What Stands in the Way of Christian Leadership

Editors’ note: 

For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.

In this video, Dave Harvey reflects on J. Oswald Sanders’s statement, “A cross stands in the way of Christian leadership. It is a cross upon which the leader must consent to be impaled.”


The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

My mind immediately goes to a quote that I remember reading in J. Oswald Sander’s classic Spiritual Leadership where he said, “A cross stands in the way of Christian leadership. It is a cross upon which the leader must consent to be impaled.” Now that that’s not the kind of quote you’re ever going to read when somebody is trying to recruit you for eldership or recruit you to go to a seminary, but it is a reality, and it is a reality that goes to the heart.
In Christian ministry there lies a kind of paradox. It’s a paradox where people are our greatest joy. We get to serve them, counsel them, love them, preach to them, and be friends with them and do so in the context of the local church; they’re our greatest joy, but they are also the cross upon which we must consent to be impaled. I don’t know that a lot of folks are thinking about that when they think about ministry, I don’t know of a lot of new people when they consider going to seminary or going ahead to be an elder in the church are thinking about that aspect of ministry.
Just look at Scripture and you will see it clearly in the life of Paul. I think about Second Timothy, the last book Paul wrote, some commentators call it his last will and testament. And that letter is basically a list of all of the people with whom he’s had difficulty, and not over the course of his entire life but just in a short period of time. He lists Phygelus, Hermogenes, Hymenaeus, Phylitus, and at one point he says, “All of Asia has left me.” I mean, you’ve had bad days, but most of us could never say, “All of Asia has left me!” For Paul there was this sense where people were folks that he loved. You can’t even read his letters without seeing his deep attachment, his allegiance, his love for them; however, those same people were also the cross upon which he consented to be impaled. I see that for Paul and I see that in my own life, and I think that if I wanted to help someone that was considering ministry I would want to make sure that that point was clearly conveyed.