LEADERSHIP AND MINISTRY
Selections from the Ministry of
BY: T. AUSTIN-SPARKS
“For that the leaders took the lead….bless the Lord” (Judges V. 2)
While there are few things fraught with more difficulties, perils, and involvements than leadership, there are few things more vital and necessary. The fact of leadership needs no argument. It is in the very nature of things. Every situation that arises of a serious and critical nature either finds its salvation by the spontaneous forthcoming of the spirit of leadership in someone, or becomes a disaster for want of it. When an emergency arises, people are either paralyzed and helpless because there is no one to give a lead, or are galvanized into action or confidence by the right kind of leadership.
But not only in emergencies does this factor show its importance. Both in any enterprise, mission, and service, and in any realm of responsibility, this – which is an elemental principle, invariably shows itself. We have much to say about its nature, its sphere, and its purpose, but first of all it is necessary that we should recognize and accept that leadership is a fact in the very constitution of life and purpose. It has been so from the beginning, and – in Principle (if not in form) – has operated in every realm, not least in the Church.
In its right place, sphere, nature, and relationship it is a must; only chaos, confusion, and frustration can obtain where there is no spirit of leadership. Indeed, even where there may be a pretending to the contrary, it will be there somewhere if things are not completely stagnant or running to seed…
With all the desire and intention in the world to safeguard the unique and sole rights of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Church, we still believe that there is an essential place for, and need of, subject and subordinate (to the Lord) leadership. Moreover, this we believe not to be out of order, but in the Divine order.
The place and function of the shepherd in the Bible is to “go before,” and the sheep “follow after.” The Lord is truly the Chief Shepherd, but there are shepherds in the churches, and they have to lead. While James, John, Timothy were apostles of the churches, they were recognized as having particular responsibility in a local church. If this can be proved to be true in any case, it must be accepted as: (1) expressing a certain personal leadership, and (2) not necessarily violating either the headship of Christ, the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, or the corporate nature of local responsibility. To argue otherwise is to say that it is impossible to have a corporate body of responsible men who recognize anointing for leadership amongst themselves – and to honor such – while not being under autocratic oppression. While we most strongly contend against autocracy, we as strongly contend that leadership even amongst responsible brethren is right, provided always that it is evidently anointed leadership and of the kind that is approved of God…
As is always the case, the positive is revealed in its importance by the opposition which it encounters. We have only to consider the leadership function of such as Adam, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Nehemiah, Paul, and a hundred others to understand the intense and many-sided antagonism leveled at them. Of course, the Lord Jesus as “the captain of our salvation,”‘ i.e., “the file-leader,” is the supreme instance. Break, defeat, beguile, seduce the leader, and the battle is won – the forces are helpless. The focus of adverse attention upon leadership is its own testimony to its importance.
Then in approaching the question of what leadership is, we must say something of what it is not. Leadership (in the work of God) is not firstly on natural grounds. It is not – in the first place – a matter of personality, natural ability, assertiveness, enthusiasm, assumption, strength of mind or will. A blusterer is not a leader. A leader in God’s work is not made or trained in the schools or academies. That may be so in the world’s work, but we are dealing with spiritual leadership. Many natural things, inherited or acquired, may – or may not-be helpful subsequently, but God’s leaders are not essential leaders because of certain natural qualifications.
Whatever may or may not be true in the natural realm, the fact is that God’s leaders are chosen by Him. They, and others, may always have many questions as to Why, but that fact governs. God only knows why! When God does it, men have either to take account of it and accept it, or in repudiating it to be out of Divine approval. This is very true to the Bible, as we shall see.
What we have just said does not imply that there are no qualities in leaders. They go to school with God, and in a hard school the kind of qualities required by God are inculcated. Another general thing about leaders chosen by God is that they, while being human, are in many respects a class by themselves. They are pioneers, and pioneers are lonely people in more respects than one. In some ways they are difficult people. Their standard and measure has to be ahead of others, and as human nature generally likes not to be disturbed but would seeks the easy way, the pioneer is often a bit too much for people. He is restless, never satisfied, always pressing and urging forward. The keynote of his life is “Let us go on,” His is not the easy way, and because human nature does want the easy way the leader is not always popular. The whole nature of man is either downward or to a quiet and happy mean and smugness. The pioneer is therefore not always appreciated, but often very much otherwise. He is so much contrary to this mediocre gravitation. A part of the price of leadership is loneliness.
Leadership is a divine imperative. In the work of God, true leadership is not by the choice or desire of those concerned. Very often it is against their inclination or desire, especially when they have been in God’s ‘school of discipline.’ Indeed, the man Who wants to be a leader, who forces himself into that position, who assumes it, and who would not rather be saved from it, will most likely be a menace. It Will be clear to all that it is more the man than the Lord. His leadership – such as it is – will be forced, artificial, and lacking in unction. The God-chosen leader is a ‘cannot’ man in two ways. Firstly – like Moses and Jeremiah – he will genuinely feel and confess, “I cannot.” But on the other hand, he will know that he cannot do otherwise; it is a Divine compulsion, a fire in his bones, an urge and energy not of himself. While he is on his job, he may give the impression of personal strength – perhaps of efficiency or even self-assurance – but he and God know the depth of his secret history: the overwhelming consciousness of need and dependence, the awareness of limitation, and the desolating realization of failure and weakness.
Leaders know deeper depths than any others, and their battle with self-despair is more acute. Yet it is a part of their leadership and responsibility that they hide their own personal sufferings and sorrows. Like Ezekiel and Hosea they have to anoint their face and in the hour of deepest sorrow go before the people “as at other times.” The troubles must not get into their voice or manner; if they do, their influence has gone; for if people are going on to the greater fullness of Christ, the supreme virtue is courage, and it is this that a leader must inspire. His boldest times-before men may be his times of deepest suffering before God. They know that they are involved in the ‘impossible,’ but – in spite of themselves – they are committed; and for them compromise in unthinkable.
While writing this, I have come on The Making of a Pioneer, by the Misses Cable and French, and in it these lines occur in reference to the Pioneer:
“They are not an easy-going class of people and are subject to an inarticulate urge, the impact of a driving force pushing them forward to further effort and carrying them into what other men call ‘impossible situations.’ ‘Appointed to pioneer work’ is an expression which is a travesty of the true case, for no man can be called a ‘pioneer’ until he has proved himself to be one. The… pioneer is heaven-ordained, not man-appointed.”
It is in the very nature of true spiritual leadership that the leader has to have in his own being through experience that to which he seeks to lead others. He has gone the way before. He has tasted what he calls others to taste. He is no book leader; what he says to others and urges them toward comes out of his own life at great cost. The artificial ‘leader’ (?) can say the most extravagant things, can give all the theory and assume all the mannerisms; and he gets away with it and knows little or nothing of the real heartbreak. ”The husbandman that laboreth must be the first to partake of the fruits,” said Paul, but while this may apply to the reward of labor, it may also apply to the cost.
When we have said all as to that special class of pioneer-leaders in spiritual things, we must point out that even if we cannot count ourselves among them, you and I should be leaders in the sense that we inspire and are an incentive to others to “go on” with the Lord. While “followers,” there are always others who can be influenced by us, and the very essence of leadership is inspiration. May we all be leaders in this sense. Having introduced this matter of leadership in a more-or-less general way, we now proceed to look into it more closely in order to learn from Bible examples the principles which are basic to it and the features which delineate it.
Before coming to our first great example, let us emphasize the two common factors in spiritual leadership:
One is the fact of the sovereign act of God. In His choice of men for specific responsibility, God acts in the absolute right and independence of His own sovereignty. No one is allowed to question His act, His judgment, His reason. Sovereignty is unpredictable. God is answerable to no one, neither is He responsible to anyone. His thoughts and His ways are unfathomable, and in His wisdom He waits long past His acts for vindication. But it is always vindicated in the final issue. The second factor is that of God linking Himself with a vessel – a human vessel – and linking that vessel with Himself for a special purpose. This is the meaning of anointing in both Testaments. Anointing in which God so commits Himself to the vessel is always related to purpose, and man cannot touch that vessel or dispute its work without having – sooner or later, by sudden intervention or the slowly-grinding mills of God – to reckon with God. It is here that we are forbidden to judge God’s instrument on the ground of their humanity apart from God. We may think that they provide ground for adverse judgment, but if God is using them and is with them, it will only bring us into a controversy on the part of God with us if we touch His anointed – in word or deed. The Bible has many instances of this. Provided the vessel remains in meekness, God will take full responsibility for its defects and for its vindication.
Having said that, we can now proceed to the first example of leadership in the Bible. While the principle of leadership was at work from the beginning, leadership only had its full expression when there was a people needing and prepared for it. This full expression of the principle first came out in Moses.
What we have said regarding the sovereignty of God is unmistakable in the case of Moses. From his birth and preservation at birth right through his history, all the evidences of his being a “chosen vessel” are clear. He was where he was because God did it. Even when, out of sympathy and wrath, he essayed to assume the position of deliverer that was negative, because this thing had got to be so utterly of God.
The endurance of Moses is a matter that is remarked upon in Scripture, but that endurance – as ours will be – was greatly supported by his later knowledge that he was where he was because God had done it, and it was not of his own choosing. How important it is that Christians – and especially Christian leaders – should be in a position to say emphatically that they know how true Christ was when He said, ”Ye did not choose Me, but I chose you.” This foundation of ‘an act of God’ is the only one to support the tremendous weight of responsibility and demand that leadership has to experience.
The second thing that comes out so clearly as making for leadership is the firsthand knowledge and experience of that out from which we are to lead others.
Moses had forty of the years in Egypt when the Pharaoh-complex of Joseph’s time had so utterly changed from favor to hostility. He was born into that hostility and hatred and would have known from his mother and sister of his own Providential escape. He knew the palace and its tensions. He lived in the atmosphere of mingled fear and animosity. He daily saw the conditions of his own people. As with Joseph, “the iron entered into his soul.” No doubt that background contributed greatly to his later reluctance to go back, and his effort to find a way out of so doing.
It is not God’s way to send inexperienced people into leadership responsibility. Such people are really handicapped and in serious weakness. A part of the training of any leader should be a firsthand knowledge of the world and its inimical forces, and a life with God in the midst thereof.
Many a servant of God has been profoundly thankful in after years that – in the sovereignty and foreknowledge of God – he had periods in conditions against which God reacted through him. This may apply to various aspects and phases of life. God places His servants in situations which are not His ultimate will for them, and the time will come when they react against what at one time seemed to be wholly or almost wholly of God. It is strange that it is possible at one time to believe a position to be wholly of God, and later to discover that it was only the provisional will of God to qualify for something quite other. Such servants of God take with them through life a very real inside knowledge which makes it possible for them to say, “We speak that which we do know.” We could hardly exaggerate the importance and value of this factor in leadership.
The third factor in this leadership is a fundamental lesson that the work of God is essentially spiritual.
Moses was “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.” He no doubt had natural endowments. He certainly had rich acquired qualifications. He was evidently a man of considerable physical strength. His natural disposition was to be thorough in anything that he undertook, as see him slaying the Egyptian and separating the quarrelling Hebrews. He was not lacking in zeal nor weak in initiative. But with all this, God did not take him up on those grounds. “Not by might, nor by power” are words which very aptly apply to Moses at the age of forty years.
“The weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” The real and eternal aspect of God’s work is spiritual; therefore only spiritual men with spiritual experience and resources can do it effectively. God’s true leaders are spiritual men and men of the Spirit.
All our natural ability, our training, our acquired qualifications; our strength, zeal, and learning will prove of little avail when we come up against the ultimate forces of the universe, which are spiritual. This Moses well knew when he came actually to his life-work.
Leadership is often born of the deep discipline of failure and self-discovery. The second forty years of his life served such a purpose and were no doubt deeply tinged with the bitterness of self-disillusionment. He was in a much safer place when he shrank from the responsibility than when he self-confidently tackled it in his own strength.
A further qualification for leadership as seen in the case of Moses is faithfulness, promptness, and humility in ordinary and unspectacular affairs.
Tending a few sheep at the back side of the desert by an erstwhile royal prince of Egypt for a considerable number of years could be a fair test of patience and lack of bitterness. The opportunity to help some defenseless women to get their flocks watered was neither beneath his dignity nor an annoying interruption in preoccupation with ‘higher and more important matters.’ He was not so disaffected by his disappointment as to be contemptuous of a humble piece of work.
High-mindedness is a disqualification for leadership. The Lord watches the out-of-sight life and determines His approval there. A true leader is not one who has to be shown and asked to do menial things, but one who sees a need and self-forgettingly lends a hand.
It is quite evident that God knew where Moses was, and that he was not a castaway servant. Moses had been inwardly disciplined in the school of inaction, a very hard school for his active and energetic type. The self-emptying had been a painful process, but it had effected God’s intention and put him on that essential ground of spiritual leadership which is “no confidence in the flesh;” “all things are of (out from) God.”
But the immediate point is that upon which the Lord’s eye was looking during the time of waiting. That is, a spirit of service. It is so easy to be active and energetic when there is some big, interesting, or worthwhile job on hand, especially if it is in the public eye or alongside of others. But the real test is when things are quite otherwise, and we are right down to bedrock principle – the principle of conscientiousness without the influence of relatedness in responsibility and another’s eye upon us. Service is a spirit, not an outward obligation. There is very little of the spirit of service left in the world now, but with God it has always been something of which He has taken particular account.
This is His law of trust and approval: “He that is faithful in that which is least.”
Say what we may about Moses himself and of Divine sovereignty in his life, but let it be understood that Divine sovereignty does not bypass simple ‘everyday’ behavior in what may seem to be very insignificant matters. A whole life’s vocation may turn upon a seemingly small issue. It is our spirit that God looks at. The few sheep at the back of the desert, a few helpless women in difficulty had a place in God’s esteem which led to a true exaltation.
The episode of the bush was the crisis and turning-point in the life of Moses. We could say that the past forty years found their meaning and issue here, and the following forty their strength. There is an incomparable meaning in this, and the significance was immense; for here we are in the presence of the Triune God in combined operation unto the emancipation of an elect people…
When Moses, many years after, pronounced the blessings upon the tribes, the highly esteemed Joseph was to know “the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush.“ (Deut. 33:16) Moses came to understand that “good will” in all its redeeming love. What a basis and background for leadership!
Moses may not have understood all the New Testament meaning, but he came into the power.
What Moses was meant to understand – for his great responsibility – was that humanity in itself may be frail, weak, and as vulnerable as a bush of the desert; but if God links Himself with it in the power of the Holy Spirit, it can endure and live and triumph when naturally it should succumb.
Joshua, like the One Whom he typifies, is the link joining the great salvation from with the great salvation unto. Moses – in the main – had to do with the salvation from; Joshua entered into that, shared it, and then took it to the great unto of its purpose. The unto broke down in the case of Moses, although he laid its foundation. It broke down with the first generation who came out. They failed to go through. The New Testament repeatedly refers to this failure in the most solemn warnings to Christians of this dispensation. In so doing, it reflects the very great importance of the leadership-work of Joshua, and thereby lifts Joshua and his special aspect of leadership on to very high and vital ground. Nothing less than the whole import of salvation, and therefore ninety percent of the New Testament is represented by the leadership of Joshua. True, in his own case, it failed of full realization, and Joshua did not lead them into the “rest” (Heb. 4:8). But he did – in eternal principles – lead to the One Who has made his work complete, even Jesus…
There is no doubt that Joshua was the Old Testament counterpart of Paul; each in his different and respective sphere. The one, the earthly, temporal, and limited; the other, the heavenly, spiritual, and universal. In both cases the dominating issue was THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST as being God’s supreme and all-inclusive purpose.
This was – and is – the object of the salvation ‘out from.’ Fail of this, and salvation has lost its most essential meaning and object. Fail of this, and we inherit all the reproaches resultant from the tragedy of Kadesh Barnea. Fail of this, and we are in the first letter to the Corinthians where – with this very example presented – a life-work can go up in smoke in ‘the Day,’ and we be saved ‘yet only as by fire.’ Fail of this, and the most grievous things in the New Testament (see the Letter to the Hebrews, chapters 6 and 10, etc.) will apply to us. From both the Old Testament history and the New Testament admonitions, it is evident that it is possible to be saved in an elementary sense but lose the ‘inheritance’; and it is the inheritance which justifies all.
Thus Joshua represents the leadership which, energized by the Holy Spirit, has in view and all-governing that FULLNESS into which Christ has entered and which He is – and has – for His people: Nothing less or other than that.
This is a tremendous thing, and it constitutes a very great vocation. It gives leadership its highest and fullest meaning… What Joshua really represents, then, is Christ under the anointing Spirit committed to the full purpose of God – the Heavenly Inheritance, God’s FULLNESS in His Son. Who will say that to have even a small place in this work is not preeminently important?
Here, then, leadership takes on its superlative meaning…
Let it be understood that for many years Joshua himself was in the school of leadership. He was being tested, proved, drawn out to be approved. This aspect of his history was in the wilderness, and forty being the number of probation, Joshua’s leadership had its difficult and testing probation. No one leaps suddenly into this vocation. A great deal of history lies behind this ministry.
It will surprise no one that, with such a purpose in view, leadership is fundamentally linked with warfare. We first meet Joshua in connection with the withstanding of God’s people by Amalek (Exod. xvii). So early in the people’s history, as they start with freshness toward the ultimate goal, evil forces arise to bar the way. Amalek took the initiative: “then fought Amalek.”
It is in a time of conflict, when the enemy takes the initiative, that there is revealed what fighting spirit there is hidden amongst the Lord’s people. Joshua was the embodiment of this spirit. He knew that this move of the enemy signified a disputing of the inheritance – that it was not just an incidental and unrelated thing. Defeat here had a long-range connection. Everything was involved. There would be many battles ahead and the approach of the full end would be marked by an intensification of conflict from which there would be very brief, if any, respite; but this very early assault involved the whole.
It would be a great thing if the Lord’s people saw everything in the light of the full end and weighed what seems but incidental against the whole involvement of a defeat at any given point. How much hangs upon this spirit of leadership coming to light at a critical moment! Leadership, in Joshua’s case, was hidden, so far as the record shows, until the hour of real need; then it is found to have been there – but latent. But there is little doubt that Joshua had A SECRET HISTORY WITH GOD.
So we come to a vital factor in leadership. It is a secret history with God which is motivated by a deep and intense jealousy for God’s full thought. Later it came out in the revealing occasion when he and Caleb stood alone against all Israel.
The second occasion on which we meet Joshua is equally revealing as to his spirit. It is when Moses was in the mount with God. The forty days had proved too much for the patience of this vacillating and self-willed people. They broke loose, and Aaron’s part in it was deeply discreditable (The story is in Exodus 32).
As Moses descended the mount, picking up Joshua on the way down, they heard the noise in the camp. It must have been loud and confused; indeed, very wild. Consistent with his very spirit, Joshua interpreted it as ‘the noise of battle.’ The war-horse thought he scented conflict. He was right, although the battle element was deeper than the appearance. They were making merry, but their very merriment was a battle against God.
Jealousy for God’s honor will sense and see the really inimical and hostile elements in things like this. Anything that threatens to take the Lord’s unique and utter place will make one like Joshua instinctively scent battle and rise to it in spirit. Joshua represents utterness for God and of God, and this always means battle. If the whole purpose of God concerning His Son and His Church really captures the spirit, compromise is intolerable and unthinkable. In thin, Joshua does foreshadow his great New Testament counterpart – Paul, and they very definitely meet in the latter’s Letter to the Galatians.
The spirit of battle which characterized Joshua on the way down the mountain found its very definite materializing in the immediate act of Moses. His challenge of “Who is on the Lord’s side?” found Joshua a wholly committed man. The test was a very grim and exacting one, but it is evident that he was wholly one with “the sons of Levi” in their uncompromising course.
The tent was pitched outside the camp and to it and Moses Joshua, with the sons of Levi, resorted at the call of Moses. This brings us to the next significant mention of Joshua: “…Joshua… departed not out of the tent.” Joshua had chosen the place of complete separation and difference at great cost, and there he stayed.
The Letter to the Hebrews takes this incident up and applies it – on the one side to the compromising Judaizers, which it calls “the camp;” and on the other side to the non–compromising, committed devotees to Jesus Christ. It says that to the latter “outside the camp” is the place of “bearing His reproach.”
Here, then, we have come on two more factors in true spiritual leadership. One is that the true leader is one who will never, however much it costs, be drawn into compromise. A leader must never be weak. He must never allow policy to override principle. He must never allow popular opinion to weaken his committedness. He must never allow sentiment to dilute his strength. He must never let sociability make him sacrifice supreme interests and spiritual or moral integrity under the cover and pretext of a false usage of Paul’s words about becoming “all things to all men.” ‘Hebrews’ says that “outside the camp” where Joshua elected to be is the unpopular place, and it is always very testing to be unpopular. But leadership often demands this price.
The other thing which arises at this point in the case of Joshua is reliability. Moses – not in compromise – returned to the camp. Joshua abode in the tent. This is stated in the narrative evidently with a serious meaning. what the full meaning is may be left for us to consider, but this one thing is clear: you would always know where to find Joshua. If it were asked, ‘Where is Joshua?’ everybody would have the answer: O. he is – where he always is – in the tent.’ If Moses needed him, he knew where to find him.
Leadership absolutely demands this characteristic of dependableness. What a strength it is to know that a person can be guaranteed to be in a definite spiritual position – right on the spot spiritually; not temperamental, vacillating, variable, or unpredictable. The multitude, especially “the mixed multitude,” is like that – not consistently true for two days together. You never know how you are going to find them at any given time. To lead them into anything more of God demands this feature of ‘abiding.’ Yes, there may be discouragement, disappointment, provocation, and heartbreak, but true spiritual leadership rests upon an all-or-nothing basis, and deep down there is an abandon to purpose which is stronger than all that is against.
The leader may adjust on points and be open to progressive light, but as to the ultimate Divine vision, he will die rather than betray or recant. He is no time-server or opportunist. He cannot be bought off. He is going on or he is going out. He has seen, and he can never unsee. He says, “Here I am, I can do no other. May God help me;” or, “this one thing I do.”
Such a faithfulness and undeviating committal is something in the very nature of the call and the vocation.
But with all his strength of purpose, Joshua, like his New Testament counterparts, was always in school learning fresh lessons on leadership.
Our next touch with him is very indicative of this. It is in Numbers xi. The Spirit of God is exercising His essential sovereign liberty. Into this sovereign activity certain ‘laymen’ are caught up; that is, men who are not recognized official prophets; they are not in the recognized place for functioning in such a way. Eldad and Medad come under the spontaneous movement of the Spirit and prophesy in the camp. Joshua is alarmed and scandalized. He rushes to Moses in his jealousy for that great man and cries, “My lord Moses, forbid them.” To his amazement and disconcertion, Moses shows no sympathy with his jealousy and conventionality. Rather does Moses rebuke it: “Would to God that all the Lord’s people were prophets” – ‘Do not be jealous for me.’ In other words, ‘Do not limit the Lord. Do not circumscribe the Holy Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit will not be bound by jealous conventionality, nor by human fears as to what He may do next: “The wind bloweth where it listeth.”
The situation is quite clear. Peter had to learn this lesson, and failure to do so fully only resulted in fettering the Church and some of its apostles. The absolute sovereignty of the Holy Spirit was something which meant an immense amount in the after life of Joshua and his leadership. If it is true that ‘the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind,’ that is only another way of saying that the Holy Spirit will demand the right and liberty to overleap our prejudices, our stringencies of interpretation – indeed, anything and everything that makes Christ smaller than He really is.
The very leadership itself can be jeopardized and falsified if this lesson is not well and truly learned.
But our special point here is not the range of the Spirit’s work, for the occasion to which we are referring was amongst the Lord’s people. What we are especially pointing to as an essential law of leadership is the absolute sovereign rights and liberty of the Holy Spirit to choose His own ways and means, places and times. The government of the Holy Spirit without deference to any one or any thing other than His own nature and authority has to be recognized, acknowledged, and accepted in order to implement the Divine purpose.
Having summarized the general ground of leadership as represented by Joshua, there remains one specific and inclusive factor which is given peculiar prominence and emphasis at the beginning of the book which bears his name. It is THE VITAL FACTOR OF COURAGE. If the first chapters of that book are the preparation for all that follows, or the foundation thereof, then quite clearly courage is the dominant characteristic. Four times in the brief first chapter is this note strongly struck: three times by the Lord and once by the people. Courage is made a command and a demand. “Be strong and of a good courage” is the Divine command and requisite…
There had been the great ‘Out.’ Now there was to be the great ‘In.’ There had been the tremendous fact of redemption. Now there was to be the Purpose of it….
If the ‘Out’ had made immense demands for courage in the case of Moses, the ‘In’ was going to make equal, if not greater, demands in the case of Joshua. Every value to be secured and every step of advance toward fullness was going to be fraught with powerful and relentless resistance. The issue was no less than absolute dominion, and for this no quarter could be given by either side.
The salvation of the Church from the power of Satan’s dominion is a costly and withstood matter. But the collective forces of his kingdom are stirred to any and every kind of resistance when it comes to a growing and additional apprehension of Christ and a larger measure of Himself in possession of His people.
Not only the frontal attack or withstanding, but the paralyzing insinuating of his own character in the form of covetousness, as at Ai; or the deceptiveness of compromise, as with the Gibeonites, are very effective methods. Let it be clearly recognized that the effect of the second of these – with a very long crippling carry-over – was to take the fight out of the Lord’s people. It is a subtly effective maneuver of the enemy to make the Church accept a compromise without the need for battle.
So there was always the temptation to accept an untimely and too-early settlement and satisfaction. This, in the case of Israel, resulted in the terrible period of the ‘Judges’ – the disgrace of the Bible. Discouragement, impatience, and weariness were ever near to rob of FULLNESS and finality.
All this was in the knowledge of God when He laid such emphasis upon courage at the beginning.
We could say that perhaps the greatest weapon of the foe of spiritual progress and fullness is discouragement, and he well knows the menace to his interests of spiritual courage. We need not stay to do more than remark that spiritual courage is a peculiar kind of courage, and of a higher order than physical or even moral courage. The courage of Jesus when on trial – the courage to be silent – was more powerful than any other kind of courage. The courage of the Apostles on and after the Day of Pentecost was a victory over their own former cowardice and something that was above the natural. To meet the ultimate spiritual forces of this universe requires more than the best natural courage. The best human courage is no match for the Devil and his hosts, with their almost boundless resources of subtlety, malice, guile, cunning, strength, and tireless energy. Only, as with Joshua, a knowledge of the “Captain of the hosts of the Lord” as being in charge, though unseen, will nerve the spirit of those in this battle.
That function of spiritual leadership to keep vision ever in view and to inspire to its attainment is in itself a battle with disappointment and despair. The leader has to infect others, like Joshua, through intermediaries, and be a constant inspiration to those in the battle… The leader has to get his courage at first hand from God, and this means many a secret courageous battle with depression. His temptation is very often and fierce to lower his standard, to lessen his demands, to modify his expectations, and to accommodate the situation so that it is not so exacting, but easier, for everyone.
In a thousand ways and in ever-recurring demands, courage is called for as the only way through.
DEBORAH (JUDGES IV – V)
It is a fairly far cry from Joshua to the Judges, and there is a terrible lapse from those days of triumph and conquest, as there was at the close of the Apostolic days. The Book of Judges is, perhaps, the most tragic book in the Bible…
That those were times of spiritual declension needs no arguing. That a primary reason for the declension was the absence of authority is definitely stated four times It is as though the narrator focused all the trouble upon this absence of an authoritative leadership.
There seems to be more than the statement of a fact. The suggestion or implication is that it was more than an absence of leadership; it was a disposition. When it says that “every-man did that which was right in his own eyes,” it seems to imply that that was how they were disposed to have it. They did not like the restraints of authority. They felt that leadership implied limitation; they made their own judgment the final authority. As they saw was the ‘right’ way – “right in his own eyes.” It was independence run amok.
Possibly the loss of true spirituality and the enthronement of the natural mind had resulted – as it usually does – in an inability to see the difference between spiritual and anointed leadership on the one hand, and autocracy on the other. The dislike for, and resentment to, anything autocratic or in the nature of dictatorship makes people throw over and utterly repudiate law and authority, and become a law unto themselves. The unspiritual Corinthians gave this ‘autocratic’ interpretation to the authority which Paul said had been given him in Christ. To read his letters to that church is to see how he claimed and used that authority, but it is also to see that it was absolutely necessary to their salvation as a church. But it certainly was not autocratic domination.
It is only lack of the spiritual discernment as to “things that differ,” although they may appear alike – about which Paul said much to the Corinthians – that confuses things, and loses the values of what is God-given. On the one side, it was disastrous for Israel and meant four hundred years of confusion, weakness, and impotence. On the other hand, the salvation and periods of improvement were because the Lord raised up leaders.
When we come to Deborah, we have a significant and impressive thing. There is first Deborah herself, and then there are those to whom she refers when she says: “For that the leaders took the lead.“ (Judges v. 2) Deborah overshadows the whole story; therefore she must be seen for what she is: Being a woman in such a position, she must represent a sovereign activity of God. The Bible is quite clear that – in the normal order of God – women are not set over men. Normally it would be disorder if they were… In God’s first order man is given the position of authority. But here in the case of Deborah, we have a woman by Divine consent and approval in that place…
Deborah, while being a real person, is – in effect – the spirit or principle of leadership. This is borne out in that she is called a prophetess. What is the supreme characteristic of prophetic ministry? It is inspiration. So we see that leadership in Deborah’s case was her power to inspire. Both Barak and the leaders who took the lead fulfilled their leadership by reason of the inspiration received through Deborah. Leadership is a matter of inspiration.
It is an endowment. Not all who take the position can fulfill it. It is a pathetic thing to observe someone in the position without the inspiration or anointing. That is why it is so wrong and dangerous for anyone either to assume the position or be put into it by vote or human influence.
Let our godly women realize that their function is not to rule and govern, but to inspire. Deborah said to Barak: “Hath not the Lord commanded…“ She knew the Lord, and out of that knowledge she was the spirit of inspiration.
It is no small thing to see the purpose of God and to inspire to leadership in it. This can be done, as in the case of Deborah, without personally going into the forefront of the battle.
Our lesson, then, from Deborah is that, whether officially in the office of a leader or not, leadership is essentially a matter of the gift and power of inspiration: a contagious influence, an emanating spiritual energy, and a potent example.
How often is leadership regarded as an official thing. The leader must have a title, an office, an appointment. Deborah teaches us that leadership is the expansion of the mother-spirit to embrace the whole of God’s people. “Until that I Deborah arose…a mother in Israel.” (Judges v. 7) Not ‘Till I a leader, a prophetess, a Divinely-chosen instrument arose,’ but “a mother.” Hers was evidently a heart-concern, an affectional concern for the Lord’s people.
We have earlier referred to the revolt against Paul’s spiritual authority, but his answer to that was his love, even ‘as of a nursing mother’ (I Thes. ii. 7, 11), and any seeming severity was born of his very deep paternal or – spiritually – maternal concern for them.
This element must be in all leadership; the element of a jealous yearning over the spiritual interests of those concerned. “I arose a mother,” said Deborah. The incentive of her inspiring leadership was the mother-passion for a spiritual family.
Back of all that appears and sounds otherwise in the prophets of Israel, there can always be detected this sigh and sob of a heart-relationship with a wayward family, in trouble because of its waywardness.
GIDEON (JUDGES VI)
It is not without importance to note that Gideon had no official position in Israel. He became leader because he had the spirit of a leader. Several details which composed this leadership spirit are evident. Let us note them:
(1) Gideon was characterized by a spirit of responsibility.
The times were times of straitness, weakness, and poverty. The enemy was depriving the Lord’s people of their bread, their means of sustenance. There was vigilant alertness on the part of the enemy, and it was a perilous thing for anyone to counter his strategy of starvation; for weakness was a great ally of his purpose to suppress. Both courage and wisdom were required in any attempt to subvert the enemy’s plan. This whole story shows how few there were who really were ready to pay the price; in other words, how few there were with an adequate sense of responsibility. Of those few, Gideon was chief. He had a sense of responsibility for-the Lord’s people and their great need – a sense of responsibility for the Lord’s honor. The sense of shame and reproach; this sense of jealousy and indignation; this sense of things not being as they ought to be moved Gideon to action – dangerous action. His whole course to find victory was inspired by a spirit of responsibility which demanded dangerous action.
The first phase was his action of beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. Here was exercise in secret to meet vital need. The true leader is not always the one who ostentatiously parades himself in public. Gideon was not thinking of leadership His action behind the scenes was not a subtle, veiled bit of policy or diplomacy by which he would have control and gratify an equally secret desire for power. It was just an act of disinterested, unselfish concern, prompted by a lofty purpose and largeness of heart. The food question is acute and the people just must be fed, whatever the cost to oneself. That is where leadership begins – in the hidden history of the one concerned. It is to be noted that the eye of the Lord was upon the secret life and exercise. “The Lord sent a prophet unto the children of Israel” (verse 8), but “the angel of the Lord” came to Gideon…
The Lord knew where Gideon was, what he was doing, and why he was doing it. The Lord knew that Gideon was discerning the works of the enemy and doing what he could to counter them. There was not much that he could do, and practically nothing in public – a very testing situation; but he was being faithful in that which was least.
Gideon passed the first phase of the test for leadership without ambition for it – the test of faithfulness, responsibility, and selflessness in secret.
(2) The test of humility.
The second characteristic of great account with God is humility. Responsibility was being thrust upon him without his ever having maneuvered, schemed, worked, or used any force to get it. Indeed, the record would indicate that leadership was something not desired by Gideon.
Says Dr. Tozer: “I believe that it might be accepted as a fairly reliable rule-of-thumb that the man who is ambitious for leadership is disqualified from it.”
To the amazing declaration and command of “the angel,” Gideon could only reply: my family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” His excusable trepidation is displayed in his request for the tokens – easily understood in the presence of so immense a responsibility. It is all the revealing of how little the man had confidence in himself. He passed that second stage in the test.
(3) The test of the home-base.
A further test of fitness for leadership had to be passed before Gideon could move out to the task. It was what we can call the home-base. Things were not right at home. There was compromise there. There was mixture there. The enemy had a foothold there. In the home, in the family, in the background there was that which would have put him in a false position and have completely sabotaged his campaign. He could not win on the field if the enemy held the stronghold behind.
In other words, there could be no true testimony in the world and in the heavenlies if the testimony was contradicted in the private life. However those there might resent, contend, or fear, n the long run all who knew him best had to be compelled to say that what he was in public he was at home and in private. How much more could be written in there, but with the Lord and with the ultimate issue, this ‘home-base’ factor is vital.
(4) The sufficiency of the Lord.
It was indeed a testing way by which the Lord led Gideon to leadership. The man well knew his own lack of qualification and ability. Like David he was the least in his father’s house, and no doubt despised by his bigger and – according to the world’s standard – more important brothers. But his course under the hand of the Lord was one of continuous and progressive reduction. Elimination and sifting out reduced his resources to a minimum. The Lord was stringently applying the precaution ‘lest’: Lest Gideon should feel, lest Israel should say – By my own power, by our own sufficiency we triumphed.
Gideon does not seem to have disagreed or argued with the Lord. The leaders of the world want plenty of room and plenty of means. Gideon agreed that God was enough. He agreed with God’s wisdom and judgment that a small company of solid value is better than a great multitude of divided heart.
There, then, are the factors which constitute a leadership which has the right to say: “Look on me and do likewise.” The leader must be spiritually all that he wants others to be. He must be spiritually ahead of those whom he would lead… Other things will come up in other instances, but here we can set a high value upon those four features mentioned because they were the things to which God committed Himself.
No one will dispute David’s right to be included in the list of leaders in Divine history. It was just a matter of David’s having to come to the function because God willed it. Everything conspired to prevent it in the first instance, and to overthrow it later. His family despised him, and even his father left him out of account. Saul in jealousy sought his life for years. His own son – Absalom – treacherously schemed and acted for his dethronement. The Devil himself seemed to have determined – by any and every means – to undo him. That he came to be Israel‘s greatest leader says clearly and eloquently that it was of God.
But it was not just and only naked sovereignty. There was ground in David upon which God could work. The sovereignty of God does not ignore the weaknesses, errors, faults, and even evils in men. David was deeply culpable in quite serious evils and mistakes, and no man was ever more deeply disciplined than he. Nevertheless, the Divine calling had that in the man which meant enough to God to give ground for making a great leader of him. It is to that ground that we give attention as we proceed to gather the factors and features of leadership from the Bible.
There is one characteristic in David which explains everything and includes a very great deal. It is SPIRITUAL GREATNESS. David rose to simply sublime heights of spiritual greatness, and the occasions were of the most testing nature. This we shall see as we proceed.
Let us first examine the spring of this spiritual greatness which made it possible for God to refer to him as “a man after My (God’s) heart.”
Beneath David’s spiritual greatness there was:
(1) A great sense of responsibility.
There could much be made of the courage and devotion springing from that sense of responsibility in defending and rescuing the sheep from the lion and the bear. We can take it that in that hour when no public eye was upon him, when there was no other motive or incentive, if God had seen a willingness to save his own life or forfeit the life of a single sheep as a matter of ‘discretion’ or ‘policy,’ He would never have chosen David as the shepherd of His people Israel and the type of “the great shepherd of the sheep even our Lord Jesus;” Who laid down His life for the sheep, and Who said: “Whosoever would save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake shall find it.”
Then, on the same principle of responsibility, with all that has been written and said about it, not too much has been made of the encounter with, and assault upon, the giant Goliath. This was the stuff of his later concern for the nation.
It is all too easy to sacrifice Divine interests for personal security or gain – to throw away cheaply the things precious to God because of an inadequate sense of responsibility. If it can be said truly that any attitude or conduct of ours meant loss to the people of God, then we have forfeited all right to be regarded as a spiritual leader.
(2) A heart wholly for the Lord.
In the instances of the lion and the bear, it is evident from his words to Saul that it was as before the Lord: “The Lord that delivered me.“ The Lord got the glory.
In the case of Goliath, the Lord and His honor were the motivating and activating interest. This matter of ‘the heart for the Lord’ carries us into too many incidents, connections, and ways of expression to be tabulated here, but it is not necessary; in a sense it sums up his life and flows out in his Psalms. How much that explains God’s great patience and faithfulness! It was a sense of responsibility for the Lord’s honor. –
(3) A great concern for the House of God.
David had come to a clear apprehension of God’s eternal desire to have a place of dwelling in the midst of His people. He felt so deeply that he should take responsibility for God’s satisfaction in that matter that he expressed himself thus: “Lord, remember for David all his afflictions:
How he sware unto the Lord,
And vowed unto the Mighty One of Jacob:
Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house,
Nor go up into my bed;
I will not give sleep to mine eyes,
Or slumber to mine eyelids;
Until I find out a place for the Lord,
A tabernacle for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
We know of his labors and longings for the House of God; it forms a large part of his Psalms. Such abandon to what was – and still is – so dear to the heart of God brought God alongside of him, and although he went through times of rejection, persecution, discrediting, and – in the episode of Absalom – exile and heartbreak, God vindicated him eventually. Such responsibility for God’s satisfaction is a major factor in divinely chosen leadership.
(4) A great respect and regard for the anointing.
The anointing was – to David – a very sacred thing. If it had been given even to one who had made himself unjustifiably David’s enemy, and who had done him untold harm and caused him unspeakable suffering, David would not put forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed; not though it would have been immensely to his advantage to do so, and when that enemy was completely at his mercy.
David may have known that the dishonoring of the anointing, wherever it was, would return upon the head of him who dishonored it, but he sought no such judgment. The anointing was a very responsible matter with David, and he would not touch it in word or deed.
(5) An honest lament over the fall of his enemy.
Perhaps at no point did David’s spiritual greatness rise to greater heights than in his lament over Saul’s death. He was far from the spirit which says, ‘He deserved it’; ‘it is God’s righteous judgment on him;’ and so on. There were no innuendoes; no condemnations; no remembrances of Saul’s evil deeds; no self-vindications; no gloatings and rejoicings. Sorrow, grief, regret, and kindness almost sobbed themselves out in that lament. In the light of all that he had suffered at Saul’s hands, only real greatness could account for this spirit. History may put a very different complexion on the end of Saul, and the chroniclers make no romance of it; but for David it was a grievous thing.
Yes, spiritual greatness was truly characteristic of David.
(6) Disappointed ambition.
We have seen what a large place God’s House had in the heart and life of David. But when it came to the actual realization of his holy ambition and the building of the House, he was forbidden and deprived of the privilege. In almost peremptory words God said: “Thou shalt not build the house.“ (I Kings 8:19) What would a smaller man have done? We leave the reader to answer that question. As for David, no doubt greatly disappointed and saddened, he rose above his personal feelings and prepared with all his might for the House (I Chron. 29:2), and gave a private possession in addition to all his public funds and resources.
To see another doing what has been our greatest desire in life is testing of spiritual measure; but to help that other with all our might is a proof of stature – provided, of course, that the Lord has definitely marked out that other with anointing for the work.
(7) Adjustableness when mistakes have been made.
More than once did David make a grievous and costly mistake. We do not enumerate these failures. An outstanding instance was the bringing of the Ark up to Jerusalem on the ‘new cart,’ contrary to the way prescribed in Scripture. The motive was pure and the purpose was right. But the method was wrong and disaster overtook the project. Uzzah lay dead. David was angry with the Lord. But he sought in the Scriptures an explanation, and having found it, he forsook his aggrievedness, made the necessary adjustment, and did the thing in the Lord’s ordained way. Thus again he showed that he was spiritually big enough to be a leader. He could confess his mistake. He could let all Israel know where he had been at fault. And he could act accordingly.
A very great factor in leadership is this grace and ability to adjust when mistakes are made. Even great men make them, but their greatness is shown in how they deal with them.
SENSITIVENESS TO SIN
This needs only to be mentioned for very much in David’s Psalms and history to leap into mind. The most plaintive, heartrending, and devastating outpourings of a sorrowful heart in all literature are to be found in some of David’s utterances. And these are usually in relation to his sins and failures. Such sensitiveness to wrong in oneself is very necessary in God’s judgment.
A forcing on when wrong should be righted is to make the spirit hard and callous. The Spirit of God is very sensitive. Finer susceptibilities are a mark of noble souls and spiritual refinement.
I think that what we have said is enough to give further substance to the matter of leadership, and it only remains to be resaid that leadership with God is not official and by human appointment, but – in principle – is always a matter of spiritual measure.
Assyria and Babylon had devastated Israel – people and land-and desolation reigned. If Assyria and Babylon represent the power of this world then because the people of God had flirted with the gods of this world, the world had been allowed by God to destroy the power of the (once) holy people. Babylon stands for confusion, and the descent from the high spiritual place in which God had placed them, down to an ‘earth-touch,’ brought the Lord’s people into the grip of a confusion which rendered them helpless and ashamed. Confusion ruled, and where there is confusion ruling, weakness and frustration prevail. The time of this condition was made sufficient – not less nor more – to leave those concerned in no doubt whatever that it is a fatal thing to heavenly testimony to descend in spirit to this earth and its ways – even religiously. But having indelibly written the fact in the history of His people, the time had arrived when GOD WAS MOVING FOR RECOVERY. For this work of recovery, leadership was necessary, and Nehemiah was God’s man for the occasion.
Having noted the time and occasion, we have next to take note of the significance of this movement of God.
If Babylon represents the-confusion which is ever characteristic of this world – and let it be clearly understood that the mark of the curse that was once imposed upon this earth by God because man chose another god is ever and always confusion in the peoples and nations of this earth – then God’s recovery movement will be for the restoration of distinctiveness. It is not necessary to say that in every way Israel was constituted by God a distinct and different race and people. It is a fundamental truth that the people of God are distinct from all others, and with God this is a matter of the most serious account. Seventy years of exile and captivity with all the unspeakable sufferings and distresses are ample evidence of God’s serious regard for this basic thing.
The wall of Jerusalem symbolically represented a boundary marking a within and a without, and the gates were the emphasis upon that feature. This feature is definitely referred to in relation to the other great symbolic city, the New Jerusalem. The gates represent the councils and judgments which determine the acceptable and admissible, and otherwise. They are the strength of right judgment. The wall is the symbol of a distinctive testimony to God in the nations and before Heaven. The breaking down of the wall, then, and the burning of the gates, signified the ruin of distinctive testimony on the part of God’s people. This, the significance of Nehemiah and his leadership, was that God was on the move to recover that distinctiveness of testimony which was – and is – the only reason and justification for the existence and continuance of God’s people.
So Nehemiah and the wall are identical in meaning, and leadership as represented by him is related to this matter of God’s jealousy. The book which bears his name cannot be read without recognition of the fact that God’s jealousy had been generated in the heart of this man. Nehemiah was not the man to tolerate mixture and inconsistent elements. In this he was truly like his heavenly Lord. Compromise was intolerable to Nehemiah.
The wall declares in no uncertain language that this thing is of God. Nothing which is not of God has any place here. Read the book again in this light alone, and its message is unmistakable.
Another thing which is of the significance of the wall and Nehemiah is DIVINE FULLNESS Jerusalem, in the thought of God, has always carried this symbolic meaning. It was the place of the abundance of God. In its prime it swarmed with people who regarded it to be the greatest honor and privilege to be its citizens (see Psalm 87). The nations brought their wealth into it. The Day of Pentecost found Jerusalem crammed and crowded with “men out of every nation under heaven.”
It was meant by God to be a type of the heavenly Jerusalem-the Church. And this City, this Church – the Body of Christ – is said to be “the FULNESS of Him that filleth all in all.” (Eph. 1:23)
God never did believe in vacuums. He always believed in FULLNESS It is His nature and His desire, and He always works toward Divine FULLNESS How much we could bring in here to support this statement! But, alas, in the time of which we are thinking, Jerusalem was empty and desolate – “without form and void” – a vacuum indeed’ So leadership as represented by Nehemiah related to Divine FULLNESS to be recovered in and for the people of God.
May we interject here a word regarding this condition today. The spiritual meagerness, smallness, poverty, and consequent weakness of very many of God’s people is a crying tragedy today. For years we have been appealed to by Christians in many places: ‘We have so little spiritual food in our churches.’ There are so many really hungry children of God.
Is this condition to be laid at the door of-those who are ostensibly leaders? Let it be said at once that, whatever other purposes require leadership, this one of spiritual FULLNESS is by no means the least. To fail here is to fail in a matter which is of the very nature and heart of God. Men of God, are the people for whom you are responsible in the way of “the fullness of Christ?”
Look again at Nehemiah and recognize that the fire in his bones was the fire of God’s concern for His fullness to be available again to His people and to be characteristic of them. While we speak to the leaders, or responsible men, let us say to the people also that it is positively God’s will that you should carry with you the impression above all others that you are wealthy and richly endowed people – that your God is a God of abundance. Be sure that you are availing yourselves of all that is available, and neither neglecting nor despising heavenly food.
As we look again at Nehemiah, another thing should impress us. It is that if we are really in line with that which God is doing at any given time and our hearts are aflame with His own immediate concern, there will be sovereign support given and provision made. To find that support we must be on God’s positive line of distinctiveness and FULLNESS as a testimony to Himself. The question of support is a very acute one in organized Christianity, leading to an endless variety of expedients. Surely, if Heaven rules and has all resources, and really wants something, Heaven will meet its demands and requirements. Can we not expect and believe for this aspect of Nehemiah’s leadership?
If the work of God is kept in His hands and is not allowed to become earthbound it will have Heaven’s support, and while there will be opposition enough, it will be ‘finished’ in triumph. It is the spiritual life of the Lord’s people – the heavenly Israel-which is the demand for such leadership as that represented by Nehemiah. It may not appeal to all, but only to a ‘Remnant,’ but with them will be found the satisfaction of satisfying God in the thing nearest to His heart.
In Nehemiah as an example of this needed leadership, we have:
1. A man with a heart-break over conditions.
2. A man with the vision of God’s specific desire and purpose.
3. A man with spiritual initiative governed by instant and meticulous touch with God.
4. A man endowed with true spiritual discretion.
5. A man without compromise or who will not put policy before principle – full of holy courage.
6. A man free from personal interests in the work of God.
7. A man gifted with spiritual discernment.
Lord raise up such men for this needy hour.
“Be ye imitators of me. even as I also am of Christ.“ (I Corinthians 11:1)
When a man says such a thing as this, he assumes a very heavy responsibility. He involves Christ in his conduct, and for anyone to take his advice and then go wrong would mean that Christ would be implicated in the error. The would-be leader will be committed to a very full and exact understanding of Christ and His ways.
History has given ample evidence that Paul was well aware of the responsibility which he took upon himself and, moreover, to the fact that Paul was a very safe leader in every Christly respect. So that, when we come to a consideration of leadership as in the case of Paul, we are also seeing leadership in the case of Christ in many essential respects…
It would be superfluous for us to spend time trying to prove that the Apostle Paul was a leader. Everyone knows it to be so. No one in the whole of this dispensation, after Christ, has exerted more influence upon minds and lives than he, and he is today making very heavy going for the best theological brains.
But our concern is to bring the salient points of his spiritual leadership into clear definition for all who have any responsibility among God’s people. We shall indicate seven such factors in spiritual leadership.
By ‘vision’ we mean dominating objective and purpose. Paul was a man of immense energy, and his energies covered a vast number of details and items. But Paul was not just tremendously active with a view to getting things done. That is, his was not a life of diffused activities, not even good works. Everything sprang from and was harnessed to one clear positive objective. Paul had seen something. He called it “the heavenly vision,” and for that he said that he had been “apprehended by Christ Jesus.” He was a man who knew very clearly where he was going, what his many-sided activities were unto, and what the end of all had got to be. He has placed on record precisely and concisely what that vision and objective was…
If there is to be that to which history will bear witness as really having been permanent – although temporarily undervalued and perhaps discredited – it must proceed from, and be governed by, a God-given vision of Divine purpose. There must be a seeing clearly of how things would be if God had a true expression and realization of what is His full and supreme intention.
There will be disappointments, discouragements, heartbreaks, and near despair at times, but there can be no alternative or turning to some substitutes. The vision, if given by God, will be so much a part of the leader as to be nothing less than life or death to him. This is evident in all the Seers of old, and as much as in any in the case of Paul the Apostle.
When we mention experience as being an essential in leadership, we are not necessarily thinking in terms of years. It may take time, but leadership is a matter of quality rather than quantity. Leaders are often those who have had a great deal pressed and concentrated into a short time and space. What we particularly mean by experience is that the one concerned has – through a deep, and perhaps drastic, history with God – become himself that into which he aims to lead others. No mere theory or textbook conception is history. His vision, objective, and its principles have been wrought into himself. He is his message! There is a secret power issuing from his personality which comes, not firstly from intellectual conviction, but from God’s ways with him. The man and his message are one. He knows in his very being what he is talking about and aiming at. Experience just means: that which comes out of thorough trial and proof. It is akin to experiment: a thing tested, put to the test. Leadership rests upon this knowing and being as the result of testing and proof.
We have only to look at the Apostle Paul’s particular ministry and note how God dealt with him, not only from his new birth, but even from his natural birth to see how all fitted in to that ministry. Difficult – yes, impossible – as it may be to believe it, there is a secret history of God in the life chosen by Him for leadership – even before a living knowledge of the Lord – and from the time of new birth there is a history with God related to purpose. In most cases it is a deep history – a cramming and crushing into a comparatively short time of that which makes for reality and makes mere theories almost abhorrent.
Going hand in hand with experience and indeed, just a slant thereof, is originality. This, as its very nature, rules out effort or ‘trying to be original.’ Indeed, it is not aiming at being different, getting off ‘the beaten track,’ or anything of that kind. Originality is not a deliberate discarding of old or existing orders with a view to starting something new. It is not the effort to think of something that no one has thought of before. It is not being ‘smart’ or clever. Neither is originality imitation; that goes without saying. The word itself just means ‘beginning.’ This is not something caught from another or others. This is not something stored away in our unconscious minds and now coming out, even without our recognition that it is not our own. It is in the very nature of a thing that God does in us that it is so real, wonderful, and personal that we cannot believe that anyone has ever known this before.
One may preach a certain matter for years and then one day the Lord brings that life into a living experience of the very thing, and he – or she – will come and preach to you about it as though you were the most ignorant on the matter. But see the life, the strength, the joy in the original! How often it would be pertinent to repeat to many preachers and would-be leaders the question of Christ to Pilate: “Sayest thou this of thyself, or did another tell thee it of Me?” In other words: ‘Where did you get that?’
It is essential if others are to be led into experience, and not merely into teaching or theory, that the leader is truly able to say, ‘The Lord has made me know this.’ In this matter the Apostle Paul has left us in no doubt: “It was not after men… neither did I receive it from man” (Gal. 1. 11, 12, etc.).
Whether or not in the same measure, the truth and principle must exist in all leadership.
It might be thought to be most unnecessary to argue for courage in connection with leadership. It seems so obvious. But it is not so obvious as all that. Much depends upon what is meant by courage. Physical courage is one thing – perhaps the most common. Moral courage is another thing – far less common. But spiritual courage is still of another order, and the least common. We are not going to spend time on the differences, but rather upon getting right to the heart of the matter. But let us say this – that the kind of courage which is our concern here does not ultimately rest upon anything natural. It may not rest upon either physical or moral constitution. Indeed, these can be quite a minus quantity.
In Pilate’s judgment hall – or adjoining it – during Christ’s trial, the man who had faced and weathered many a violent storm at sea – and the man who believed that he could face any moral test was a pitiable sight, reduced to abject cowardice. In Jerusalem-before the same authorities – less than two months later, the one thing noticed and recorded about him was his ‘courage.’ That is what we mean by ‘spiritual courage.’ It is not based on temperament, but is above temperament! Temperament or training may act and behave at the dictates of policy and diplomacy. Temperament may hate the way of unpopularity; may fear to lose friends, standing, advantage. Therefore in self-protection and self-preservation, compromise will be the resort or back-door way out of a dilemma. It could be worse, but this is the weakest way. True courage is a stand – at any cost – on principle; and no compromise if compromise means – in the first place – sacrificing some spiritual value, and-in the last place – merely postponing the crucial day.
Courage is not just unreasoning stubbornness. It is not unwillingness to be adjustable or to confess to having made a mistake. It may be just the opposite of these.
Courage is a clear knowing of essential Divine principles and being willing to let go all personal interests on their behalf. Again, Paul’s leadership is so evidently of this sort.
It would at once be thought that when we immediately follow what we have been saying with ‘Balance,’ we are taking something back, because – so often – ‘Balance’ and ‘Compromise’ are confused. It could be so, but not always correctly. The best way of showing the difference will be to look again at our Apostle, and in doing so see a clear reflection of our Lord in this particular respect.
Few men have combined strong opposite features in balance more beautifully and effectively than this example. That Paul was a man of very powerful forces is unmistakable. Whatever he did, he did it in strength. His own description of himself is very true:
“So fight I, not as one that beateth the air.“ (I Cor. 9:26)
There was no air-beating about Paul. If he struck, he struck hard and reached his mark. The forces stored up in that little body and mind was very powerful, and balance with him was not weakness of character or feebleness of presence.
Balance in the case of this leader is clearly seen in the combination of austerity and kindness. He could make the same people feel what he called ‘a rod,’ and melt into tears in his sympathy and tenderness. He could – like his Master – leave those who did injury to others, or to God’s interests, just devastated and shamed and – so to speak – ‘without a leg to stand on.’ And yet he could win a grim battle – as in Corinth – by sheer love and meekness.
It is not our intention here to list the various contrasts which were harmonized in Paul, but just to point out that a true spiritual leader will not be one who is all will and no heart; all softness and no strength; all cold reason and no sympathetic imagination; all sloppy sentimentalism and no ‘truthing it in love.‘ (Eph. 4:15)
Balance demands the counterpoise of opposites, and the man who would lead others must win their confidence – if it be possible – by holding strength, firmness, faithfulness – even to wounding if needs be – in even proportion with understanding, kindness, and sympathy.
(6) Dependence upon God
Perhaps it would be considered to have more point if this particular feature of leadership were set in the context of natural inefficiency. That is, if the one in view were lacking in the things which naturally make for leadership. For instance: if ‘birth,’ training, education, intellectual power, social status, ‘personality,’ and such like qualifications, attainments, and abilities were of a very ordinary or meager kind. Then we could well understand and appreciate a real and honest dependence upon God.
It puts an altogether different complexion upon the situation when all of these things are present to any unusual degree; and it opens the door to a very serious conclusion. If it was true of the Apostle Paul that, possessing all these natural advantages beyond most men, he was a man who had to – and knew that he had to – depend upon God for everything, and that apart from God he was really impotent, then we are forced to serious conclusions.
It would be too big and too long a piece of work to gather all the evidences of that dependence. All that we know from his own pen of his ‘infirmities,’ ‘weakness,’ entreaties for prayer that he would be helped; his acknowledgment of ‘help received from God’; and the one great declaration: “We despaired of life; we had the answer that it was death, that we might not trust in ourselves but in God Who raiseth the dead.“ (II Cor. 1:8, 9) We should have to include all that teaching on “faith” which was the very basis of his life.
What conclusions are we forced to by this case?
Obviously, the first is that, whatever value the sovereignty of God may have in such natural features, by themselves they are no guarantee of spiritual leadership. Should ever a man called to spiritual leadership tend to ‘lean to his own understanding,’ he will find himself confounded. The Anointing is an Extra to the fullest and best, and – note this – is of another order of qualification.
This leads on to a further conclusion. It is that natural or acquired abilities are – at most – only servants, not masters. They belong to the soul; i.e., intellect, emotion, and will, for such is the meaning of the word ‘natural’ in the New Testament. The soul is the servant of the spirit, and it is in and through the human spirit “born anew” that the Holy Spirit dwells and works. The soul is that by which human communication is made as from man to man. Reason helps reason. Heart helps heart. Will helps will. This is all good, but it remains on the natural level until the Extra of the Anointing enters by the spirit. Then things move on to the eternal level with issues that are much more far-reaching. It is just here that dependence has its real meaning; but it relates to the whole man – spirit, soul, and body; as see Paul.
It would be difficult to say with finality which is the greatest of all virtues; but in trying to reach such a conclusion, we should find ourselves under considerable obligation to place loyalty very high up, if not at the top. Loyalty includes so many things, like faithfulness, trustworthiness, fidelity, constancy, generosity, and so on. It is so great a virtue because it is in such definite contrast to the meanest and most contemptible of traits. Treachery could be placed at the bottom of the scale, with its evil brood, especially the innuendo. Of all the poison darts in a quiver, there are few more sinister than the innuendo. It is the resort of the coward who hides behind a covey of insinuations and refuses to come right out into the open. Aspersions are cruel weapons.
With all that we know of wrong, weakness, meanness, and disloyalty in churches and people, it is more than impressive to note how the Apostle Paul refused to speak or write of it to other churches and persons. We are much disgusted with a lot at Corinth that was deplorably unjust, unfair, unkind, and grossly selfish. But we never find Paul ‘letting them down’ to other churches. Rather does he make the best of them. His loyalty finds rich expression in his lists of people. Paul would never stoop to try and strengthen himself by demeaning someone else. He was a man who would – if such could be found – find some extenuating explanation for a seeming – or actual – delinquency when it was a matter of talking to others. To the delinquent he would be absolutely faithful and frank. You could rely on him to stand up for you, even if he knew well your failures.
Whatever might be said against him, it would require the most contemptible of persons to lay a charge of being a ‘little’ man against him. He was too big a man to be jealous or disparaging. He never thought or acted lightly in the matter of friendship. Friendship was a sacred thing with him, never to be cheaply thrown away. How very much there is to say about this great virtue and factor of loyalty, but with so little said, it is not difficult to see what an important and vital part it plays in leadership. It was so largely this that justified Paul in holding the position of spiritual leader which he had.
And in this respect, as in others, he was safe in saying, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.”
– September, 1962 – January, 1964
THE CROSS AND MINISTRY
The second letter (to the Corinthians), as we know, is the ministers’ letter! It tells us what a minister is from the Divine standpoint when the Cross does its work. Moses, the minister of God, is brought very much into view, ministering in the old covenant, declaring the thoughts of God, revealing the Divine mind. That is what a minister is. A minister, this word says, is one who shows forth the Divine thoughts, who manifests the mind of God. When Moses read the law, his face shone, the glory of God was expressed through him as God’s servant, God’s minister. That, mark you, was under the old covenant, the covenant of signs, the covenant of symbols, of types; yes, and a ministry of death and condemnation: and, says the Apostle, we have another ministry, and ministry is the shining forth of God in the face of Jesus Christ in our hearts. That is what a minister is; and let me put that simply, plainly.
There is no such thing in the New Testament as an official ministry as such. God has never, in this dispensation, appointed officials, as such, to be ministers. The ministry is a matter of a revelation of God in the face of Jesus Christ in the heart shining out, and what constitutes one a minister more than another is the measure of the revelation of Christ in the life; and we all ought to be ready to give place to that. It must be a revelation of God in your heart, in my heart, that constitutes us God’s ministers.
The credentials of ministry are the shining of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ in our heart, and anybody who has that can be a minister; and anybody who has not that has no right to call himself a minister. The Cross must strike at all ideas of ministry which are merely professional, which are anything other than spiritual. Spiritual gifts, spiritual revelation, spiritual knowledge, spiritual resources, spiritual riches, these alone constitute us ministers.
In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks’ wishes that what was freely received should be freely given, his writings are not copyrighted. Therefore you are free to use these writings as you are led, however we ask if you choose to share these writings with others, please offer them freely – free of changes, free of charge and free of copyright.
LEADERSHIP AND MINISTRY [T. Austin Sparks] 1