The Leader Who Serves

Ray Stedman on Leadership - Extby Ray Stedman,
introduced by Jim Denney
from Ray Stedman on Leadership,
new from Discovery House Publishers

Ray Stedman was the pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California, for four decades, from 1950 until his retirement in 1990. I began working as Ray’s writing partner in 1992, the final year of his life. He was a faithful expositor of the Scriptures and a leader of character and integrity. Ray understood that a leader is not a boss but a servant, and he taught and followed the leadership model of Jesus the Master. For more than twenty-five years, I’ve been privileged to work with transcripts and recordings of his sermons, helping to turn them into books with the help and blessing of Ray’s widow, Elaine Stedman.

I think this latest book, Ray Stedman on Leadership, may be my favorite among the twenty-five books I’ve worked on with Ray and Discovery House Publishers. While working on this book, I spent many rewarding hours reading Ray’s other books—Body Life, Adventuring Through the Bible, God’s Unfinished Book, Psalms: Folk Songs of Faith, and more. From them, I distilled Ray’s most practical and penetrating leadership wisdom into forty daily readings. Each entry is followed by a set of discussion and reflection questions, making this an ideal study book for a church board or committee, home Bible study, adult Sunday school class, Christian business, mission team, or any other setting where biblical leadership plays a key role. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Leader Who Serves” from Ray Stedman on Leadership

I once picked up a young hitchhiker. We chatted as we drove, and at one point he told me, “My uncle died a millionaire.” I said, “No, he didn’t. Your uncle died with nothing.” The young man looked surprised and said, “Why do you say that? You don’t know my uncle. He had millions!” I said, “Who has those millions now?” The young man nodded slowly. “Oh, I see what you mean.”

Nobody dies a millionaire. We all die with nothing.

But Jesus shows us a way to be rich in this life, and in the life to come. How do we achieve these riches of Jesus? By denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Him. Let’s look again at his message to the crowd in Mark 8:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).


Way of the Cross, Station Twelve, Our Lady of Peace Shrine, Pine Bluffs, Wyoming. Photo by Chris Light. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Image adapted by J.D.

When the people first heard Jesus speak these words, they must have wondered, What does He mean — “take up your cross”? They had seen the Roman instrument of execution before — but they didn’t know that Jesus Himself was about to be nailed to the cross and tortured to death. Jesus knew what the cross would mean, but the people who heard Him did not.

Some people mistakenly think that a hardship they’re enduring — a troublesome neighbor, a difficult boss, a financial difficulty, a physical handicap — is the “cross” they must bear. But that’s not what Jesus meant. When He spoke of the cross, He was referring to the shame and humiliation of the cross. Crucifixion was a criminal’s death, a demeaning and degrading form of death. When Jesus said we are to take up our cross, He was telling us that we are to welcome the shame and humiliation of the cross. The cross is the place where we put pride to death.

Do you resent it when people insult you, embarrass you, make fun of you, yell at you, cut you off on the freeway? That’s your pride at work. Crucify it. Do you envy what others have? Do you feel you have a right to a certain standard of living, a promotion at work, a bigger home, a better car? That’s your pride showing. Crucify it. It’s not wrong to have these things, but everything we have is a gift of God’s grace, not a right or an entitlement. To feel entitled to such things is pride. Crucify pride.

After “take up your cross,” the Lord says, “and follow Me.” To follow Jesus is to obey Him and walk in His footsteps, patterning our lives, our words, our actions after His. Disobedience is the way of this world. Obedience is the essence of following Jesus. Yes, we struggle and fail. But when we stray from the path of obedience, we pick ourselves up, confess our sins, and get back on the path of following Him.

This is what it means to be a disciple: Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. In the original Greek, these steps are stated in the present continuous tense. We are to continuously deny ourselves, continuously take up our cross, continually and persistently follow Him. This is not a once-and-for-all decision, but a program for a lifetime, and it must be repeated over and over.

Jesus gives us a new motive for living: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Who doesn’t desperately want to save his or her life? Who doesn’t want this life to matter? Who doesn’t want a life that is full, rich, and worth living? We all want that. And Jesus tells us, “If this is what you want, I’ll tell you how to acquire it: lose your life for Me and for the gospel, and you will save your life.”

In other words, deny yourself, disavow yourself, and you will find a life worth living. Hold onto your desire for comfort, entitlement, status, power, praise, money, fame, or any other worldly goal — and you will ultimately lose everything. You’ll die having wasted your one and only life.

If we live for ourselves, we will lose our lives. If we lose our lives for Him, we will save our lives for all eternity. But equally important, we will save our lives in the here and now.

Ray Stedman on Leadership - InteriorRay Stedman on Leadership:
40 Lessons from an Influential Mentor

by Ray Stedman with Jim Denney;
foreword by Charles R. Swindoll

available at your local Christian bookstore, at Barnes and Noble, at, and at Trade paperback and ebook formats.

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