Spiritual Leadership

I recently rediscovered my copy of the J. Oswald Sanders classic, Spiritual Leadership.  First, published in 1967, my copy is a worn-blue edition from 1978.  The book is still in print.  John Maxwell says that he began his study of leadership with Sanders.  (I actually prefer Sanders over Maxwell.)  Most Christian leaders that I know have read this book.  The book was developed out of a series of messages to the 1964 and 1966 conferences for the Oversees Missionary Fellowship in Singapore.  Starting tomorrow, I will post daily one salient quotation from each of the twenty chapters in Spiritual Leadership.  Today, I begin with a quotation from the Forward:

The material has been presented in a form that is calculated to be of help even to younger Christians in whose hearts the Holy Spirit is working to create a holy ambition to place all their powers at the disposal of the Redeemer.  If there is something, too, that will rekindle aspiration and crystallize a fresh purpose in the heart of those further along the road of leadership, the aim of the book will be realized.

God did use this book to shape me when I was a young Christian.  God also used the man who gave the book to me.  I believe that it is important to share this story because none 0f us are self made.  We receive compliments as individuals, but we are fashioned by the influence of many.  As Christians, we are products of the Holy Spirit.  He ministers to us directly.  But, He also uses others in the body to build us up (Eph 4 & 1 Cor 12).  We are an amalgamation of the gifts God has given us, the background that we have received, and the direct ministry of the Spirit.

I received my copy of Spiritual Leadership when I was a freshman in college.  A graduating Senior, Howe Whitman, gave it to me at the end of the year.  It was his graduation present--to me!  A spiritual leader himself, Howe took the occasion of his own honor--when he should get a present--to bless me.

At the beginning of that academic year (Fall, 1991), Howe visited my dorm room.  I remember the visit like it was yesterday.  He was slightly out of breath because I lived on the 5th floor and there was no elevator.  Howe came to invite me to his Athletes in Action Bible study.  I was impressed by how well rounded he was--kind, athletic, confident (later I learned that his confidence was in God), humble, circumspect and bright.

The Bible study was a great blessing for the whole year.  I will never forget one study where he asked us to hold on while he changed clothes.  The study would be different that night, he told us.  Howe came into the room dressed in a home-made toga (i.e., a white bed sheet with a belt).  He sat down and recited the entire book of Philippians as if he were apostle Paul speaking to us.  That might sound kind of corny as you read this blog post, but for us freshman at the time it was a powerful encouragement.  It showed us all the source of the character that we appreciated in this young spiritual leader.  If we wanted to be like Christ as we saw Christ in Howe, we too could store up the transforming word of God in our lives.

Howe was a whole man, and was a whole-man type of mentor.  He taught me how to slalom ski.  He showed us the art of frog-gigging (which he did with bow and arrow...Howe grew up in Georgia).  We played basketball together (I was always better at B-Ball than Howe.)  He held me accountable, in a gentle but steadfast sort of way.  He called me if I missed study-never berating, but always concerned to see how I was doing.  When a non-Christian young woman caught my attention, Howe lovingly told me that as a Christian that relationship could not profit me.  I was redirected, and she and I were spared much future heartache.

After graduation Howe went on to become the Special Assistant to Chuck Colson for a number of years.  He stayed in touch.  He invited me to Arlington, VA one weekend to meet Chuck Colson.  (That was inspiring.)  After his stint at Prison Fellowship, Howe headed to Eastern Europe for a number of years as a missionary.  Somewhere along the way he got an MBA from Wharton.  Then, supporting himself as a successful real-estate entrepreneur, Howe became a founding board member of the Christian Union in 2002.  He remained on the board until the ministry was established.  Having a vision to start a top-flight Christian Preparatory School in Princeton, he became a founding board member of The Wilberforce School, where he is currently the Headmaster.  Howe and I still talk, though only about once every 18 months when he or I need a perspective from the outside.  We always say that we should talk more, but never do.

As I opened my copy of Spiritual Leadership today this inscription remains clear inside the book jacket:

June 1992


I praise God for you & your growth in the Lord this year.  I've had a great time getting to know you & I'll definitely miss hanging out with you.  God's gifted  you in many ways & I pray you'd continue to use them and & pray that He would use you to build up his church.  

(II Timothy 2:15).  Love in Christ, 


2 Timothy 2:15 reads, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker, who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."  Howe's prayers for me were, and are, being answered.  Today I spend the better part of my laboring to be a blessing, struggling to handle the word of truth rightly, and daily asking God to use me and others to build up his church.  As I read this inscription I am once again called gently to account, called to fulfill my calling and make good use of my gifts for the glory of God.

God uses a lot of people to shape us.  They all matter.  They are all important.  I was a Christian when Howe met me.  But, I am not sure how things would have gone for me in college had God not placed him in my path.  As I write this, I am wondering in whose path God has placed me.  In whose path has God placed you?  Conversely, whom has God placed in my path again to mold and shape me as his servant.  I need somebody, and somebody needs me.  You need somebody, and somebody needs you.

Tune back in for tomorrow's quotation from the first chapter of Spiritual Leadership, "An Honorable Ambition."