Sloan delivers first lecture of McCall Christian leadership series at SBTS

Communications Staff — September 8, 2011

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 The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Sept. 6, 2011.

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 explained, 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,” he said. “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.

“There are people who say at times that ‘I will do whatever it takes to do the will of God,’ and Paul has certainly said that in these opening phrases,” he said. “But there is a qualifier, and the qualifier is this – that the cause is never so right or so noble and neither have I interpreted it so perfectly as to justify my pursuing it at the cost of violating the commandments of God. The end never justifies the means.”

Sloan noted Jesus’ attitude toward possessions, particularly food, drink and clothing – good things that can become idols if focused upon wrongly.

“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” (Matt 10:39); and “whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43). The things at which someone 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., SBTS 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.

Audio and video of Sloan’s lecture, “Servant Leadership: The Cliché Versus the Reality,” are available at www.sbts.edu/resources

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