Suffering Our Way Into Leadership – Part 1

Nelson Mandela reputedly said when asked how he became the president of South Africa, “I suffered my way into leadership.” Nelson was not alone.

In 1775 George Washington, in his formal acceptance of leadership the Continental Army, gave Congress a fair warning: “I beg it be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.” Only one year later, after a disheartening string of military defeats, Washington wrote candidly to a friend about the miseries of leadership: “Such is my situation that if I were to wish the bitterest curse to an enemy on this side of the grave, I should put him in my stead with my feelings.”

If leadership is such a strain, why bother?

I can think of no better advice than this quote from William Sangster’s journal. This is one dog-eared page I turn to during the difficult times:

“This is the will of God for me. I did not choose it. I sought to escape it. But it has come. Something else has come, too. A sense of certainty that God does not want me only for a preacher. He wants me also for a leader – a leader in Methodism.


I feel a commissioning to work under God for the revival of this branch of His Church – careless of my own reputation; indifferent to the comments of older and jealous men.


I am thirty-six. If I am to serve God in this way, I must no longer shrink from the task – but do it.


I have examined my heart for ambition. I am certain it is not there. I hate the criticism I shall evoke and the painful chatter of people. Obscurity, quiet browsing among books, and the service of simple people is my taste – but by the will of God, this is my task, God help me.


Bewildered and unbelieving, I hear the voice of God say to me: “I want to sound the note through you.” O God, did ever an apostle shrink from his task more? I dare not say “no” but, like Jonah, I would fain run away.”


Again, we must ask ourselves: If leadership is such a strain, why bother?

Quotes from David McCullough, 1776, and Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership.

By Ken

Dr. Ken Cochrum (DMin, Bethel University) is Vice President of Global Digital Strategies at Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) in Orlando, Florida. An avid cyclist and aspiring guitarist, he also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas and a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He recently co-founded Indigitous.org, a movement passionate about connecting people to Jesus using digital strategies. He previously served as vice president of Cru’s student-led movements worldwide. He and his wife Ann spent 13 years in East Asia where they raised their two children. Ken blogs regularly at www.onleadingwell.com.

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