I finished J. Oswald Sanders book, Spiritual Leadership, a few weeks ago and I’m just now getting to my review of it. Originally written in the 60’s, you can definitely feel the dated nature of his theology and writing style. As a result, much of what was said struck me as either cliche or spiritually archaic. The flip side of this was that there were a few nuggets of “timeless” wisdom in it that were very beneficial.
We read this book as a leadership team in the department I’m in at church as a way to increase the spiritual dimension of our leadership. Ironically, we all concluded that the book really doesn’t focus on the spiritual side (at the exclusion of more practical application) but gives an overall summary of leadership as a Christian.
There were three primary themes that I particularly enjoyed in the book. Oswald’s focus on ambition, leadership, and reading.
“Desiring to excel is not a sin. It is motivation that determines ambitionâ€™s character.”
“Ambition which centers on the glory of God and welfare of the church is a mighty force for good.”
Ambition is something that I’m often thinking about. I’m naturally a driven, entrepreneurial person and I often second-guess myself for it. I’ve seen examples of how this can ruin people but I also know that if it is kept in a right focus it can keep you from complacency and ensure that your life is spent doing what matters to you. As Oswald points out, we must always focus on the motivations for our ambitions.
“A true leader influences others spiritually only because the Spirit works in and through him to a greater degree than in those he leads. We can lead others only as far along the road as we ourselves have traveled.”
“A leader shows patience by not running too far ahead of his followers and thus discouraging them. While keeping ahead, he stays near enough for them to keep him in sight and hear his call forward. He is not so strong that he cannot show strengthening sympathy for the weakness of his fellow travelers.”
These two quotes represent a spiritual and practical aspect of leadership. You can only usher others into the Presence of God to the degree that God’s Presence is driving you. This is easy to fake in the short term but time will always reveal reality. Cutting corners is far too easy but as we’ve seen time and time again, it is never worth the price.
The second quote captures the dichotomy of being a strong leader but also being with the people you are leading. The irony is that we can lose leadership effectiveness by being too strong (and too far ahead) of the people you are leading, OR, by being too weak (and not ahead of at all) to those you are trying to lead. Like much of life, the secret is in the balance.
“If a man is known by the company he keeps, so also his character is reflected in the books he reads. A leaderâ€™s reading is the outward expression of his inner aspirations.”
An old author whose pen name was Cladius Clear said that a reader could divide his books as he would people. A few were â€œlovers,â€ and those books would go with him into exile. Others are â€œfriends.â€ Most books are â€œacquaintances,â€ works with which he was on nodding terms.
It should come as no surprise that I loved the chapter on reading. The first quote is a good reminder of something that most people know, while the second quote is a great image to think about when reading. This is tempting for me to start adding one of these three words to each of my book ratings in the future. It is a good way to break down your thoughts on a book.
Overall, I’d say this book is an acquaintance for me. I was able to glean some great ideas and reminders but I had to sift through quite of bit of other stuff to get it.