Unambitious Leadership

Let’s take a look at the important balance between natural and spiritual leadership. A leader, obviously, must have some God-given natural qualities that cause others to respond to his or her influence. At the same time, the Christian leader must possess a marked degree of Spirit-directed, humble devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ . . . lest he fall into the category of a self-appointed ambitious creature who simply loves the spotlight. It is upon this point I want to camp for a few minutes.

Dr. A.W. Tozer wrote:

A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead, but is forced into a position of leadership by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit and the press of the external situation. Such were Moses and David and the Old Testament prophets. I think there was hardly a great leader from Paul to the present day but was drafted by the Holy Spirit for the task, and commissioned by the Lord of the Church to fill a position he had little heart for. I believe it might be accepted as a fairly reliable rule of thumb that the man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified as a leader.¹

Spiritual leaders, you see, are not made by majority vote or ecclesiastical decisions, by conferences or synods. Only God can make them!

For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
But God is the judge;
He puts down one, and exalts another (Psalm 75:6-7).

This means, then, that God makes it His responsibility to prepare, nurture, train, and promote certain people to places of leadership. That’s His business, not ours. Listen to Jeremiah 45:5:

But you, are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them . . .

May those words never be forgotten. We live in a do-it-yourself era. We are programmed to think in terms of promotion, advertisement, public image, and appeal. Such things commercialize the ministry and smack of side-show tactics . . . or, to use Paul’s words:

. . . walking in craftiness . . . adulterating the Word of God . . . preaching ourselves . . .

Do I address one who is gifted, capable, qualified to lead, but God has not yet promoted you? Let me warn you of the danger of selfish ambition. Quietly and in subtle ways you can manipulate others to notice you, to be impressed with you. The cheap narcotic of ambition can deaden the pain of your inner conscience . . . but you can ride the crest of your self-made fame just so long. In the end, alas, it stings like a serpent.

Solomon’s words fit well:

For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, And He watches all his paths. His own iniquities will capture the wicked, And he will be held with the cords of his sin (Proverbs 5:21-22).

Let me end on a positive note. God knows what He’s about. If He has you sidelined, out of the action for awhile, He knows what He’s doing. You just stay faithful . . . stay flexible . . . stay available . . . stay humble, like David with his sheep (even after he had been anointed king!). Learn your lessons well in the schoolroom of obscurity. God is preparing you as His chosen arrow. As yet your shaft is hidden in His quiver, in the shadows . . . but at the precise moment at which it will tell with the greatest effect, He will reach for you and launch you to that place of His appointment.

  1. Taken from A. W. Tozer in “The Reaper,” February 1962, p. 459, as quoted in J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1980), 35-36. Used by permission.

Taken from Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983) 388-389. Copyright © 1983 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

About the author


Pastor Chuck Swindoll

Pastor Chuck Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word. Since 1998, he has served as the senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but Chuck’s listening audience extends beyond a local church body. As a leading program in Christian broadcasting since 1979, Insight for Living airs around the world. Chuck’s leadership as president and now chancellor emeritus of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation for ministry.

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