Don’t be fooled by the world’s paradigm for leadership, or the whisper of your indwelling sin.
We cringe at the thought of being seen as needy and coming off as desperate. Especially in positions of leadership. Don’t disclose your flaws, we hear from without and feel from within. Exhibit your strengths, demonstrate your capabilities, win their confidence. But a different word comes from above.
Good spiritual leaders — indeed, healthy Christians — are not those who suppress their failings and tell themselves over and over again they can do it. Rather, they own their neediness and acknowledge they are helpless to do what matters most.
“All true spiritual leadership,” writes John Piper in The Marks of a Spiritual Leader, “has its roots in desperation.” The spirit of the true Christian leader is not, “I’m up for the task,” but, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16).
The Humble He Exalts
Jesus doesn’t build his church with the seemingly strong, the self-confident, and the posturing Pharisee who prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). Rather, he blesses “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) and uses the weak, spiritually lowly, admittedly desperate tax collector. He hears with compassion the sinner who owns his need and prays, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
And he sums it all up by leaving this crucified declaration ringing in our ears: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
The Paradox of the Gospel
It is not the religiously smug, but the self-identifying helpless whom he heals. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32). And so, says Piper,
The beginning of spiritual leadership must be in the acknowledgement that we are the sick who need a physician. Once we are humbled to the point of desperation, we will be open to reading the doctor’s prescription. (Spiritual Leader)
Here, then, is the paradox of the gospel as it relates to leadership. It’s the poor he makes rich, the weak he makes strong, the foolish he makes wise, the guilty he makes righteous, the dirty he makes clean, the lonely he loves, the worthless he values, the lost he finds, the have-nots who become haves.
There is great beauty in our God being the strength of the weak, and the riches of the poor. This is truly good news to those of us who will acknowledge how needy we are, how weak our hearts can be, how poor in spirit we live.
What good news that we have a God like this: who takes the foolish, the weak, and the lowly — like us — and makes us into trophies of his grace, for our joy and for his glory, and for the good of others.
How does the Bible define spiritual leadership? What characteristics are essential in leading biblically? And what is the ultimate goal?
In this short essay, John Piper answers these questions by explaining the true marks of a spiritual leader. This booklet will be instructive and challenging for anyone in a position of Christian leadership, as well as for anyone aspiring to lead spiritually.