The Making Of A True Leader - by T. Austin Sparks

This is a lengthy but excellent teaching by T. Austin Sparks on the true cost of leadership. This writing comes from chapter 7 of his book titled, "Recovery in a Day of Failure".... Enjoy!

We gather from this book of Judges that those who are going to be instrumental in the Lord´s hands in helping others out of their bad condition must themselves have shared that bad condition... It is necessary for a spiritual leader to have suffered in the same trials as those being led; to have known the same depths of misery, to have been in the same complicated circumstances, to have passed through those very problems, and to know what it is to emerge from a dark, dismal and wretched state. All that makes a leader, but that also represents the cost to begin with.

The cost of leadership is...

a) By what course, by what road, is this transition made? Always through the grave. Before we ever come to spiritual understanding we shall have all our own understanding pulverized, ground to powder, so that we do not understand anything, and we know it. If we are asked to explain we can give no explanation. It is not in us to explain. All understanding has gone. God breaks down the natural to make way for the spiritual. That transition is through death, through the grave. Then presently we emerge, and we are seeing things now from God´s side, we are understanding with a faculty and capacity that we never before possessed. Somehow or other a resurrection work has been done; that is, something has been quickened which we never had before. We are made alive to that of which we had no knowledge before. We have a new standard of judgement now, a new standard of values, a new sense of differences. It is just something done, not something which we have created or made. It comes, as it were, to birth, and we know it, and as we move accordingly, in obedience to it, it grows.

There is all the difference between natural understanding and spiritual understanding, and the difference is between death and life, and a grave is between. Oh, those dark days, when we lost all natural understanding and there was no light. It is a terrible cost.

We are not speaking about just understanding certain events. It may have to do with trials of a certain nature through which we pass, but it is the general faculty to which we are referring. There is all the difference between a natural faculty for understanding things and a spiritual faculty for understanding the things of the Lord, which cannot be defined, but can be declared as a fact. That cost is the cost bound up with spiritual leadership.

b) The Assurance of Understanding

There was a time when some of us were most sure. Oh yes, we knew, no one could tell us. We were the most sure people. We could lay down the law to anybody as to what they ought to do. The Lord has taken in hand and has ground to powder, made pulp of all that assurance. We have lost all self-assurance. We have come to the place where we feel that we could question everything in ourselves, doubt everything about ourselves. We have come to the place where, when we tell the Lord that we mean to be all for Him there is something inside which says we meant it, but come up against the test and we find that we are not that. Peter was a most self-confident man; "Lord, I will follow thee even unto death." I am certain that if we had met Peter later on, after the cross, we should have found him a man who would never for a moment say a word about his own certainty or self-assurance. Yet you find the man marked by boldness; there is nothing more sure than his statement on the day of Pentecost; but he is a different man. He has gone through the grave, and self-assurance has been broken in him and replaced with the assurance of God. There is the full assurance of understanding of the Lord. It is costly, but it is the way of spiritual leadership, the way to spiritual values.

c) Active Faith

We spoke of active faith. It comes the same way. The time through which we pass is a time when we lose all. There are times when we feel that the bottom has fallen out of everything. What have we to rest upon? Faith. Where is our faith? If God is not merciful to us it is a poor lookout for us. If this whole thing depends upon our faith today, the Lord help us!

Yes, these are dark, strange experiences, things you may not say to the unconverted. They are not bound up with our salvation, our acceptance before God. It is another side, the side of our usefulness to the Lord, the measure of our spiritual value to the Lord for the sake of others. The cost of spiritual leadership and a faith of this true, pure kind is borne out of a grave. It grows like a new child; it is quiet, steady faith in God. You have been through the depths, and you have found the Lord faithful, and you have had to say, "It was not because of my wonderful faith in God, not because of my saying I am able to hold on, to persist! God was faithful to me when I had nothing of faith as far as I was concerned." That comes back from the grave. It is the cost of leadership.

d) Initiative

This is quite true also in the matter of initiative. Naturally there was a time when initiative was not difficult to some of us. The bigger the proposition the more we gloried in tackling it, and lacked no initiative in these things. Then the Lord took us in hand and broke all that natural force, or began to break it, and we came steadily to the place where, so far as we were concerned, the initiative left us: that is, the natural initiative, the taking of big responsibility, and we became deeply conscious that we were needing a divine energy to move in relation to the Lord´s interests. And now to some extent we do know that energizing of God in relation to His interests. When we have no natural energy, when it does not spring from ourselves, and if it were left with us, we should not do it, we would not move, but just lie there, refuse, decline, and yet we know that for the Lord´s interests there is an energy which we have not got. We lay hold of that divine energy, and the initiative of God is appropriated by faith, and there are accomplishments.

There is all the difference between that natural go-ahead attitude in the work of God, and that energizing of the Holy Spirit; that initiative which is of the flesh, and that initiative which is of the Holy Spirit. You have to pass from the one to the other in a deep experience, when all that is of nature is broken down, and you come on to the ground where it is all and only of God. It is a new creation in Christ Jesus, where all things are out from God, as manifested in the Lord Jesus Himself.

e) Humility and Dependence

The same law holds good. We may have been very independent or self-dependent, or dependent upon others. The Lord has dealt with all that, or will deal with it in us, and bring us to a place where every other kind of support is removed, where all our independence is dealt with, where our self-dependence is destroyed, where our dependence upon others is cut away. And we come out to a place, through trying and painful experiences, where our dependence is upon God.

Paul is an outstanding illustration of this. There is no character more self-confident than Saul of Tarsus. In the long-run there is no one more dependent upon God, and confessedly so. He said: "We despaired of life." The sentence of death was upon him, so that he should not trust in himself, but in God who raises the dead. The way through is a deep, dark, and painful way, but this is all the way to spiritual leadership. It is all that is involved in the transition from the natural to the spiritual, and it all leads to values for others.

Your value to others in the Lord entirely depends upon your own measure of knowing the Lord for yourself as your very life, your wisdom, your strength.

There may be a little weakness in what we have been saying, that we have dealt with positives rather than negatives. Some are not in much danger of strong, natural, go-ahead-ness. Perhaps some are lacking altogether in any kind of strength like that, and may be saying, "Well, I do not have to be broken down very much, therefore I cannot come through to very much for the Lord." Do not say that, because your painful experience will probably be from a negative to a positive, not from one positive to another positive. We mean this, that some timid people will go through an agony when God brings them out to take initiative. It is an agony for reticent people to be made to stand on their feet and take responsibility. They would sooner shrink into a corner, but the Lord will not let them get away with that. In effect He says, "You have got to be of value, you have got to count; it is no use your hiding in a corner, I want values in you for My people." Then comes the agony of perhaps having to talk to someone, having to take initiative for the spiritual help of somebody, when you would rather be somewhere else, doing something else. It is the transition from the natural, whatever the natural is - whether positive or negative - to what is spiritual. It is costly, but it is the price of leadership, and after all, it is that the Lord should have His full measure in us, "...each several part in due measure" (Eph. 4:16). There is a "due measure" from each several part.

f) Loneliness

The cost of leadership is always loneliness. When you are going through a thing in the hands of God, your one sense is that no one has ever been through this before. The Lord sees to it that you do not escape by having someone come along who has just been through it so that you may throw yourself on them and they carry you. The Lord allows isolation. But, however it is, it is always loneliness. That is bound up with leadership. It is as though you were pioneering and no one has ever gone this way before; you are alone. It is part of the price, but it must be. No doubt you have longed for somebody who has been that way to be alongside of you while you are going through, but the Lord has not allowed it. We say in effect, "If only we had their experience in this thing to appeal to!" But somehow or other the Lord cuts it all off from us, and takes us through with Himself alone. If we refuse to go through with Him alone, we are going to miss the Lord´s object.

g) Misunderstanding

So often accompanying the loneliness is misunderstanding, and that is the more bitter side. It is the more positive or active side. Think of Nehemiah. He had to take the lead, the initiative. But it was not long before not only in his loneliness, but in misunderstanding and misrepresentation he discovered the cost of that leadership. All around things were being said: "He is building this thing to make himself a name! He is going to appoint prophets to preach about him! He is starting a new movement!" All the things which were said were lies, false; it was misrepresentation, misunderstanding. That is simply because a man or woman has come to know the will of God as it applies to them, and they are going on in that way of God.

It is strange how people will very rarely give another credit for walking with God. Others always seem to interpret their movements as though they had been captured and led astray. They never give them credit for really walking with God themselves. They blame someone else, and then blame them for getting into the hands of someone else. It is a part of the price.

h) Selflessness

It is necessary when counting the cost of leadership to be selfless and disinterested in the matter. Leaders may labour for perhaps another generation, for others to enter into their labours, and they may never see the fruit of their own labours.

Look back over the history of all who have really been used of God in the lives of His people. Very rarely has their life borne fruit until they have gone. They have laboured, and other men have entered into their labours. It means that there is to be no present glory, nothing for self, no present reward. It is a Moses leading through the wilderness, up against the real hard, tough side of things, and then passing out without seeing the fruit. That is the price of leadership so often; selfless disinterestedness, being willing to labour, to give one´s life, to suffer, to come to a place of value for others and never see the full result of it.

That is all we shall say for the time being. It has all come out of that expression of Deborah: "For that the leaders took the lead in Israel". That is the explanation of such deliverance, of a mighty emancipation, of glorious victory, the changing of the whole face of things from servile slavery, depression and oppression, to ascendancy, liberty and progress...

Thanks to Andrew Strom for re-publishing this work.

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