Principles of Excellence for Every Believer
By J. Oswald Sanders
An Honorable Ambition
To aspire to leadership is an honorable ambition. 1 Timothy 3:1
Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. Jeremiah 45:5
Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave of all. Mark 10:42-44
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. After all, is it not better for the position to seek out the person rather than the person to seek out the position?
The verses above provide a warning, and an encouragement. When our ambition is to be effective in the service of God – to realize God’s highest potential for our lives – we need to keep both of these concepts in mind and hold them in tension. •
Paul urges Timothy to the work of leading the church, the most important work in the world. •
Jeremiah gave Baruch some very wise and simple counsel. The prophet was not condemning all ambition as sinful, but he was pointing to selfish motivation that makes ambition wrong. The issue is are you seeking great things “for yourself”?
All Christians are called:
to develop God-given talents,
to make the most of their lives,
to develop to the fullest their God-given powers and capacities. But Jesus taught that ambition that centers on the self is wrong. Ambition that centers on the glory of God and the welfare of other believers is a mighty force for good.
At the outset of any study of spiritual leadership, this master principle must be squarely faced: True greatness, true leadership, is found in giving yourself in the service of others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you. True service is never without cost. Often it comes with a painful baptism of suffering. But the true spiritual leader is focused on the service he and she can render to God and other people, not on the residuals and perks of high office or holy title.
2. The Search for Leaders
No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, He exalts another. Psalm 75:6-7
The Lord has sought out a man after His own heart and appointed him leader of His people. I Samuel 13:14
The Bible shows us that when God finds a person who is ready to lead, to commit to full discipleship and take on responsibility for others, that person is used to the limit. Such leaders still have shortcomings and flaws, but despite them, they become spiritual leaders.
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 church assemblies. God alone makes them. Often truly authoritative leadership falls on someone who years earlier sought to practice the discipline of seeking first the kingdom of God. Then, as that person matures, God confers a leadership role, and the Spirit of God goes to work through him.
“The road to spiritual authority and leadership … is not gained by seeking great things for ourselves, but like Paul, by counting those things that are gain to us as loss for Christ. This is a great price, but it must be paid by the leader who would not be merely a nominal, but a real spiritual leader of men, a leader whose power is recognized and felt in heaven, on earth, and in hell.” (Samuel Brengle of the Salvation Army)
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