spiritual leadership summary

Book Summary: Spiritual Leadership by Oswald Sanders

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Publication: 1967 by Moody Publishers

Christian literature | Practical Life | Business & Leadership

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My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

About J. Oswald Sanders

J. OSWALD SANDERS (1902-1992) was a Christian leader for nearly seventy years and authored more than forty books on the Christian life including The Incomparable Christ, Spiritual Discipleship, and Spiritual Maturity. He left a promising law practice in his native New Zealand to serve as an instructor and administrator at the Bible College of New Zealand. Dr. Sanders later became general director of the China Inland Mission (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship) and was instrumental in beginning many new mission projects throughout East Asia.

Resonating Quotes

You can measure leaders by the number and quality of their friends.

Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; wisdom is humble that he knows no more.

The way we employ surplus hours after provision has been made will determine if we develop into mediocre or powerful people.

The best use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.

If we are careful about days the years will take care of themselves.

The strength of moral character is conserved by refusing the unimportant.

The leader who intends to grow spiritually and intellectually must be reading constantly.

Chapter 1: An Honorable Ambition

“To aspire leadership is an honorable ambition”

1 Timothy 3:1 NEB

Apostle Paul called leadership an “honorable ambition”

When your motives are right, it pays eternal dividends.

Desiring to excel is not a sin. All Christians are called to develop God-given talents, to make the most of their lives, and to develop to the fullest their God-given gifts and capabilities.

Ambition – means “campaigning for promotion” in Latin but the true spiritual leader will never “campaign for promotion”

God-centered ambition is focused on being a servant. He or she doesn’t care about the perks of a position/title.

True greatness, true leadership, is found in giving yourself in service to others, not inducing or coaxing others to serve you.

True service is never without cost. It often comes with suffering and challenges.

Chapter 2: The Search for Leaders

Real leaders are in short supply. Constantly people and groups search for them.

Throughout the Bible, God searches for leaders too. He alone makes them.

Qualifying traits if godly leadership: humility, surrender, always searches for God

Don’t take lightly the calling God has given you.

Chapter 3: The Master’s Master Principle

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

Mark 10:43-44


Servant – low prestige, low respect, low honor.

When Jesus uses the term “servant”, it was a synonym for “greatness

Qualities of Jesus:

  • Dependence
  • Approval
  • Modesty
  • Empathy
  • Optimism
  • Anointing

Chapter 4: Natural and Spiritual Leadership

Leadership is influence, the ability of one person to influence others to follow his or her lead.

Three kinds of people:

  1. Those who are immovable
  2. Those who are movable
  3. Those who move them

Leaders move others.

Spiritual leadership requires superior spiritual power, which can never be generated by self. A true leader influences others spiritually only because the Spirit works in and through him to a greater degree than in those he leads.

A Contrast of Natural and Spiritual Leadership:

  • Self-confident
  • Knows men
  • Makes own decisions
  • Ambitious
  • Creates methods
  • Enjoys command
  • Seeks personal reward
  • Independent
  • Confident in God
  • Also knows God
  • Seeks God’s will
  • Humble
  • Follow God’s example
  • Delights in obedience to God
  • Loves God and others
  • Depends on God

Montgomery’s 7 qualities necessary for a military leader, each appropriate to spiritual warfare:

  1. Avoid getting swamped in detail.
  2. Not be petty.
  3. Not be pompous.
  4. Know how to select people to fit the task.
  5. Trust others to do a job without the leader’s meddling.
  6. Be capable of clear decisions.
  7. Inspire confidence.

John Mott’s tests of leadership, one should inquire if a leader does the following:

  1. Does little things well.
  2. Has learned to focus on priorities.
  3. Uses leisure well.
  4. Has intensity.
  5. Knows how to exploit momentum.
  6. Is growing.
  7. Overcomes discouragement and impossible situations.
  8. Understands his or her weaknesses.

Chapter 5: Can You Become a Leader?

Jesus’ bands of disciples started out untrained and without influence— motley group for world change.

Ways to investigate your potential:

  • Have do you identify and deal with a bad habit? To lead others you must master your appetites.
  • How do you maintain self-control when things go wrong? The leader who loses control under adversity forfeits respect as influence.
  • To what degree do you think independently?
  • How well can you handle criticism? The humble person can learn from petty and even malicious criticism.
  • Can you turn disappointment into a creative new opportunity?
  • Do you readily gain the cooperation of others and win their respect and confidence?
  • Can you exert discipline without making a power play?
  • Are you a peacemaker?
  • Can you make and keep friends?
  • Do people trust you? Do you know how to make people valued?
  • Do you depend on the praise of others to keep you going?
  • Are you tactful? Is your will strong and steady?
  • Can you forgive?
  • Are you optimistic?

Chapter 6: Insights on Leadership from Paul

Paul became a great spiritual leader when his heart and mind were captured by Jesus Christ.

Qualities of Leadership

  • Social Qualifications – enjoy a good reputation. We cannot hope to lead people to Christ by living an example of contradiction.
  • Moral qualifications -must be prudent and with sound judgment, having “the well-balanced state of mind”, must be respectable
  • Personality qualifications – show hospitality, gentle, not a lover of controversy
  • Domestic qualifications – married Christian leaders must demonstrate the ability “to manage his own family and see that his children obey him with proper respect” 1 Tim. 3:4
  • Maturity – stable in character, spiritual in outlook, and not ambitious for position

Chapter 7: Insights on Leadership from Peter

I Peter 5:1-7

A shepherd’s work requires a shepherd’s heart.

Motivation – the spiritual leader is to approach the work willingly, not by coercion, he can’t have money in his eyes when service beckons

A leader must be worthy example for people. (1 Peter 5:3), must be clothed “with humility” 1 Peter 5:5

Chapter 8: Essential Qualities of Leadership

  • Discipline – Before we can conquer the world we must first conquer the self.
  • Vision – “seers” – people who have seen more and farther than others—persons of faith, for faith is vision, foresight + insight, optimism + hope
  • Wisdom – heavenly discernment. It is insight into the heart of things.
    Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; wisdom is humble that he knows no more. Leader must apply knowledge correctly.
  • Decision – weigh evidence and make his decision on sound premises
  • Courage – quality of mind that enables people to encounter danger or difficulty firmly, without fear or discouragement
  • Humility
  • Integrity and Sincerity

Chapter 9: More Essential Qualities of Leadership

  • Humor – Clean, wholesome humor will relax tension and relieve difficult situations. You will never lead others far without the joy of the Lord.
  • Anger – The counterpart to love. Great leaders—people who turn the tide and change the direction of events—have been angry at injustice and abuse that dishonors God and enslaves the weak
  • Patience – not running too far ahead of his followers
  • Friendship – You can measure leaders by the number and quality of their friends.
  • Tact and Diplomacy – tact is the ability to deal with people sensitively. diplomacy is the ability to manage delicate situations, especially involving people from different cultures, and certainly from different options. Reconcile opposing viewpoints.
  • Inspirational Power – a light for others around
  • Executive Ability– Judgment here means a method, order, system or law.
  • Therapy of Listening – genuine listening seeks to understand anohter without prejudgment
  • The Art of Letter Writing – Apostle Paul’s letters are filled with encouragement, gracious in compliment and rich in sympathy

Chapter 10: Above All Else

Acts 6:3, 5 Be Spirit-filled and led.
Each of us is as full of the Spirit as we really want to be.

To be filled with spirit means simply that the Christian voluntarily surrenders life and will to the Spirit.

Spiritual Gifts – the leader must help bring those gifts into the service of the kingdom, develop them, to marshal their power

Chapter 11: Prayer and Leadership

I Timothy 2:1
Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath and native air.

Two reasons it is important to pray in the Holy Spirit:

  1. We are to pray in the realm of the Spirit for the Holy Spirit is the sphere and atmosphere of the Christian’s life.
  2. We are to pray in the power and energy of the Spirit.

The Spirit helps with our three chief handicaps:

  1. We are sometimes kept from prayer by sin in our heart. The Holy Spirit leads us to the blood of Christ which cleanses every sin.
  2. Sometimes the ignorance of our minds hinders our prayers. The Spirit shares the mind of God with us.
  3. Sometimes we are earthbound because of our bodily weaknesses. The Spirit will quicken our bodies.

The goal of prayer is the ear of God.

The Bible is very clear on the reasons why prayers go unanswered, and every reason centers on the believer’s relationship with God. God will not cooperate with prayers of mere-self-interest, or prayers that come from impure motives.

Chapter 12: The Leader and Time

Ephesians 5:16

The quality of a person’s leadership depends on what happens during time.
The character and career of a person depend on how he or she spends spare time.

Each moment of the day is a gift from God that deserve care, for by any measure, our time is short and the work is great.

Time is precious, but we squander it thoughtlessly. Our problem is not too little time but making better use of the time we have. Each of us has as much time as anyone else.

A day needs careful planning. The person who wants to excel must select and reject, then concentrate on the most important items.

Chapter 13: The Leader and Reading

Reading makes a full man, speaking a ready man, writing an exact man.

Francis Bacon

2 Timothy 4:13 ” Give heed to reading” – Paul to Timothy

The leader who intends to grow spiritually and intellectually must be reading constantly. Lawyers and doctors must always read.

Read or get out of the ministry.

Why read?

  • Read to refill the wells of inspiration.
  • Read not to contradict or confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.
  • Some books are to be tested, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested.
  • If we read merely to stock our head with ideas, to feel superior to others, or to appear learned, then our reading is useless and vain.
  • Read to cultivate preaching and writing style. Enlarge vocabularies.
  • Read to acquire new information. Keep current with the time. Be well informed in his own field of expertise.
  • Read to have fellowship with great minds. We need to read those masters who instruct us in the art of incisive and compelling speech. Tozer recommended Bunyan for simplicity, Joseph Addison for clarity and elegance, John Milton for nobility and consistent elavation of thought. Charles Dickens for sprightliness and Francis Bacon for dignity.

What to read:

  • A man’s character is reflected in the books he reads. A leader’s reading is the outward reflection of his inner hunger and aspirations.
  • Our reading should be regulated by who we are and what we intend to accomplish.
  • We can afford to read only the best. Only that which invigorates our mission.
  • Books can be three categories: lovers, friends, and acquaintances.
  • Indiscriminate reading serves no one.
  • Biography – Transmits personality.
  • A leader should neither be content with reading easy books or only those within his specialty.
  • Don’t be afraid of new ideas—don’t be carried away by them either
  • The leader should immerse himself in books that equip him for higher service and leadership in the kingdom of God.

How to read:

  • By reading we learn.
  • By meditating on the themes of our reading we pluck the fruit from the tree of books and add nourishment to our minds and our ministries.
  • Unless our reading includes serious thinking it is wasted time.
  • Use the same discrimination in choosing books as in choosing friends.
  • Develop a system of note-taking. It will greatly help the memory
  • The mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by 20 books merely skimmed.
  • Little learning and much pride come of hasty reading.
  • What you intend to quickly forget, spend little time reading.
  • Have a “commonplace” book to record that which is striking, interesting and worthy of a second thought.
  • Pass no word until you know it’s meaning. Dictionary at hand
  • Verify historical and scientific information.
  • Correlate your reading.
  • Vary your reading to keep your mind out of a rut.

Every good book should have three readings (according to Canon Yates):

  1. Rapid and continuous to give your mind an overview.
  2. Careful and paced, take notes and think.
  3. After a period of time a third reading like the first. Write a brief analysis of the book on the back cover.

A book is a channel for the flow of ideas from one mind to another.

Chapter 14: Improving Leadership


Every Christian is obliged to be the best he can be for God. We are called to major leadership in the church, but every Christian is a leader, for all we influence others.

The first step of improvement: recognize weakness, make corrections and cultivate strengths.

Reasons why church leadership can be less than the best:

  • Lack of a clearly defined goal that will stretch us, challenge faith and unify life’s activities
  • Timid faith and hesitation to take risks for the kingdom
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Procrastination
  • Sacrificing depth for breadth

Exert yourself to lead. Do it with zeal.
Romans 12:11 Kept at boiling point.

Six important areas to care for as a leader:

  1. Administration. to improve the character of the work.
  2. Spiritual tone. deepens piety and success of the worker. Spiritual health.
  3. Job satisfaction. Group morale.
  4. Personal relationships. Warm relationships among team members are vital. Loving people is more important that administration.
  5. Problem-solving.
  6. Creative planning. Supplement what is lacking.

Chapter 15: The Cost of Leadership

To aspire to leadership in God’s kingdom requires us to be willing to pay a price higher than others are willing to pay.

  • Self-sacrifice – must be paid daily. Cross stands in the path of spiritual leadership and the leaders must take it up. No cross, no leadership. Paul declared, “I die every day.” 1 Cor. 15:31b
  • Loneliness – there are areas of life where we must walk alone. Though we may seek counsel and support from others, decisions come back to the leader alone
  • Fatigue – Christians know where to find renewal. If a Christian is not willing to rise early and work late, to expend greater effort in diligent study and faithful work, that person will not change a generation.
  • Criticism – no leader lives a day without criticism, and humility will never be more on trial than when criticism comes.
  • Rejection
  • Pressure and Perplexity
  • Cost to Others

Chapter 16: The Responsibilities of Leadership

II Corinthians 11:28
Service – Jesus defined leadership as service. The true leader is concerned primarily with the welfare of others.

Applied Discipline – Love is the fundamental ingredient in all discipline.
The person who has faced up to his own problems and weaknesses is best able to help another.

Five Guidelines of a disciplinary situation.

  1. Conduct a thorough and impartial inquiry.
  2. Consider the overall benefit to the work and the individual.
  3. Do all in the spirit of love and the most considerate manner.
  4. Always keep the spiritual restoration of the offender in view.
  5. Pray it through.

Guidance – the spiritual leader must know where he or she is going before presuming to lead others. Go before the flock.

Initiative – Be venturesome as well as visionary.
Either initiate plans for progress or recognize the worthy plans of others.
He does not wait for things to happen but makes them happen.

Archbishop Benson’s rules for life:

  • Eagerly start the day’s main work.
  • Do not murmur at your busynesss or the shortness of time
  • Before confrontation or censure, obtain from God a real love for the one at fault.
  • Do not believe everything you hear; do not spread gossip.
  • Do not seek praise, gratitude, respect, or regard for the past service.
  • Avoid complaning when your advice or opinion is not consulted, or having been consulted, set aside.
  • Seek no favors.
  • Bear the blame.

Chapter 17: Tests of Leadership

Everyone entrusted with spiritual authority can expect tests, temptations, and trials along the way.

Tests are meant to help us succeed, not fail. Tests display progress.

Compromise – Moses and Pharaoh.

Ambition – Moses showed selfless nobility genuine concern for God’s glory, and compassion for the misguided people.

The Impossible Situation- Deal with impossible tasks rather than easy ones in order to foster personal competence, teamwork, and faith.

Three phases in most great tasks undertaken for God (Hudson Taylor)

  • Impossible
  • Difficult
  • Done

Failure – most Bible character’s failure led to a greater conception of God’s grace

Jealousy – a most common weapon of the devil. Moses family was jealous of him.

God will defend the leaders he has chosen. He will honor, protect, and vindicate them. Leaders need not worry about defending their rights ot their office.

Chapter 18: The Art of Delegation

One facet of leadership is the ability to recognize the special abilities and limitations of others, combined with the capacity to fit each one into the job where he or she will do best.

Failure to delegate is also a poor stewardship or human resources God has provided.

Chapter 19: Replacing Leaders

The ultimate test of a person’s leadership is the health of the organization when the organizer is gone.

A work inspired by God and built on spiritual principles will survive the shock of leadership change and may even prosper as a result.

Only one Leader holds office forever; no successor is needed for Him.

Since our Leader conducts His work in the power of an endless life—He is the same yesterday, today, and forever—changes in human leadership should not shake or dismay us.

Chapter 20: Reproducing Leaders

2 Timothy 2:2 Leaders are responsible to train other leaders.
Paul was trained by Barnabas. Paul brought out the best in Timothy, saving him from a life of mediocrity.

A leader must provide subordinates with opportunity to exercise and develop their power.

Leaders must multiply themselves by growing younger leaders, giving them full play and adequate outlet of their abilities.

Leadership training cannot be done on a mass scale. it requires patient, careful instruction and prayerful, personal guidance over a considerable time.

“Disciples are not manufactured wholesale. they are produced one by one, because someone has taken the pains to discipline, to instruct and enlighten, to nurture and train one that is younger.”

Chapter 21: Perils of Leadership

I Corinthians 9:27

Pride – the victim of pride is often least aware of the sin.
Three tests of pride:

  1. Test of Precedents
  2. Test of Sincerity
  3. Test of Criticism
  • Egotism – the practice of speaking and thinking of oneself, of magnifying one’s attainments and relating everything to the self rather than to God and God’s people.
  • Jealousy – A person who is suspicious of rivals.
  • Popularity – “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you” – Jesus
  • Infallibility – perfection eludes us all, whatever our level of spiritual development
  • Indispensability – some cling to authority long past after it should have passed to younger people.
  • Elation and Depression – bad things happen, but the spiritual leader should discern the reasons for depression and deal with it accordingly
  • Prophet or Leader? – the dilemma of being a popular leader or an unpopular prophet
  • Disqualification – Paul refers here to losing the coveted prize for failure to comply with the rules of the contest

Chapter 22: The Leader Nehemiah

Nehemiah 13:31
His methods were effective only because of the quality of his character.

His Character:

  • A man of prayer
  • genuine concern for the welfare of others was so obvious that his enemies noticed (2:10)
  • expressed concern in fasting, prayer, and tears (1:4-6)
  • exhibited keen foresight (2:8)
  • sympathized with others 4:10)
  • realist (4:9)
  • calm crisis manager
  • fearless initiator
  • courageous decision maker
  • persevering leader

His Methods:

  • Raised the morale of his colleagues
  • Built up their faith by redirection focus away from the impossible towards the greatness of God
  • Faith builds faith
  • Pessimism dismantles faith
  • Encouraged others generously (2:18)
  • Promptly faced potential weaknesses in his plan
  • Led people to repentance through the reading of the Law (9:3-5)
  • Encouraged tithing
  • Established Sabbath rest
  • Organized projects and people
  • Before making detailed plans he conducted a careful survey.
  • A detailed assessment of personnel available
  • Did not neglect un-glamorous paperwork
  • Established key objectives
  • Assigned objectives to responsible leaders
  • Gave adequate recognition to subordinate leaders
  • Wise delegation of responsibility. 7:2
  • Opened the leadership potential of others.

The test of spiritual leadership is the achievement of its objective.

“So the wall was completed” (Nehemiah 6:15)

Final Thoughts

Spiritual Leadership is a classic book, one of the greatest leadership books in print today. I’ve read this book on 2019. It contains multitude of powerful insights for leadership and management.

My favorite chapters are Chapter 12: The Leader and Time and Chapter 13: The Leader and Reading. One step I did after reading was focusing on being more selective of what books to read. I also have a dictionary at hand and I became more diligent in taking notes.

I would recommend this book to every Christian.

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