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Sloan: leadership is given, not obtained

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Leadership is not obtained but given, Robert B. Sloan Jr. told his audience at the inaugural address of the Duke K. McCall Lectures on Christian Leadership series at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Taking place on the 60th anniversary of McCall’s election as Southern’s seventh president, Sloan’s lecture is the first in a series endowed by the McCall Family Foundation, an endowment that includes the establishment of the Duke K. McCall Chair of Christian Leadership.

Sloan is the president of Houston Baptist University.

Rather than seeking leadership, Sloan said, a person should seek the will of God, and the opportunity for leadership will find him or her. The peculiar, counter-intuitive pattern of receiving things without aiming for them is seen in Jesus’ teaching throughout the Gospels, he explained.

“I think there are some things in life — and I can certainly say things in Scripture — that are best gained not by aiming at them,” Sloan said at the Sept. 6 lecture. “There are some things we are told that if you aim at them, you don’t really get them. And even if you get them, you end up really distorting them.”

Basing his message on 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Sloan framed the latter part of his lecture around three characteristics of godly leadership: doing the will of God no matter the cost; doing it without compromise; and doing it no matter what others say.

Sloan noted Jesus’ attitude toward possessions, particularly food, drink and clothing — good things that can become idols.

“If you aim at these things — good things but nonetheless second things — you miss the first thing, which is ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God, and these things will be added to you’,” Sloan said, expounding upon Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

Other sayings of Jesus, he explained, elucidate this pattern as well: “Whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39); and “whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43).

The things at which one aims are precisely the things he or she does not obtain, Sloan explained.

Despite the popularity of leadership as a topic of interest in mainstream culture, Sloan noted that “something still nags at him” about the present-day outlook on leadership. The difference between a Christian view of leadership is that leadership is more than adopting the label “servant leadership,” he said. More than that, it is the understanding that leadership is given rather than obtained.

“I think it’s the way in which you pursue leadership,” Sloan said. “Leadership is not something in the end that you can obtain, but something that can only be given.”

The same day as the lecture, the seminary hosted a forum about Christian leadership with Sloan. Led by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern Seminary president, the forum consisted of Sloan discussing his leadership experiences throughout his career in academia. Admitting that he was not always interested in pursuing administrative roles, Sloan described the process by which he came to appreciate and embrace the value of administrative work as he took on leadership roles with Baylor University, George W. Truett Theological Seminary and eventually Houston Baptist University.
Josh Hayes is manager of news and information at Southern Seminary.

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