The 40 Best Quotes from “Spiritual Leadership” by J. Oswald Sanders

Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders is a classic book, one of the greatest leadership books in print today. Numerous pastors and Christian executives credit Sanders’ work as formative in their lives and ministries. It’s depth and breadth of biblical wisdom and practical application are unmatched in a single volume. I’m not giving page numbers because there should be no cheating to look these up in context. Just read the whole book. You won’t regret it.

1. Desiring to excel is not a sin. It is motivation that determines ambition’s character. Our Lord never taught against the urge to high achievement, but He did expose and condemn unworthy motivation.

2. True greatness, true leadership, is found in in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.
3. Spiritual leaders are not elected, appointed, or created by synods or church assemblies. God alone makes them.

4. But from God’s point of view it is noble work to reclaim the world’s downtrodden people. When we find some of those the world calls “the least” and seek to meet their needs, Christ tells us we can think of them as Him.

5. There is no such thing as a self-made spiritual leader. A true leader influences others spiritually only because the Spirit works in and through him to a greater degree than in those he leads.

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6. A leader must be calm in crisis and resilient in disappointment.

7. Leaders know there is a difference between conviction and stubbornness.

8. Are you responsibly optimistic? Pessimism and leadership do not mix. Leaders are positively visionary.

9. Do you direct people or develop people?

10. If you would rather pick a fight than solve a problem, do not consider leading the church. The Christian leader must be genial and gentle, not a lover of controversy.

11. When God calls us, we cannot refuse from a sense of inadequacy. Nobody is worthy of such trust

12. Pride ever lurks at the heels of power, but God will not encourage proud men in His service.

13. Many who aspire to leadership fail because they have never learned to follow.

14. A leader must be able to see the end results of the policies and methods he or she advocates. Responsible leadership always looks ahead to see how policies will affect future generations.

15. The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.

16. Vision leads to venture, and history is on the side of venturesome faith. The person of vision takes fresh steps of faith across gullies and chasms not “playing safe” but neither taking foolish risks.

17. Leaders take lessons from the past, but never sacrifice the future for the sake of mere continuity.

18. A visionary may see, but a leader must decide.

19. The spiritual leader will not procrastinate when faced with a decision, nor vacillate after making it. A sincere but faulty decision is better than weak-willed “trial balloons” or indecisive overtures. To postpone decisions is really to decide for the status quo. In most decisions the key element is not so much knowing what to do but in living with the results.

20. Leadership always faces natural human inertia and opposition. But courage follows through with a task until it is done.

21. The person who is impatient with weakness will be ineffective in his leadership. The evidence of our strength lies not in in the distance that separates us from the other runners but in our closure with them, our slower pace for their sakes, our helping them pick up and cross the line.

22. Leaders must draw the best out of people, and friendship does that far better than prolonged argument or mere logic.

23. When people who lack spiritual fitness are elected to leadership, He quietly withdraws and leaves them to implement their own policies according to their own standards, but without His aid. The inevitable result is an unspiritual administration.

24. Christians everywhere have undiscovered and unused spiritual gifts. The leader must help bring those gifts into the service of the kingdom, to develop them, to marshal their power. Spirituality alone does not make a leader; natural gifts and those given by God must be there too.

25. People who are skeptical of prayer’s validity and power are usually those who do not practice it seriously or fail to obey when God reveals His will. We cannot learn about praying except by praying. No philosophy has ever taught a soul to pray. The intellectual problems associated with prayer are met in the joy of answered prayer and closer fellowship to God.

26. As Jesus dealt with sin’s cause rather than effect, so the spiritual leader should adopt the same method in prayer.

27. A leader will seldom say “I don’t have time.” Such an excuse is usually the refuge of a small-minded and inefficient person.

28. Spiritual leaders of every generation will have a consuming passion to know the Word of God through diligent study and the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

29. If a man is known by the company he keeps, so also his character is revealed in the books he reads.

30. Leaders should always cut a channel between reading and speaking and writing, so that others derive benefit, pleasure, and inspiration.

31. Resist the idea of “leadership from the rear.” True leadership is always out front.

32. Achievement is bought on the time-payment plan, with a new installment required every day.

33. The true leader is concerned primarily with the welfare of others, not with his own comfort or prestige.

34. More failures come from an excess of caution than from bold experiments with new ideas.

35. A true leader steps forward in order to face baffling circumstances and complex problems.

36. Successful leaders have learned that no failure is final, whether his own failure or someone else’s. No one is perfect, and we cannot be right all the time. Failures and even feelings of inadequacy can provoke humility and serve to remind a leader who is really in charge.

37. There is no virtue in doing more than our fair share of the work.

38. Indeed, no man, however gifted and devoted is indispensable to the work of the kingdom.

39. Only one leader holds office forever, no successor is needed for Him.

40. Willingness to concede error and to defer to the judgment of one’s peers increases one’s influence rather than diminishes it.