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Spiritual Leadership: Born of the Spirit

Are leaders born or made? On one hand, leadership qualities and gifts come from God. On the other, skills can be developed over time. It is this development over time that matters most. When it looks like a person just steps up to the challenge in the moment, odds are they are only able to do that because of years of preparation. Sanders cites Joseph as an example of someone who only became prime minister in Egypt after 13 years of hidden training with God at Potiphar’s house and in prison.

Sanders quotes A.W. Tozer, who speaks of the Holy Spirit’s “drafting” of a person into leadership.

A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead, but is forced into a position by the inward leading of the Holy Spirit and the press of circumstances…. There was hardly a great leader from Paul to the present day but was drafted by the Holy Spirit for the task, and commissioned by the Lord to fill a position he had little heart for…. The man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified…the true leader will have no desire to lord it over God’s heritage, but will be humble, gentle, self-sacrificing and altogether ready to follow when the Spirit chooses another to lead.

What I see here is that there are some things that God has you and I doing today that we weren’t ready to do yesterday. Our desire to be effective in the way we lead our small groups is tied to our availability to God’s Spirit, the time we’ve spent letting Him mold us, and the seasons of life we’ve already experienced. And who knows but how God is using the time you spend weekly with others in your small group to shape their lives for future service?

As you plan to reengage your small group this fall, be in prayer about who you might ask to join your group. What phone calls do you need to make? Who do you sense is missing out on hearing from God because they are not sitting with others around God’s word and prayer?

Spiritual Leadership: Becoming Great

The Bible rarely uses the term/concept of “leader.” Not nearly as much in proportion to the way we throw the word around in the church today. The people of God had patriarchs, prophets, judges, kings, priests, and others who led them. But more often than not, these men and women were labeled “servants.”

Sanders, in chapter 3 of Spiritual Leadership, points out that Jesus’ use of “servant” was radical, turning the social order on its head. His call to service was not attractive. Texts such as Mark 10:42-45 and Galatians 5:13 hit the earliest Christians in the same way as they had James and John when Jesus originally spoke to them: They didn’t know what they were doing when they asked to sit at his right and his life in his kingdom.

Sanders says there are two principles of leadership we can gain from Jesus’ call to service. First, the sovereignty principle. “To sit at my right or left is not for me to grant” (Mark 10:40). Sanders writes, “God assigns places of spiritual ministry and leadership in His sovereign will.” In the church today, we are not elected or appointed by individuals, but by God.

Second, there is the suffering principle. “Can you drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38). Sadly, the disciples asserted they were able. Jesus makes it crystal clear that leadership in the kingdom means sacrifice and suffering. James was executed and John spent his final days in exile.

In Isaiah 42, we read about the attitudes and actions of the Messiah to come. Sanders says we find these six things:

1. Dependence. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold” (Isa. 42:1). Jesus emptied himself of divine rights and privileges and was upheld by God. Only in emptying can we learn what it means for God to uphold us in our endeavors.

2. Approval. “My chosen one in whom I delight” (Isa. 42:1). God declared his delight in Jesus at his baptism and transfiguration. Servant leaders today find their delight and acceptance in God, not in what they do or the people they do it for.

3. Modesty. “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets” (Isa. 42:2). What a contrast to the Christian celebrities we have made with our subculture’s emphasis on those who lead us in worship, radio artists, preachers, televangelists, authors, conference speakers, etc. Jesus did not seek headlines, and neither should we.

4. Empathy. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isa. 42:3). Servants understand that their concern for the least of these is one of empathy, not sympathy. We have all been among “the least of these” at some point, and by the grace of God someone had empathy for us.

5. Optimism. “He will not falter or be discouraged until he establishes justice on the earth” (Isa. 42:4). Spiritual leadership and pessimism don’t go together. We have the hope of Christ in us.

6. Anointing. “I will put my spirit on him” (Isa. 42:1). Just as God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit, so we are anointed. The five characteristics above are not adequate alone.

What would you add? How does this change the way you lead your small group?

Spiritual Leadership 1: An Honorable Ambition

This year, we’re going to focus on J. Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership, as the main topic for Teleios Training. For the majority of readers who don’t know what this refers to, at our church, I try to send an email to our small group leaders twice a month or so with tips, training, encouragement, or devotional thoughts. I’m making this blog the spot for all of them.

Sanders opens his book by saying, “Most Christians have reservations about aspiring to leadership. They are unsure about whether it is truly right for a person to want to be a leader.” Ambition has led to the downfall of many, and is a potential stumbling block for others. 1 Timothy 3:1 says, “To aspire to leadership is an honorable ambition.” In Paul’s day, a love for God and others was the driving force behind aspiring to leadership, for Paul and others faced persecution and death. No fool decided to lead in the church.

Today’s leaders need to have three characteristics, says Sanders.

1. Authoritative. People desire “reliable leaders who know where they are going and are confident of getting there.”

2. Spiritual. Those would lead people to God must know God first. God anoints men and women with His Holy Spirit to do His work through them.

3. Sacrificial. Our Lord Jesus Christ was sacrificial, so we should model this trait too.

Sanders’ biggest insight from this chapter is this: “Spiritual leaders are not elected, appointed, or created by synods or church assemblies. God alone makes them.” He then adds that if we do not lead this way to a higher kind of life, a life with God, then surely the lowly path will be well-traveled. We cannot believe the myth that our own spiritual formation does not have direct impact on those we befriend and do life together with in small groups.

Implications for Small Group Leaders
1. You’ve been appointed to leadership, but this alone does not make you a “spiritual leader.”
2. Your aspiration to lead must be balanced with both the cost of leadership and a changed heart.
3. Small groups are only one context for our spiritual growth. Because of their size, and your immediate influence over those in your group, your walk with God matters all the more.

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