Book review: As I Follow Christ: 20 Essentials Every Leader Should Know
Jesus of Nazareth was the greatest Leader in the history of the world. But something set Him apart from all other leaders. Someone once said that, “If Alexander the Great or Charlemagne or Napoleon were to come into a room, we would all stand up in respect. If Jesus Christ walked in, we would fall on our faces in adoration.” That is the difference.
But that is not the difference As I Follow Christ is designed to explore. However, in a book with such an inviting title and featuring 20 authors, heightened expectations do exist that, at the very least, one chapter in this symposium would clearly define leadership, compare leadership styles, and address and pass on to us some of the quintessential marks of leadership to be found in Jesus.
Noting that there was neither a definition of leadership nor a chapter where leadership styles were differentiated, I was further alarmed by a premise expressed by several authors that “if you are a Christian, you are a leader.” And the authors further suggested that everyone is a leader. In this case, leadership is falsely equated with influence. All exert influence, and one cannot conceive of a leader without it; but does influence make a leader? One of the authors rightly asserts that the distinguishing mark of a leader centers on the fact that he or she has followers. But, if all Christians are leaders, then there would be no followers. Such false propositions not only degrade leadership but also deny the Pauline differentiation of gifts.
What are the different aspects of leadership that Jesus modeled? Many of the scandals in Christian leadership have occurred precisely because church leaders have not made Jesus their example in this matter. Notwithstanding, Delbert Baker’s chapter, “The Leader’s Pitfalls and Successes,” offers more than management advice about how to avoid these difficulties, but he suggests that we speak candidly and compassionately by offering practical help and spiritual insight for gaining personal victory. More than ever, church leaders need moral wisdom and strength. Jesus calls for it. The integrity of the leaders lives on and ministry demands it.
Cindy Tutsch in her chapter “The Leader God Seeks,” Ella Simmons in “The Leader’s Character,” and Ted N. C. Wilson in “The Leader’s Spiritual Life” prescribe what is necessary to maintain the spiritual glow. They take seriously the capacity of leaders to suffer a terrifying dullness of spirit, defeating God’s call. These chapters offer ideas for a gradual rediscovery of spiritual vitality.
Lowell Cooper in “The Leader’s Priorities” sets forth five leadership priorities that focus on character, a balanced life, building trust, teamwork, and developing people. Dan Jackson in “The Purposeful Leader,” Gordon Bietz in “The Leader’s First Steps,” Jim Gilley in “The Leader’s Courage,” and Gerry Karst in “The Competent Leader,” all balance the basic elements—institutional, intellectual, and experiential—in a sound approach by drawing from personal experience as they examine ministry in all of its functions from a spiritual perspective.
All present principles leaders might use to address various leadership concerns without being purely theoretical or highly program oriented. They agree that how what they do affects their spirituality. Willie and Elaine Oliver in “The Leader’s Family” provide valuable insights on how to manage our families and further explain that “positional leadership” is not an inoculation against the rigors embedded in family life. With the delicacy of a tightrope walker, Prudence LaBeach Pollard
affirms the uniqueness of women in ministry without broaching “the current foment concerning women’s ordination” (45). We can learn much from the differentiation she makes between male and female leadership styles. How do they lead? How should they lead? Sung Kwon in “The Leader as Servant,” David Penner in “The
Relational Leader,” Pardon Mwansa in “The Humble Leader,” and Ivan Leigh Warden in “The Accountable Leader,” all illustrate that genuine leaders are to embody principles that are visibly set forth before the eyes of those they seek to lead.
As I reflected on Leslie Pollard’s excellent chapter on “The Leader’s Vision,” in which he elaborates on the seven characteristics of a visionary and the six elements that comprise a vision statement, I was left with three questions: (1) Who initiates vision? God, humans, or both? (2) We never read of Jesus having grand plans, schemes, and designs like those with entrepreneurial skills. Was He really a visionary? If so, how did He create, articulate, and communicate a compelling vision? He certainly modeled a visionary as one who saw extraordinary things that no human eye has ever seen and brought new perspectives to commonplace things. (3) How do the Scriptures use the word vision? These questions could prove helpful in a discussion group. In fact, each of the chapters could have concluded with relevant questions to provide for a continuing learning experience.
Overall, As I Follow Christ sets forth a primer that will not only benefit the ministerial intern but those who are seasoned in leadership. Wise are those who absorb and personify the excellence in leadership set forth in Charles Bradford’s closing chapter “Legacy: What Leaders Leave” while remembering the words of Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim is fulfilled, they will say: ‘We did this ourselves.’ ”* That is a legacy prize that any leader would treasure!
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