Humble servant leadership

Humble servant leadership: An interview with Ted Wilson

Discover the definitions for “humble servant leadership and true spiritual leadership.”

R. Clifford Jones, PhD, DMin, is president of the Lake Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Chicago, Illinois, United States

R. Clifford Jones (RCJ): How do you define leadership? In other words, what is leadership to you?

Ted Wilson (TW): Humble servant leadership is pointing people to Christ and His mission. It is helping people discover God’s plan for their lives and the world as found in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. True spiritual leadership, which is leadership led by the Holy Spirit, focuses on success for God’s church rather than on personal gain. Christian leadership lifts up Christ, His righteousness, sanctuary message, Sabbath, three angels’ messages, and Christ’s soon return.

RCJ: What do you consider to be the most important characteristic of a spiritual leader?

TW: There are many important characteristics, but probably one of the most important is a humble and teachable spirit, grounded in complete trust in God, His Word, and what God intends to accomplish through a dedicated life.

RCJ: What are some other characteristics you consider vital to effective leadership?

TW: Characteristics that are essential for effective leadership include an ability to quickly grasp the details of a particular situation, to reasonably analyze a problem, a willingness to examine all sides of a situation, fairness in dealing with issues and people, and the ability to not be overwhelmed with superficiality. An effective leader must be a highly spiritual person—a loving and lovable person who stays close to the Lord through Bible study; a careful study of the Spirit of Prophecy; and a vibrant, personal prayer life.

RCJ: What about vision? How important is vision to leadership, and how have you gone about casting your vision for the church?

TW: Vision is vital. It is seeing the big picture. Vision is seeing what can and should happen, and it comes through total dependence on the Holy Spirit, who opens the eyes of the leader to where God wishes to lead the organization.The effective leader also listens to other Spirit-led leaders and people to lift the vision of the organization and those in it. God will give you His full vision picture as you faithfully study His Word and the Spirit of Prophecy.

RCJ: What if people resist the leader’s vision? What should the leader do then?

TW: Leaders should not be afraid to humbly share with care and conviction that which God has revealed to them. If people are resistant, the leader should seek to listen more carefully to what people have to say.Further discussion and prayer, private and corporate, will be necessary as the leader attempts to achieve consensus. We must remember that the Holy Spirit always leads to truth,and we must believe in God’s power to accomplish that.

RCJ: As a leader, how have you managed conflict and differences of opinion?

TW: The Lord wants His people to be united, and Jesus earnestly prayed for unity among His people, as we read in John 17. He urged that we be one in Him as He is One with the Father. But Christ knew that there would be evil forces at the end of time that would try to divide God’s church. I’ve discovered that careful listening in the context of a Spirit-led dialogue goes a long way in dealing with differences of opinion. It is also vital that you prayerfully and carefully engage in methodical discussion with church leaders and church members.

RCJ: Where does teamwork come into play when talking about leadership, and how have you gone about the important task of building a leadership team?

TW: As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4, a united effort is vital to the achievement of the goals of an organization. We must work together as the various parts of the body must work together if the human body is to func­tion optimally. For me, the members of a leadership team must be people who are committed to God’s Word and have an understanding of the prophetic role of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as God’s remnant church. They must also know how to humbly work with people and must fully trust in God’s power. Finally, they must be people of prayer. People who pray together find a strong common bond in Christ.

RCJ: How do you go about fostering an atmosphere in which people are motivated to pursue mutually beneficial goals?

TW: It is important that a Christian leader cultivate a context in which people feel empowered to pursue their goals without undue microman­agement. Leaders must seek input from others and must encourage the full engagement of those they lead. Leaders must seek to obtain involve­ment by as many as possible, and it is vital that leaders express appreciation and gratitude for the ideas and support they get from others.

RCJ: Name one biblical character, other than Jesus, and one nonbiblical person whom you consider to be shining examples of effective leadership.

TW: It is difficult to name just one biblical character who exemplifies Christlike leadership. However, Moses is one of the most striking examples of a meek, yet determined leader. Moses derived strength from his complete dependence on God, and he was so unselfish that he wanted only the best for God’s people. The same could be said for Joshua, Joseph, Esther, Daniel, and Paul. Their leadership and accomplishments show what happens when talented, skilled individuals place their all before the Lord to be used as God sees fit.John Hus is an example of the type of leadership God seeks. By his stalwart and unbending belief in God’s Word, Hus inspired thousands of people to stand for truth, including Martin Luther. John Hus was so con­nected to the Lord that he went to the stake singing. He died in the flames while singing and asking for mercy from God. What trust in God!

RCJ: Which Bible verse or passage best encapsulates or conveys your idea on the understanding of spiritual leadership?

TW: I have several, the first being Joshua 1:6–9, which underscores the importance of courage to leadership. Next is Joshua 24:14–18, which shows that complete commitment to and dependence on God is vital. Micah 6:8 highlights that Christian leaders must do what is right, must love mercy, and must walk humbly with God if they are to be effective. Finally, James 1:5 shows that Christian leaders desperately need wisdom and guidance if they are to succeed. I try to claim that promise every day.

RCJ: Do you think people should aspire to be leaders?

TW: It is God who equips people for service. If God has gifted someone to lead, that person should humbly embrace and use the gift of leadership to the glory of God. People should never use God’s gift to bring glory to themselves.

RCJ: Do you believe that great leaders are born or made? Do you think you were destined for leadership?

TW: As I said earlier, it is God who bestows the gifts of the Spirit. But God expects us to sharpen our gifts under God’s guidance and leading. I believe that God provides opportuni­ties for leadership at various levels and at different times and that we should use the opportunities God presents. I also believe that God will, in His own time, open other doors for greater leadership roles. What God calls for is faithfulness wherever He places us.

RCJ: What do you consider to be your most important task as the leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?

TW: Perhaps the most important task is to help church members realize that this church is not just a denomination but a prophetic movement—the Advent movement. We are God’s remnant church, and our heaven-born assign­ment is to proclaim the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14. Ours is a highly spiritual undertaking that calls for us to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ and His Word. It also calls for us to pray humbly for the latter rain of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s soon return. According to the books of Daniel and Revelation, and also the Spirit of Prophecy volume The Great Controversy, we are very close to the end of time. We must understand who we are and what God intends to do through His precious remnant church.

RCJ: As we get further into the twenty-first century, what kind of pastoral leadership do you think the Seventh-day Adventist Church needs to fulfill its mission?

TW: The church needs pastors who are equipped to feed the flock with the pure Word of God and who spend con­siderable time visiting their members while training them to do personal evangelism and outreach. One of the most wonderful blessings pastors can provide is to cast a vision for soul winning that causes their membersto move forward under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our pastors should not be creating churches whose mem­bers focus on the pastors themselves. Rather, pastors should be planting and growing churches whose members are excited about nurturing the churches while the pastors proclaim the three angels’ messages through evangelistic activity in a united way—pastors and members united in personal and pub­lic evangelistic outreach and mission.

RCJ: What are the core values we need as a church to succeed in our mission?

TW: We need complete humility before the Lord. We need revival and reforma­tion, which will come through study of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, as well as through intense prayer and a reliance on the Holy Spirit. We need people who will commit themselves totally to the Lord and His work, people who are so grateful to the Lord for salva­tion that they are willing to sacrifice everything for Him. We need a thorough understanding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a heaven-born, prophetic movement, and we need people who believe God’s Holy Word as it is written, not imposing the historical-critical methods on the Bible when the Bible is supposed to interpret itself. We need complete trust in God and His Word that leans totally on Christ.

RCJ: What are you passionate about? What drives you as a leader?

TW: I am passionate about Christ, His righteousness, and His great plan of salvation. Salvation is a wonderful gift to all who will accept it. I am passion­ate about the marvelous explanation of salvation through the sanctuary service, and I am passionate about Christ’s soon second coming and what that means for our future. I am passionate about God’s plan for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, His remnant church, as it proclaims the three angels’ messages. I am pas­sionate about the authenticity and relevancy of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, and I am also passionate about mission to the cities, where more than 50 percent of the world’s population now lives. Lastly, I am pas­sionate about the wonderful destiny of the Advent movement.

RCJ: It has been asserted that, with regard to leadership, being is fundamen­tally more important than doing. Please comment.

TW: As far as leadership is concerned, there must always be a healthy balance between “being” and “doing.” A leader’s vision and plans must be grounded in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy if they are to be successful. Oftentimes, the leader will have to be patient, as results are not always immediately apparent. Truth will always prevail. A leader must inspire, which will happen when the leader has a very close walk with the Lord. I believe that it is absolutely critical that the leader personally leans completely on Jesus at all times, claiming James 1:5 for wisdom.

RCJ: To whom have you looked for mentorship?

TW: My father was my primary mentor. I paid close attention to how he dealt with problems and challenges, and I enjoyed the conversations we had about leadership. Over the years, I have also had the privilege of having some excellent teachers, pastors, and administrative leaders who have given me good, sound advice and counsel. I have been blessed with several wonder­ful role models.

RCJ: As a spiritual leader, what do you do to nurture your relationship with the Leader, Jesus Christ?

TW: I engage in Bible study and study­ing the Spirit of Prophecy. I seek to be constantly in a posture or mode of prayer, and I try to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit through impressions and the counsel of others. Proclaiming the last-day Bible message to the world requires a humble and teachable spirit. Complete submission to the Lord is the only way a spiritual leader can truly be successful.

RCJ: Please name a book or two that you would recommend to someone who desires to know more about Christian leadership.

TW: My favorite books, beyond the Bible, are the books comprising the Spirit of Prophecy. I would encourage all leaders to spend more time in the Conflict of the Ages series and books like Testimonies to Ministers, as well as the nine-volume set Testimonies for the ChurchThe Ministry of Healing is also a must, as are Medical Ministry, Evangelism, Steps to Christ, and Christ’s Object Lessons. I wish to emphasize that Christian leadership comes more through an association with God’s truth and counsel than it does from attending seminars or following trendy leadership methods, as good and necessary as those may be. However, it is highly instructive for all leaders to do a lot of listening and watching to see how other leaders handle situations. Much leadership education can be achieved from observation and then processing that information through personal reflection and review based on biblical principles.

RCJ: What final thought would you like to share?

TW: True spiritual leadership comes from connecting with the Lord and listening to His still, small voice as the leader progresses through the chal­lenges of leadership. When Christian leaders depend completely on the Lord, they will see incredible and supernatural changes that take place to God’s glory. Our great God will direct their paths.

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R. Clifford Jones, PhD, DMin, is president of the Lake Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Chicago, Illinois, United States

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