Three Books to Read on Leadership in 2022
Here are three helpful, good, and in some ways, great leadership books I’d like to draw to your attention.
There is a lot here to challenge you to be a more humble, faithful, and just leader. Be blessed by God as you get into them.
It starts by asking: are we faithful to the word of the Lord? When the surrounding culture puts us under pressure, as it increasingly does, and when some seemingly cave in, he asks if we will speak the word as ambassadors or heralds delivering the king’s message? Will we speak his message, rather than ours?
The only way to do that is to expound the text according to the intention of the original author – both the human author and behind that person, God the Holy Spirit whose word it is. He is the Spirit of the risen Christ, and the Lord Jesus rules his church by that same word. All our interpretive skills are only to be used to accurately and honestly explain what he wants to say through scripture.
Success is thus defined as being truly loyal to our Master and Lord, and not setting out consciously or unconsciously to achieve acclaim in anyone else’s eyes.
He then gets us to examine our character, rather than considering our gifting or capabilities. What gets tested in leadership is always our character, rather than our gifts. How godly are we, really? Are we committed to a regular rhythm of confession and repentance? ‘Fight Your Sin’ and ‘Lead Yourself’ are the chapters dealing with this crucial issue of character.
He finally asks searching questions about our attitude as leaders: are we humble servants of God’s blood-bought people or are we bossy and overbearing? Are we accountable to anyone else? Is a leadership team a law to itself?
There are some great things in this book. I think it should be mandatory reading for all leaders, and regularly at that – once a year even?
I particularly liked his challenge to stop seeing the Lord Jesus as just another one of the leaders we can learn from. The Bible never presents him as just one in a long line, from whom we can derive some useful hints and tips about how to lead.
How easy it is to slip into the mindset of wanting leadership help, and looking to Jesus as a good example. He is absolutely in a class of his own. He is incomparable. He is KING. Of all kings. He is not ‘just another’.
We must sit humbly before him, obeying his word, not selecting things that might help our ministry. He is not good illustrative material. Our goal is to always exalt him who is worthy. There are some great things here to humble and challenge us.
The second thing I really appreciated was his emphasis on leaders leading by relying on and calling for believing obedience, to his word. Leadership isn’t about our clever schemes, but bringing his sufficient, authoritative word to his people, in love for him, and them.
It is so important to realise that our authority isn’t inherent in us (loud voice, commanding presence, or leadership gravitas) but is functional and instrumental. God has called us, and equipped us as Christian leaders, to serve him by serving his word as we bring it to people. It is as we are faithful to what he says that his authority to lead his people is exercised.
That ‘power’ isn’t absolute on our part. The scriptures are open to all, and our explanation can always be challenged and we can learn from others. But a local church leadership has the privilege of officially delineating what the particular fellowship they serve in believes the scriptures teach.
They are to govern, oversee, direct, and so forth by teaching the commands of scripture and all the good and necessary consequences that flow from it. They should always make a distinction between what scripture absolutely requires and what they may suggest is a helpful outworking of a Biblical command, example, or principle. Such extensions of what the Lord commands will always be more suggestive, than prescriptive.
Good leaders know the difference between right and wrong, wise and unwise, like and dislike, and will help the whole family of God discern this. Their manner should not be overbearing when it comes to both wise/unwise and like/dislike.
Our forefathers understood that there was a form of church power that was invested in the office bearers of the church to carry out their duties and responsibilities for the whole flock. So, they may determine, after due process, things like when the church is to meet, what Biblical elements the services are to consist of, and in what order, and such (see 1 Corinthians 14:26-40).
Chris keeps on underlining how we must handle scripture properly as we lead the church. We are commissioned to ‘preach the word’, correctly handling the word of truth. It is the meat and drink of gospel ministry and Christian leadership.
My reservation was only about his downplaying the ‘kingly’ aspect of leadership. He mentions this in passing, and I know that Chris is strong, wise, and very well read in this zone, but I would have loved him to expand on this.
Sometimes our churches get held up by problems that call for wise decisions, good plans, practicable solutions, and positive examples, which can help God’s people overcome blockages. He mentions Acts 6, which is a crucial passage, but mainly to emphasise that leaders must commit to prayers and the ministry of the Word. Yes, I fully agree with that.
But I think there is more there. In that section of scripture, we are shown leaders who developed and announced a (really) wise plan to overcome a serious problem that could have derailed the whole church. Brilliantly, they found ways to involve everyone and they gained enthusiastic ownership of a way forward.
Their ‘solution’, like Jethro’s with Moses in Exodus 18, was elegant, helpful, and ‘workable’. Under God, the church prospered because of it. Kingly leadership at its best.
This is an area where many leaders feel undertrained and underprepared. If we don’t develop this insight in scripture, then the danger, as Chris alerts us to, is that we may look uncritically to only worldly wisdom for solutions that smack more of the latest business guru which you may have come across, than the wisdom of God.
Could a robust discussion of how the doctrine of common grace may help us (and when it may not) have been a useful development of this section of his book?
The book is a series of chapters written by one and then the other author. Its theme is the justice of God; just is who He is. It is how we must be. Justice is defined, mainly, as God treating people fairly, well, and being sensitive to the oppressed.
It is the justice of God that wants to right wrongs, to change what is unfair and damaging, and is that which brings wholeness and healing to societies as well as individuals. There is so much here that is so right. It is often a neglected aspect of our understanding of the justice of God.
But I couldn’t help feeling that, by not really mentioning the just wrath of God against our sin and thus the cross as the ultimate expression of justice and mercy (Romans 3:26), an aspect of justice was neglected.
The book moves on to show we can show justice in our dealings as leaders. There is much to challenge and re-shape our leadership. Being a ‘just leader’ is not just a small slice of the leadership skill-set we are to develop but is an emphasis that should permeate all we do, whether we lead in church, the workplace, the marketplace, or in the public square.
I think its emphasis on racial and ethnic justice is so very much needed. It is so easy to go through life not realising the hurdle that brothers and sisters from varying ethnicities have to overcome in our culture. So much that happens to them is just not right nor fair. We can’t be silent, nor uninformed, but we need to be humbled by having our eyes opened and our hidden prejudices challenged.
Tim Keller, in his latest book on hope, fear, and the resurrection, also helpfully picks up on this theme, and like these authors also makes us think about class and wider issues of social justice4.
I have been reading Isaiah recently; it is so to the fore as he speaks out God’s desire for true right living (see, for example, Isaiah 58:1-14). They faithfully open this biblical emphasis up to us. So, much to commend.
Justice and equality
But there is also a reservation: does a good emphasis on justice get muddled in with an emphasis on ‘equality’? Equality feels like a slippery concept that has a huge semantic range of meaning, and a wide variety of applications. It is both a biblical emphasis, but also a value emanating in some of its more aggressive forms from enlightenment and secularised views of human beings. One cannot help but think of the values of the French Revolution which have come to dominate the moral landscape of the West.
Now there is so much to affirm: we are all equal in ontological origin, value, and status before God (all created by a wonderful Creator); all equally fallen in Adam with a sinful nature deserving of wrath; and all believers are equal in redemptive privilege (all saved by the cross, all adopted into God’s family, all heading for the same eternal glory and bliss).
These are surely things that any Bible reader would heartily agree to. I love how Paul brings several of these great truths to bear in one little sentence in Philemon 1:16.
But equal in absolutely every way? Don’t gifts vary, without implying that some are more important than others? And roles vary: some people, and only they, can actually birth children, and so become what they once were not - mothers. That is not to imply that those who can’t, or don’t, ever have that experience are of less value or significance. Acknowledging that is part of the rich tapestry of life.
Why do I specifically mention this? The authors tie together the definition of biblical justice with a working out of gender equality in church life, which flattens out any leadership role differences between people in church life. Specifically, the authors seem to link a commitment to an egalitarian view of leadership with the very character of God.
If anyone who does not see it like that, in the terms they use, are they not only disagreeing with them about the interpretation of some texts on gender role differences but also opposing the very character of God? Is such a person, by the definitions they are working with, an upholder of an unjust, and oppressive understanding of leadership, centring on the exclusive male nature of eldership?
In effect, does this label an awful lot of believers as not just on ‘the wrong side of history’ but opposed to the holy justice of God? That would be a (serious) sin to repent of, not just an honest difference of opinion about interpretation.
I wondered if that’s where the logic and rational seemed to head? I also wondered if they would question why the Lord Jesus chose twelve male apostles when he acted justly for our salvation when he could have done otherwise?
Maybe I have just read more into it than I should? I’d hate to fall out with friends from whom I learn so much. And it would be a great shame if the really important things they are saying about justice get lost and unheard in the debate about male and female roles in the family of God.
Don’t let the reservations put you off grappling with a book that conservative evangelicals need to constructively engage with.
ps. Heads up! Another great leadership book arrived in my inbox this year: Marcus Honeysett’s Powerful Leaders?5. Please take some time to read my review of this important book on church leadership abuse.
1 Faithful Leaders. And the Things that Matter Most, Rico Tice (The Good Book Co, 2021);
2 The Gift. How You Leadership Can Serve Your Church, Chris Green (IVP, 2021);
3Just Leadership. Putting Integrity and Justice at the Heart of How You Lead, Simon Barrington and Justin Humphreys (SPCK, 2021)
4Hope in Times of Fear, Timothy Keller (Hodder and Stoughton, 2021), esp. ch.10 Hope for Justice, pp155-169.
5Powerful Leaders? When Church Leadership Goes Wrong and How to Prevent It, Marcus Honeysett (IVP, 2022)