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Book Review: Spiritual Leadership - J. Oswald Sanders

Sanders, J. Oswald. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994.

In an age of frivolity and shallowness, Sanders book strikes at the core of leadership to uncover its essence. His title is revealing - Spiritual Leadership. In an age of unethical triumphs, Sanders calls us back to biblical character and integrity. In an age that wreaks of manipulative methods, Sanders calls us back to true influence through prayer, dependence on God, and other essential qualities of spiritual leadership. With insights from the leadership of Peter, Paul and even Nehemiah, this book calls leaders to count the cost, serve instead of be served, develop emerging leaders, and live selflessly for the cause of Christ.

In what ways does this book define and contour what it means to be a "successful" spiritual leader? In other words, what is true success when it comes to leadership? Sanders gives 3 indicators of success: selflessness, spiritual formation, and servanthood. We are bombarded every day with different benchmarks for success, but Sanders immediately reorients the focus with an admonition: "We must put more into life that we take out," and that history will only remember a man for "the quality of his deeds and the character of his mind and heart" (p. 15). Success, therefore, is the selfless act of giving one's life away for God's purposes. Success is also viewed in terms of spiritual formation: "If those who hold influence over others fail to lead toward the spiritual uplands, then surely the path to the lowlands will be well worn" (p. 19). In terms of servanthood as a success factor, Sanders puts it this way: "The Son of God became the servant of God in order to do the mission of God." (p. 125) In fact, all of ch. 3 is devoted to this tenet that servanthood is the foundation of leadership, and the greatest clue to whether or not that leadership is successful.

In what ways does this book help identify and develop the attributes, attitudes, characteristics and heart of emerging leaders, one might ask? In other words, how can the concepts and ideas in this book help in identifying and developing emerging leaders? Sanders relates that "perhaps the most strategic and fruitful work...is to help leaders of tomorrow develop their spiritual potential" (p. 148). In chapters 8 and 9 he gives a few of the essential qualities of leadership. These should be developed in every emerging leader: discipline, vision, wisdom, decision, courage, humility, integrity, sincerity, humor, righteous anger, patience, friendship, tact, diplomacy, inspirational power, executive ability, the art of listening, the art of letter writing, (p.51-77) and last, but certainly not least, prayer (ch. 11). These are all essentials, and should be benchmarks in cultivating emerging leaders in any spiritual organization.

This book always helps reset my compass. There were 2 key areas in which I was convicted and encouraged to change. "Humility is the hallmark of the spiritual leader." (p. 61) I really pray that God would continue to sow the seeds of humility in me, and not give up until my dependence is truly rooted and grounded in Him. On prayer: "Prevailing prayer that moves people is the outcome of a correct relationship with God." (p. 91) That is the essence of influence, and the essence of leadership - a heartfelt dependence on God through prayer. Tact and diplomacy, although skills that are a vital part of leadership, need to be brought under the guiding influence of the Spirit. What is healthy and the essence of spiritual leadership is the simplicity of calling on God to do not only what I am incapable of doing, but also what I am capable of doing.

Sanders book is an insightful compass that points back to the nature of true leadership - spiritual influence. From understanding the motivating factors to lead and assessing the viability of leading, from giving the essential qualities of leadership to helping count the cost of it, from giving specific essential qualities of leadership to casting the vision of developing the next generation of leaders, Sanders has written a classic guide for any leader who desires to spiritually lead.

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