Best Practices for Those Who Desire to Lead

by Roger Sappington on

Articles 7 min read

The overwhelming majority of us do not sit in the first chair of leadership in the organization in which we serve. Unfortunately, there can only be so many CEOs of organizations, superintendents of school districts, executive directors of non-profits, and lead pastors of churches at any given time. However, if you’re reading this article, it probably means that you have a desire for greater leadership and responsibility. It may even be that you hope one day to sit in the first chair of an organization.

That desire in you isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, writing of those who desire greater leadership in the church, Paul noted, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). Paul encourages both the act of aspiring and the object of that aspiration – the office of elder in a church. Nonetheless, there’s no doubt the Apostle warns against the darker side of this aspiration that can rear it ugly head in the form of manipulation, selfish ambition, rivalry, and dissension (Philippians 2:3). 

As someone who has spent the past twenty years of ministry in a multitude of seats from last chair (intern) to second chair (executive pastor), I’d like to share some best practices for those who desire to lead. I believe these principles which have come to me from wise mentors, hard lessons learned, and the affirmation of God’s Word will not only improve the likelihood of increased leadership in your future, but they will also help ensure that you don’t lose your soul on the way to the top.      

1. Show honor to those in leadership above you.

In his book A Tale of Three Kings, Gene Edwards highlights the different ways in which three biblical kings – Saul, David, and Absalom – sought power.1 David was patient under Saul’s leadership, showing honor to him even though Saul was evil and desired to kill him. On the other hand, Absalom, who was David’s son, was a usurper who revolted against his father and tried to establish his own throne. Ultimately, Absalom’s pride and rebellion did not serve him well.  

Just like David and Absalom, we too must decide how we will serve under someone’s leadership. Will it be with honor and deference, seeking to show loyalty and support? Or will it be conniving and dissentious, seeking our leader’s downfall? 1 Peter 5:5 reads, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for  ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

2. Be a servant. 

This one may seem overly simplistic, but true servant leaders are rarer than you might realize. The reason for this is because in some respects being a servant requires you to abandon your priorities. The priority of your schedule. The priority of your comfort. The priority of your position or status. If you really desire for the Lord to elevate your leadership opportunities, then: roll up your sleeves, get on the floor, take that call, spend time with that person, and go where others won’t.

One of the people I know who best models this practice is my friend, Jon Rhiddlehoover. Jon leads the Biblical Community Team and Storehouse Ministry (food pantry, plus) at Central Bible Church. Over the years, I have seen Jon live a life filled with service. And, along the way, the Lord has continued to elevate Jon’s leadership from Home Group Leader to Lay Elder to Staff Pastor. Jesus said, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27).     

3. Grow where you’re planted. 

For those who feel the urge to pursue higher levels of leadership, it can be easy to find yourself in a constant search for the next opportunity. Always looking for the perfect door to open to allow you to express all of your gifts, abilities, and passions. Unfortunately, opportunities like that are often a mirage, and while you’re in this constant search you miss out on what is right in front of you. It’s so easy for us to fulfill the lyrics of The Eagles’ song “Desperado”: “Now it seems to me some fine things have been laid upon your table, but you only want the ones that you can’t get.”2 More of us, especially when we’re young, should seek to grow where we are planted.  

I remember a season in my own life in which I was restless and desired more opportunity to lead. This was something my mentor, Mike Fechner, could see in me. One day as we were meeting, he asked me, “Roger, have you ever read 1 Timothy 6:6?” I told Mike that I was sure I had read it but did not know what it said. Mike handed me his Bible and asked me to read it. The conviction of the Holy Spirit overcame me as I read aloud, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Good words for anyone in any season of life, but especially for those who desire more.   

4. Prepare yourself for God's open door. 

Though we shouldn’t be consumed with what’s next (whether that be in our current organization or in another), it is true that the Lord will open a door when the time is right. His plans are better than ours, and don't require us to force the pieces into place. We can trust that, as we ground ourselves in his Word and seek his guidance through prayer, he hears and will honor our aspirations as they align with his will. 

As we patiently wait (Psalm 27:14), we ought to better equip ourselves for expanded leadership opportunities. One of the best ways to do this is to share with a few trusted mentors/supervisors our desire for leadership and to ask them to help us identify some areas of growth in the arenas of vision, knowledge, character, and skills. After some areas of growth are identified we should develop a plan of action and implement it.

Just one note, however—don’t focus on your vision, knowledge, and skills at the expense of your character. Paul’s words here are a good reminder: “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21).

As you live out these best practices you will not only find more opportunities for leadership in front of you, but the journey will be far more joyous. And, at the end of the day, the Lord is far less concerned with what chair you sit in within your organization and far more interested in your transformation by our Servant King who sits on his heavenly throne.   


1 Gene Edwards, A Tale of Three Kings (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1992).
2 The Eagles, “Desperado,” Desperado, Asylum, 1973.  

About the Author

Dr. Roger Sappington (D. Min. Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, M. Div. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Executive Pastor of Central Bible Church and the author of 30 Days in Exile.