Reading for Spiritual Leadership

A break from Sanders today.  We shall return to him soon.  Kevin DeYoung recently posted the reading list for the internship program at his church.  Many of these titles have appeared in one form or another in our church life.  J. Oswald Sanders' Spiritual Leadership is his first read in the category of leadership.  A Praying Life by Paul Miller is his first read in the category of prayer.  (I will be recommending that the whole church read A Praying Life.  More on that later.)

DeYoung's list is aimed at forming pastors.  However, all of the readings are appropriate for church officers.  Many are appropriate for other areas of leadership.  Some are classics to be appreciated by all.  

Reading for Spiritual Leadership

Do You Pray for Those in Your Care?

Chapter six of J. Oswald Sanders' Spiritual Leadership is entitled, "Petrine Sidelights on Leadership."  The chapter is an unpacking of 1st Peter 5:1-7.  Sanders makes many helpful applications of these verses.  In our culture one application that we need to hear is in regard to prayer as essential for caring and leadership.  Peter is writing to elders, but the principle applies more broadly--to those in our families, under our leadership at work, under our influence (which includes our supervisors as well as our direct reports), etc.  In elucidating what it means to shepherd "as God would have you" (1st Pet 5:2), Sanders observes:

If it is "according to God," this shepherding ministry will surely include intercession.  The saintly Bishop Azariah of India once remarked to Bishop Stephen Neil that he found time every day to pray by name for everyone in a position of leadership in his extensive diocese.  Small wonder that during his thirty years of office the diocese trebled in its membership, and greatly increased in spiritual effectiveness.

To make this practical: Get some index cards (the smart phone notepad is a poor substitute for this BTW).  On each card, write the names of your family members for whom you have responsibility or to whom you are accountable, your closest workplace associates, and those who are entrusted to your spiritual leadership and care.  Pray over the names, asking God to give you insight into what you want for them (things that you observe or things that you know that they want to see happen).  Include "spiritual" and "physical/material"  things.   (I put those words in quotation marks to acknowledge that it is, in many ways, a false distinction.  That is another blog post though.)  Write down what you desire to see God do in their lives and pray for them daily.  I have see that praying daily like this has the following impact on me:

  • My love and empathy for the folks on these cards increases;
  • My eyes are opened to what God is doing in their lives;
  • My spirit is lighter because I am carrying my concerns for those in my care to the Lord;
  • I am shown much more clearly what role I am to play in their lives, and how to play that role humbly and wisely;
  • My conversations are more naturally substantive with them, without trying things go to a deeper level on their own;
  • My faith is encouraged as I see God move in answer to prayer;
  • I pray spontaneously much more throughout the day when I have prayed according to this pattern;
  • When prayers are answered, in whole or in part, I can note the answer succinctly on the cards; and,
  • These folks are blessed through my ministry of prayer.
In my prayer life, praying in this manner has born the most fruit.  I just read a book by a pastor of 40 years who reports a similar pattern of prayer.  Most of us are far more generous than accurate in our estimation of our memories and the ability to pray without some pattern and system to remind us. We can pray anytime and  should pray when prompted by the Spirit.  Praise God for that.  I am all for dynamic, spontaneous prayer.  You will pray more dynamically and spontaneously when you pray specifically and regularly.  (Jesus and the disciples prayed regularly and spontaneously...but, again, that is another blog post.)

Pray like Jesus means what he says:  "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.   If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it"  (John 14:13-14).  What do you want for those whom God has entrusted to you?  What specifically? When you stop to ponder that question you will be amazed at how hard it may be to come up with an answer.  Again, we are more generous than accurate in our assessment that we "want the best for those around us."  Often we don't know what we want for them and have to pray about that too.  God answers those prayers as well.



Are You Willing to Serve God Where You Are Now?

In chapter five of Spiritual Leadership, entitled "Pauline Sidelights on Leadership," J. Oswald Sanders reflects on the qualifications for spiritual leaders in 1st Timothy 3:2-7.  Verse six of this passage reads: "He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil."  Sanders observes, "A recent convert lacks the spiritual maturity and stability essential to wise leadership."  He gives the expected caution regarding putting talented but unseasoned and untested disciples in positions of leadership.  Then Sanders makes observations about spiritual maturity in general.  His words are important for the way in which we evaluate where God is calling us to serve.  Quoting Bonhoeffer, he writes:

"It is the mark of a grown-up man, as compared with a callow youth, that he finds his center of gravity wherever he happens to be at the moment, and however much he longs for the object of his desire, it cannot prevent him from staying at his post and doing his duty.   This is just what a new convert finds it difficult to do.  It is a characteristic which accompanies a growing maturity."

More and more there is a dearth of willingness (of men especially) who are willing to give time to the local church.  Sometimes there are legitimate conflicts in play which these men cannot overcome.  Other times, however, I have sensed that the work of the local church looks less impressive to them than the work of their company or the work of a large mega-church.

Such a disposition in the heart of a prospective leader reveals an immaturity about God's work in the world, and a blind spot regarding their own spiritual life.  If a man who is spiritually qualified finds himself in a church setting where he is needed, yet refuses to serve because he judges the church beneath his time, he may well be acting immaturely, denying God's providential placement of him in that place at that time.  I've served in places where the grass was quite green, and in places where the grass was quite lean and faded.  But it was grass nonetheless, God was watering both places, and God was calling me to be his instrument to poor out that water in faithfulness.  Don't judge.  Be mature.  Serve God where you are and don't lust after greener places.

PS--Sometimes the green that you see is actually spray paint too.  A thin coating of glitz to cover the faded grass beneath.  We shouldn't be naive.

Criteria of Leadership Potential (Part III)

Today we conclude J. Oswald Sanders' list of criteria for leadership potential.  Here is the final roundup: 
  • Do you possess a strong and steady will?  A leader will not long retain his position if he is vacillating?
  • Do you nurse resentments, or do you readily forgive injuries done to you?
  • Are you reasonably optimistic?  Pessimism is not an asset to a leader.
  • Are you in the grip of a master-passion such as that of Paul who said: "This one thing I do."   Such a singleness of motive will force all of one's energies and powers on the desired objective.
  • Do you welcome responsibility?

To these criteria Sanders adds these attitudes, noting, "R.E. Thompson suggests these tests of our attitudes to people as an indication of our capacity for leadership:

  • Do other people's failures annoy us or challenge us?
  • Do we use people or cultivate people?
  • Do we direct people or develop people?
  • Do we criticize or encourage?
  • Do we shun the problem person or seek him out?"

All of these criteria for leadership require some soul searching and prayer before coming to any conclusion.  The attitudes towards people with which Sanders concludes are especially important.  If we do not have the heart of God for people then we cannot lead them for God.  Pray to love others as Jesus taught us.


Criteria of Leadership Potential (Part II)

Continuing with J. Oswald Sanders' classic, Spiritual Leadership, we come to Part II of our reflection on the chapter entitled "Criteria of Leadership Potential."  Part I is here. Today we list criteria 10-18 on Sanders'  list:

  • Are you entrusted with the handling of difficult and delicate situations?
  • Can you induce people to do happily some legitimate thing which they would not normally wish to do?
  • Can you accept opposition to your viewpoint or decision without considering it a personal affront and reacting accordingly?  Leaders must expect opposition and should not be offended by it.
  • You you find it easy to make and keep friends?  Your circle of loyal friends is an index of the quality and extent of your leadership.
  • Are you unduly dependent on the praise or approval of others?  Can you hold a steady course in the face of disapproval and even temporary loss of confidence?
  • Are you at ease in the presence of your superiors and strangers?
  • Do your subordinates appear at ease in your presence?  A leader should give an impression of sympathetic understanding and friendliness that will put others at ease.
  • Are you really interested in people?  In people of all types and all races?  Or do you entertain a respect of persons? Is there a hidden racial prejudice?  An antisocial person is unlikely to make a good leader.
  • Do you possess tact?  Can you anticipate the likely effect of a statement before you make it?

Much to ponder in these questions.  Those entrusted with leadership will find that they are stronger in some of these criteria than in others.  Self reflection and prayer for growth are foundational to being a leaders.  No one but Jesus Christ was a perfect leader, but we can all grow toward his example daily through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.