition.

Can you make and keep friends? Your circle of loyal friends is an index of your leadership potential.

Do you depend on the praise of others to keep you going? Can you hold steady in the face of disapproval and even temporary loss of confidence?

Are you at ease in the presence of strangers? Do you get nervous in the presence of your superior?

Are the people who report to you generally at ease? A leader should be sympathetic and friendly?

Are you interested in people? All types? All races? No prejudice?

Are you tactful? Can you anticipate how your words will affect a person?

Is your will strong and steady? Leaders cannot vacillate or cannot drift with the wind.

Can you forgive? Or do you nurse resentments and harbour ill feelings toward those who have injured you?

Are you reasonably optimistic? Pessimism and leadership do not mix.

Do you feel a master passion such as that of Paul, who said, “This one thing I do!”? Such a singleness of motive will focus your energies and powers on the desired objective. Leaders need a strong focus.

  • Do you welcome responsibility?
  •  Do other people’s failures annoy or challenge you?
  • Do you “use” people, or cultivate people?
  • Do you direct people, or develop people?
  • Do you criticize, or encourage?
  • Do you shun or seek out the person with a special need or problem?

 Adding leadership potential to our lives usually requires that we shake off negative elements that hold us back.

 Chapter 6: Insights on Leadership from Paul

 A natural leader by any measure, Paul became a great spiritual leader when his heart and mind were captured by Jesus Christ.

 The character of the elder should command the respect of the unbeliever, inspire his confidence, and arouse his aspiration. Example is much more potent than precept.

 The Christian leader who possesses a sound mind has control of every part of his personality, habits, and passions.

 A well-ordered life is the fruit of a well-ordered mind.

 While a leader is caring for church and mission, he must not neglect the family, which is his primary and personal responsibility. The discharge of one duty in God’s kingdom does not excuse us from another. There is time for every legitimate duty. Paul implies that a person’s ability to lead at home is a strong indicator of his readiness to lead in ministry.

 Chapter 7: Insights on Leadership from Peter

 First, Peter deals with a leader’s motivation. The spiritual leader is to approach the work willingly, not by coercion.

 When God calls us, we cannot refuse from a sense of inadequacy.

“I am not sure which of the two occupies the lower sphere, he who hungers for money or he who thirsts for applause,” wrote J.H. Jowett. “A preacher may dress and smooth his message to court the public cheers, and labourers in other spheres may bid for prominence, for imposing print, for grateful recognition. All this unfits us for our task. It destroys perception of the needs and perils of the sheep.”

 Chapter 8: Essential Qualities of Leadership

 God gave these leaders gifts and talents that fit the mission to which they were called. What raised these men above their fellows was the degree to which they developed those gifts through devotion and discipline.


Without this essential quality, all other gifts remain as dwarfs: they cannot grow. So discipline appears first on our list. Before we can conquer the world, we must first conquer the self.

 A leader is a person who has learned to obey a discipline imposed from without, and has then taken on a more rigorous discipline from within. Those who rebel against authority and scorn self-discipline – who shirk the rigors and turn from the sacrifices – do not qualify to lead. Many who drop out of ministry are sufficiently gifted, but have large areas of life floating free from the Holy Spirit’s control. Lazy and disorganized people never rise to true leadership.

The young man of leadership calibre will work while others waste time, study while others snooze, pray while others daydream. Slothful habits are overcome, whether in thought or deed, or dress. The emerging leader eats right, stands tall, and prepares to wage a good warfare. He will without reluctance undertake the unpleasant task that others avoid or the hidden duty that others evade because it wins no public applause. As the Spirit fills his life, he learns not to shrink from difficult situations or retreat from hard-edged people. He will kindly and courageously administer rebuke when that is called for, or he will exercise the necessary discipline when the interests of the Lord’s work demand it. He will not procrastinate, but will prefer to dispatch with the hardest tasks first.

 If a leader demonstrates strong self-discipline, others will sense that and usually co-operate with the expectations placed on them. Leadership requires openness to others. To neglect receiving kindness and help is to isolate oneself, to rob others of opportunity, and to deprive oneself of sustenance.


For faith is vision. Vision involves foresight as well as insight. Responsible leadership always looks ahead to see how policies will affect future generations.

 Vision includes optimism and hope. The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.

 Leaders take lessons from the past, but never sacrifice the future for the sake of mere continuity. People of vision gauge decisions on the future; the story of the past cannot be rewritten.

  • A vision without a task makes a visionary.
  • A task without a vision is drudgery.
  • A vision with a task makes a missionary.


If knowledge is the accumulation of facts, and intelligence the development of reason, wisdom is heavenly discernment. It is insight into the heart of things. Wisdom involves knowing God and the subtleties of the human heart. More than knowledge, it is the right application of knowledge in moral and spiritual matters, in handling dilemmas, in negotiating complex relationships.

 That God “fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Colossians 1:9


When all the facts are in, swift and clear decision is the mark of a true leader. A visionary may see, but a leader must decide. An impulsive person may be quick to declare a preference; but a leader must weigh evidence and make his decision on sound premises.

 The spiritual leader will not procrastinate when faced with a decision, nor vacillate after making it.

 A young man beginning his work with the Coast Guard was call with his crew to try a desperate rescue in a great storm. Frightened, rain and wind pounding his face, the man cried to his captain, “We will never get back!” The captain replied, “We don’t have to come back, but we must go out.”


Leaders require courage of the highest order – always moral courage and often physical courage as well. Courage is that quality of mind which enables people to encounter danger or difficulty firmly, without fear or discouragement.

 Facing the ruthless armies of Sennacherib, Hezekiah made his military preparations and then set out about strengthening the morale of his people. “Be strong and courageous,” he told them. “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him….With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And then the Scriptures report that “the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said”. Here is leadership, active and strong.


If I appear great in their eyes, the Lord is most graciously helping me to see how absolutely nothing I am without Him, and helping me to keep little in my own eyes. He does use me. But I am so concerned that He uses me and that it is not of me the work is done. The axe cannot boast of the trees it has cut down. It could do nothing but for the woodsman. He made it, he sharpened it and he used it. The moment he throws it aside; it becomes only old iron. O that I may never lose sight of this.

 Integrity and Sincerity:

 Chapter 9: More Essential Qualities of Leadership


Our sense of humour is a gift from God which should be controlled as well as cultivated. Clean, wholesome humour will relax tension and relieve difficult situations. Leaders can use it to displace tension with a sense of the normal.


Holy anger is the counterpart to love. But holy anger is open to abuse. Many who feel it allow anger to become their downfall. Bishop Butler teaches six conditions that make anger sinful:

  • When, to favour a resentment or feud, we imagine an injury done to us
  • When an injury done to us becomes, in our minds, greater than it really is
  • When, without real injury, we feel resentment on account of pain or inconvenience
  • When indignation rises too high, and overwhelms our ability to restrain
  • When we gratify resentments by causing pain or harm out of revenge
  • When we are so perplexed and angry at sin in our own lives that we readily project anger at the sin we find in others


Patience meets its most difficult test in personal relationships. The person who is impatient with weakness will be defective in his leadership. When we lead by persuasion rather than command, patience is essential. Leaders rightly cultivate the art of persuasion that allows maximum individual decision making and ownership of a plan.


 Tact and Diplomacy:

The root meaning of “tact” has to do with touching. The tactile sense is the ability to feel through touch. Concerning relationships, tact is the ability to deal with people sensitively, to avoid giving offence, to have a feel for the proper words or responses to a delicate situation.

Diplomacy is the ability to manage delicate situations, especially involving people from different cultures, and certainly from differing opinions. Leaders need to be able to reconcile opposing viewpoints without giving offence or compromising principle.

 Inspirational Power

The power of inspiring others to service and sacrifice will mark God’s leader.

 Executive Ability:

It is true that subtle dangers lie in organization, for if it is overzealous it can be an unsatisfactory substitute for the working of the Holy Spirit. But lack of method and failure to organize have spelled doom for many promising ministries.

“It is a great truth that the Almighty and All-merciful is the All-methodical too.”

Our duty is to reflect the orderliness of God in all we do for him. Evangelism is not a mater of organizing people into the kingdom, but neither is evangelistic work justified in ignoring careful planning. We depend on the Spirit leading converts to salvation, but we also plan and act on our plans for the sake of the gospel’s reach.

 The Therapy of Listening:

Leaders who want to show sensitivity should listen often and long, and talk short and seldom.

 The Art of Letter Writing:

Clear language is important in our letters, but more important is the right spirit. Letters are an unsatisfactory medium of communication. They cannot smile when they are saying something difficult, and therefore additional care should be taken to see that they are warm in tone.