The Cost of Spiritual Leadership

Aspiring to leadership within God’s kingdom requires willingness to pay a price others are unwilling to pay. The more effective the leadership most often the higher one is required to pay. Spiritual leadership is bought on a “time-payment plan” of giving your life in daily instalments. As “payments” cease to be made, so does genuine spiritual leadership.

“To the degree the cross is across our shoulders and over our backs, so the resurrection life of Christ is manifest through us. No cross, no leadership!” (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership).

Six points of carrying the responsibility of leadership


A. Self-sacrifice

True spiritual leaders are marked by a willingness to give up personal preference, deny self-indulgent attitudes, and surrender even the legitimate, for the higher price of serving God. Most often this is done in the face of no prospect of immediate rewards just the deep inner knowledge that God Himself is their eternal award.


B. Loneliness

The leader, to be a leader, must always be further up the mountain than his followers and be prepared to walk alone with the burdens and price of heading into a steeper more taxing climb. The Apostle Paul said in 2 Tim 4:16, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them?


C. Fatigue

Someone once said “The world is run by tired men” – so it is there are physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strains in spiritual leadership. The Apostle Paul said “outwardly we are wasting away…”(2 Cor 4:16) and even Jesus at times, grew weary and had to rest (John 4:6) Oswald Sanders says, “When a leader is unwilling to rise early and work late, to expend greater effort in diligent study and faithful work, that person will not change a generation”. Fatigue is the price of leadership. Mediocrity is the result of never getting tired!”


D. Criticism

No leader leads long without criticism. When things go right he is a hero, when things go wrong he is often labeled with the blame. Every time a leader makes a decision someone else’s will is being violated, someone else’s preferences are offended, someone else’s opinions are disregarded – yet true leaders must courageously make decisions they know God wants them to make.


E. Rejection

Most, if not all great leaders in the Bible knew what it was to be rejected at key points in their leadership. Joseph was rejected by his brothers, Moses was rejected by Israel, David by Saul’s house, and then later by his own son Absolom, Paul was rejected by the very churches in Asia he had established… and Jesus came to his own and was rejected by them.

It was said of the great missionary statesman Charles E. Cowman that “Often a crowd does not recognize a leader until he has gone, and then they build a monument to him with the stones they threw at him in life”.


F. Inconvenience

“The call is the call to inconvenience” Every leader know what it is to have his life interrupted by the call and demands of God…then also to be interrupted with the call (often after midnight) and demands of the people of God!


What good leaders know!

A. All spiritual leaders should view their lives in terms of the “prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ” Whatever the cost, true spiritual leaders must resist the temptation to view their life as “overworked, underpaid, despised and rejected”. A leader must learn not to develop a rejection or martyr complex, in order to effectively inspire others to give themselves for God’s purposes.

B. Good leaders also know they cannot “go it alone”, accepting that vision is a shared responsibility, requiring others to bring it to fulfillment God calls a person to lay down their life for the call then calls others in along side to join them, both in the outworking of the vision and paying the incumbent cost. It is the cost that reveals two kinds of people in co-leadership roles.


Sympathisers and Supporters

A. There is a difference between supportive co-leadership and sympathetic co-leadership. Supporters are empathetic followers – i.e., they join in paying their part of the price of leadership in order to fulfil the common cause. Others become “sympathisers” who let the leader pay the price and just “feel” for him. Sympathisers can become veiled “criticisers” – like those who Shakespeare said “damn with faint praise”, they see the leader as being hard done by and say “I feel for you…” while inwardly vowing not to ever give themselves to the same extent. Supporters, however, expect nothing more of their leaders than they are prepared to give themselves…and they give it! True Supporters view things in terms of “where they are going”, (the eternal rewards and long term consequences), whereas Sympathisers view things only in terms of “what is” (and how it currently affects them). Sympathisers often criticise true supporters as being too committed, too holy, too religious, too sold out, too in the leaders back pocket.

B. Some great “sympathisers” of the Bible:

  1. Absolom – his treason against his father appeared first as sympathy for him, by which he the “stole the hearts of the men of Israel”. 2 Sam 15:1-6
  2. Abishai – David would not take Abishai’s sympathy over Shimei’s cursing, preferring to let the Lord repay him with good for Shimei’s curses. 2 Sam 16:5-14
  3. Peter – Jesus refused Peter’s sympathetic “rebuke” over going to Jerusalem (to the cross) by rebuking Satan. Matt 16:2-27
  4. Paul’s co-workers _ Paul wouldn’t let the sympathy engendered by prophecies among his co-workers stop him from pursuing his course in God. Acts 21:8-14

C. Operating out of sympathy will cause you to:

  • Assume you know the heart of the person when you do not.
  • Act as a negative voice to rob the leader you serve of a higher purpose.
  • Respond to surface issues in reactionary ways.
  • Avoid God’s processes and the cost of committing yourself to be a true “supporter”.
  • Be unwilling to pay the price yourself for the cause that those who lead you are paying.
  • Restrict involvement to a personal convenience level, (and to take the luxury of personal preference which a true godly leader cannot).

D. Some great “supporters” in the Bible

  1. Jonathon’s amour bearer was a true supporter – he was willing himself to pay the same price as the one whose vision he supported. 2 Sam 14:1-14
  2. Joshua was a Supporter of Moses leadership, refusing to bow under the pressure of his peers to abort the vision of taking the Promised Land. Numbers 13:30-14:10
  3. Elisha was a supporter of Elijah, refusing to return to schools of the prophets and remain with his master until he was taken up in the chariot. 2 Kings 2
  4. Timothy was a supporter – Paul said of him “I have no man who is like minded who will sincerely care for your state, for all seek their own… Phil 2:19-22 (2 Tim 1:8) “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ” Phil 2:5-9.

Leaders rarely attain to the highest levels in the call of God without the help of true “supporters”, i.e. having people around them who buy into the same attitude as they do, (i.e. empathetic support…not just sympathetic support). The stand-out attitude of all genuine spiritual leadership is laying down your life, sacrificially giving one’s self in the present for future eternal rewards. A willingness to pay the price for higher priorities and purposes than personal comfort, gain or title.