Reformation Books: Gospel Centred Leadership
I had the pleasure of attending one day of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit recently and it was really good to hear Bill Hybels (talking about the privilege of leadership), Condolezza Rice (on a life of leadership), William Ury (on negotiating conflict), Jim Collins (on being great by choice) and John Ortberg (talking about Jesus’ unimaginable influence). I came away with many brilliant tips on leadership, such as the idea of primarily managing my energy rather than my time, the importance of optimism and perspective, and the significance of separating people and their interests from the problem or the flash point of conflict.
All of these are great tips from a mix of political, religious and business leaders but whilst truth is the same whoever shares it, I did want to deepen my understanding of biblical, gospel-centred leadership. For that reason I picked up Steve Timmis’ book, Gospel Centred Leadership; Becoming the servant God wants you to be. This helped me to examine the cultural lenses through which I view leadership and to set leadership into a broader biblical perspective.
In the opening chapter Steve hit the nail on the head as he analysed our cultures desire for and cynicism towards elected leadership. From there he invites us to explore biblical leadership, looking first at the role of God as the leader both in the fine and precise details of His judgement and His shaping of human history. It is this revelation of God’s leadership that places our own exercise of leadership (as a pastor, bible study leader, elder, church administrator, etc.) into context.
Chapter two explores several (broken) examples of leadership. Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Nehemiah are all used to highlight the way that God rule is mediated through His servants, but also to point the need for another leader. Chapter three introduces us to Jesus’ leadership, challenges our prideful dependence on self, and encourages us to have a quiet confidence in Jesus’ power to rule through His Word, by His Spirit. Comment is passed about women’s ministry (throughout the New Testament), but also about headship being male. The arguments for or against this are not analysed in the book. Suffice to say Steve believes that if the way headship is exercised reflects the headship of Jesus then many of the objections to leadership in general and male leadership in particular become redundant.
Chapters four to ten explore several distinctive marks of Christian leadership, character, aptitude, wisdom, service, authority, style and leadership. Looking at each of these marks of leadership, Steve explores contemporary leadership quandaries and uses these as a way into looking at the biblical teaching on leadership. In each chapter he provides questions for biblical study and questions for personal reflection. Warning: do not read this if you are uncomfortable examining yourself and finding your own attitudes and actions challenged.
The final four chapters look at the practicalities of leadership, each chapter looks at a different principle for gospel leadership: decisions are to be made by Spirit-inspired consensus, idealism as the enemy of gospel ministry, leaders exist to serve others intentionally, and the importance of investing in leadership. I found myself cut to the heart by the chapter on idealism which highlighted the danger of despairing in the face of disaster (losing all perspective), echoing what everyone else is saying (entering a state of virtual paralysis), assassinating others who fail and threaten our idealised church (making the perpetrator into an enemy). I pray that God would grant me the strength and wisdom to dwell in and respond out of the resources of the gospel to all manner of crisis and disappointment.
Finally, I suspect many leaders in the U.R.C. will struggle to get past Steve’s view of women in positions of leadership. However, there is plenty apart from this that would be of value to us. I have to say that despite being just 125 pages, it was not an easy or quick read. It forced me to analyse my own leadership decisions over and over again, and to confess my own inadequacy, even as it led me to Jesus’ grace.