Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge

While I am not in the regular practice of publishing school work on my blog, this particular book is worth the read for any believer. So much of leadership in the contemporary church is more an exercise in futility than biblical principle. I believe that God has called all Christians to leadership on some level. Whether it is positional, influential, or socio-behavioral leadership, all believers in Jesus Christ are summoned by God to leave an eternal impact in a temporary world. The thoughts of this blog interact with Kouzes and Posner’s book Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge. Although it was an assignment for school, I pray it challenges your idea of Christian leadership at the core.

Kouzes, James M. and Barry Z. Posner. Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2004. 152 pp. $16.95.

The Five Practices: 1) Model the Way. 2) Inspire a Shared Vision. 3) Challenge the Process. 4) Enable Others to Act. 5) Encourage the Heart.

         Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge is a compilation of seven Christian authors’ interaction with the Five Practices first introduced in Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge. Each contributing author brings a unique perspective on how the Five Practices guide and influence Christian leaders—especially church leaders. Coming from a variety of different denominational backgrounds, the book’s authors speak into every church leadership style and system of church polity. The Five Practices themselves, as well as this book’s commentary on each, are valuable assets for Christian leaders everywhere.

            In Chapters One and Two, Kouzes and Posner explain the Five Practices and issue the challenge for every Christian to answer the call to leadership in his or her own context (4, 7). In so doing, the editors have challenged not just those who have positional authority, but all who would rise to the occasion God has given them. “The Five Practices are available to anyone . . . who accepts the leadership challenge,” they write (7). This encouragement—for all to lead—is a welcomed one to this reviewer. Every born again believer in Jesus Christ has not only the ability, but the call to lead others in some capacity. They may be parents called to lead their family, children or teens called to lead among their peers, senior adults called to lead in their circles of influence, Sunday School teachers and small group leaders called to lead their own small flocks, team leaders or committee chairs called to lead a group of church members in working together for God’s glory, or pastors called to lead God’s church. Leadership is not an activity reserved for the few. It is a challenge extended to all Christians. In these first two chapters, the editors grab every Christian reader’s attention by probing them to think critically about the Five Practices, and to accept God’s call to leadership in the context He has given them.

            The book’s greatest contribution to the leadership discussion—in this reader’s opinion—is its emphasis on relationships in leadership. “Leadership is relationship” (37). Even in John Maxwell’s section on leading yourself, the reader finds this convicting sentence: “People don’t buy into your vision, they buy into you” (44). Throughout the book is an emphasis on listening to followers, mutual respect, “reciprocity” in leadership, trust, humility, service, and loving those you lead (18, 29, 83, 89, 90). The editors go so far as to declare in their final chapter that “the outcome of leadership is a result of the relationship,” “Christian leaders must master the dynamics of the leadership relationship,” and “people don’t quit their organizations; they quit their leaders” (119, 122). In a culture where church leaders have become associated with modernistic CEO’s—positional authoritarians coldly managing and delegating—the church must get back to a relational understanding of leadership (123). Christianity is a relationship. Christians are to reflect on every facet of life with special attention to how it affects one’s relationship to God, and to other people. When Christian leaders lose their commitment to healthy relationships, they lose their ability to lead after Christ’s example.

            David McAllister-Wilson’s reflection on Inspire a Shared Vision is especially noteworthy. He roots his position in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (55). While many authors begin with secular work on leadership and seek to apply those principles to the church, McAllister-Wilson reminds the reader that the church is the oldest of organizations and as such, has much to offer the secular world on the subject (56). This realization alone should be sufficient impetus for Christian leaders to stand on biblical principles of leadership and pervade the world around them with the Five Practices. The world did not teach Christianity how to lead. Rather, it is Christianity that has taught the world. While McAllister-Wilson acknowledges that vision itself is not everything, he declares that it is “the beginning of everything” (56). He goes on to explain the place of faith, hope, and mission in Christian leadership; it all hinges on how leaders “plant the vision” (61). This vision-casting and vision-planting is to be a constant endeavor of the Christian leader, especially in the church (65). Many pastors frustrate themselves by preaching a sermon on vision or launching a singular vision campaign and then expecting the vision’s flame to fan itself. But vision is something that needs constant attention. If it is not persistently set before followers, it will be easily confused with other priorities and practices. Vision is to be continuously communicated, and assiduously inspired.

            Reflecting on Challenge the Process, Patrick Lencioni instructs the Christian leader to persevere. He suggests a level of “pain tolerance” for leaders who really want to make a difference (71). “Am I ready to suffer?” is a question Christian leaders must ask before setting out on any endeavor of change (72). This is not a principle taught in most seminary classes, and it is not often a topic of high praise at denominational leadership seminars. The prophet Isaiah, like so many other great leaders in Scripture, was confronted with the reality of his call to suffer in Isaiah Chapter 6. When God called him to leadership, He told Isaiah he would not be successful by any worldly measurement. The people would not listen, and it would eventually bring them to their own ruin. In contrast to Isaiah’s obedience, many church leaders today want the glory without the suffering. Lencioni’s section calls the reader back to a biblical principle of perseverance. The mission itself demands complete self-subjugation (74). While this reader does not agree that in leading, Christians are “ultimately working for salvation,” Philippians 2:12 teaches the biblical principle of working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling before God; this agrees with the writer’s call to perseverance in Christian leadership (77). “Who am I really serving?” is Lencioni’s other convicting question to Christian leaders (72). While secular business owners and leaders serve a temporary cause, mission, or company, Christians serve the eternal God of the Ages. Graceful endurance of any amount of difficulty is nothing but an honor to the Christian leader who is serving the kingdom cause of God. As President Abraham Lincoln once said, “Let us not pray that God is on our side, but that we are on His.” Perseverance in Christian leadership is essential, especially when “Challenging the Process.”

            Overall, Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge is a welcomed challenge to the status quo of contemporary Christian leadership. The contributing authors bring their own proven track records into its pages, and their insights and reflections are valuable for any Christian who would answer the call to leadership in any context. Pastors and church leaders especially will gain significant insight from its pages. However, “the Five Practices are available to anyone . . . who accepts the leadership challenge” (7, italics added).

Grace and Peace,

Tony