leadership and the sovereignty of God

There’s a fairly common assumption doing the rounds about leadership — and it’s one I’d like to challenge.

The assumption is that leader’s can either look to God to judge their work or they can judge their work by its visible effectiveness, success and approval here and now.

It’s kind of a motherhood and apple pie sentiment.

We all know we can be tempted to seek the praise of people rather than God. And that that’s a bad thing.

And it’s right to recognise the clear and present danger of succumbing to this temptation. It’s not just a vague threat lurking ‘out there’ — something ‘other churches’ and ‘other leaders’ might suffer from (but from which we’re insulated).

But I’m increasingly uncomfortable with playing off trusting in the sovereign God and effectively exercising (or developing) leadership gifts.

My main problem is that once we start doing this, we can let ourselves off the hook too easily. Was that church event poorly attended? People’s priorities must be in the wrong place. Did that sermon fail to hit home? The congregation must be particularly hard hearted.

What’s more, we wouldn’t play prayer off against God’s sovereignty. Or evangelism.

In each of these cases, God retains the initiative. He remains sovereign. Any effectiveness, fruitfulness or growth gets chalked up to him.

Yet he still wants us to pray. And he provides us many opportunities to promote the gospel — speaking of Jesus, pointing people to him, giving them a taste of his life-transforming grace and power.

What’s more, this isn’t just about making us feel better — so we feel like we’re involved or like we enjoy a relationship with the Creator and Ruler of all. Our involvement and relationship is real.

In the case of prayer, for example, God has appointed our prayers as ‘means of appropriating the blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus’ (D. A. Carson, A Call To Spiritual Reformation, page 99).

That’s why Paul can say things like “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (Philippians 1.19).

And it’s the much same with evangelism. So why not with leadership too?


  1. Thanks Chris, just plugged into ‘SAW’ …

    If you haven’t read it already, then Phillip and Paul new book, “The Archer and the Arrow” has something helpful to say about this apparent trade-off with respect of preaching. They argue persuasively for common grace and special revelation in preaching .. That is, acknowledging that it is the word of God that ultimately works powerfully by the spirit in the hearts of the believers, but equally noting that we must deliver this word to embodied, created men and women .. And as such we must also be students of rhetoric, pausing, persuasion etc. .. Again, it is not an either or, but an ‘and’.

    Ergo for the so-called ‘arts’ and their use in the assembly (music, lighting, media). Another ‘and’. Again extremes at either end are the issue. I wonder if the same application of the general ‘common grace’ (of leadership) and divine power applies to your thinking?

    1. Hi Simon! Welcome. I think that yes, something like Phillip and Paul’s understanding of common grace probably does apply in the area of leadership. (We’ve been reading The Archer and the Arrow in our staff team!)

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