Best Books: Spiritual Leadership, by J. Oswald Sanders

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Our “best books” series spotlights essential reading for Christian leaders. This week’s pick is Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders.

From 1964-1966 a series of lectures were given to the Overseas Missionary Fellowship conference in Singapore. Those lectures provided the content for this book, which has been recognized as a leadership classic.

The book begins with a promotion of godly ambition for the glory of God, as exemplified by the life of Jesus Christ. It then moves to discuss the great need for Christian leadership and the ways it is often misunderstood.

This book is practical. It’s not a theory of leadership, but things to do as a leader.

Chapter three is all about service as demonstrated in the humble life of service that Jesus lived. He notes six aspects of servant leadership: dependence, approval (from God), modesty, empathy, optimism, and anointing. In this chapter he also addresses the role of suffering in leadership. Chapter four compares and contrasts worldly and godly leadership. Additionally, here, he explains how leaders are both born and made. Chapter five is really a diagnosis chapter to examine our own motives as a leader. Chapter six explores the leadership life of Paul, along with the leadership qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3. Chapter seven looks at leadership from 1 Peter 5:1-7. Chapters eight and nine look at the qualities of godly leaders. Chapter ten explores the role of the Holy Spirit in empowering a leader, and, relatedly, chapter eleven examines the necessary connection between prayer and spiritual leadership. Chapter twelve focuses on time management for effectiveness, and chapter thirteen teaches us that leaders are readers. Chapter fourteen offers up practical suggestions for improving as a leader and for encouraging others to aspire to leadership.

This book is biblical. It is filled with biblical wisdom and examples.

Chapter fifteen reminds us of the cost of leadership, describing for us the leadership realities of sacrifice, loneliness, fatigue, criticism, rejection, and pressure. Chapter sixteen is a bit of a summary chapter hitting the big themes of the book covered previously. Chapter seventeen reveals five tests leaders face and offers examples from the lives of Moses and Peter. Chapter eighteen covers delegation. Chapter nineteen talks about replacing leaders. Chapter twenty looks at 2 Timothy 2:2 on multiplying leaders. Chapter twenty-two covers the perils of leadership. And, the book closes in chapter twenty-two with an examination of Nehemiah’s leadership.

 There are four reasons this is a great book:

  1. This book is readable. The chapters are brief and focused.
  2. This book is practical. It’s not a theory of leadership, but things to do as a leader.
  3. This book is biblical. It is filled with biblical wisdom and examples.
  4. This book is transferrable. The concepts work in multiple cultural contexts.