Continuing the theme of posts on my summer reading (especially for leaders), this one is a little different in that the book in question has not yet been released: it’s due on August 19. In preparation for the launch, the author made an electronic copy available ahead of time and I have been having a read.
The book is The Gift and it is aimed at church leaders. The author, Chris Green, is the vicar of a church in North London and previously served as Vice-Principal at Oak Hill Theological College. He has written or edited several other books, including Cutting to the Heart, on application in teaching and preaching.
It hardly needs to be said the there is no shortage of books and resources on leadership, including Christian leadership. Some, like Emma Ineson’s book on ambition, or Tod Bolsinger’s recent offering on resilience (review and podcast to come), have a particular focus on a specific area of the leader’s life; others, like James Lawrence‘s Growing Leaders, or Ian Parkinson’s Understanding Christian Leadership take a wider look at a range of relevant issues. Chris Green’s focus is on the task of church leadership, and the primary audience to benefit from the book will be pastors and ministers, for whom the book will serve as an opportunity to recalibrate their understanding of their role, and rediscover the core of their calling.
For there is a plethora of voices and leadership models, clamouring for the leader’s attention. Is the pastor essentially an ecclesiastical CEO? At the other end of the spectrum, a teacher? A counsellor? What does it mean to lead a church, and to do so in a way that is shaped by biblical priorities and values? This book will go some way to answering those questions.
The book falls broadly into two parts, though there is a third element – one of those leadership fables that draws you in and sets you up for the teaching content of the book. The fable unfolds in three parts: in the book’s prelude, in an interlude between the two main parts of the book, and in a postlude. It imagines a number of people involved in ministry who get together for a seminar with an old college professor.
The first part of the book (‘Who needs leaders?’) starts by seeking to establish some some biblical and theological reasons why we need leaders at all and moves on to discuss how healthy rule breaks down, resulting in what appear to be opposites, but which are theological twins: anarchy and tyranny. Anarchy seeks freedom at the expense of rule while tyranny imposes rule without freedom. From there (and there is a biblical-theological logic in the progression) we move to a chapter on celebrity, comparison and the sin of Babel: the problem of the ‘Peacock Pastor’. Let we conclude too quickly that Jesus might be the model leader, the author warns us about the serious danger of trivialising him. It’s too easy for us to find our own leadership ideas illustrated in Jesus. we need to heed this warning:
If you see [Jesus] as a ‘Great Leader’, but don’t put that in the context of his being the ultimate, eternal King, then all you’ll get is someone general common sense on teams and priorities. YOu’ll quote him, Confucius and Winston Churchill in the same breath.
Nonetheless there is ‘buried treasure’ for us in the study of Jesus. We can note his passion and his focus, but it’s important to see him more as our pattern than as our leadership guru. When Jesus taught his disciples about leadership, he called them to service, in contrast to the self-exalting ambition of the Gentiles. And he still leads the Church: through his word, through the Spirit, and by gifting members of his Body, empowering them to lead through the gifts of the Spirit.
That idea prepares the way for the second part of the book, ‘The Gift’, in which the author carefully and methodically works towards his definition of leadership: we have to wait until chapter 14 before we get there!
The first few chapters of this section focus on the particular gifts of teaching and leading which the author argues should come together in the Church’s pastors/elders/overseers. To be a leader only, at its most dangerous, is to lead in ways that come adrift from Scripture; to be a teacher only, is to run the risk of applying Scripture in purely individual, rather than corporate ways. And since the proposed definition of leadership is ‘Corporate application’, this matters.
It matters too that the leader’s method and message are integrated (the case of Diotrophes is summoned as evidence). As it matters where we source our wisdom, and it matters that we remain attentive to the reasons why we do what we do.
The author loves pizza and as he gets closer to his definition of church leadership and how it works out, he talks about ministry as a 12-slice pizza. It’s worth noting the slices:
- Small groups
- Mutual Care
- World mission
Sprinkled all across the whole pizza – every slice – are olives. They may not be to everyone’s taste on a literal pizza, but in this leadership model, the Acts 6 ministries of prayer and ministry of the word are to permeate everything.
Leadership then is ‘corporate application’: it is bringing the word of God to bear in all facets of the life of the church: its formal organisation, its family dynamics, and its future intentions. One chapter is given over to a practical illustration of what this approach would look like in addressing a pastoral issue and the final chapter concludes with the exhortation to ‘preach the word’ but to remember that its application needs to be bigger than the pulpit (think of those pizza slices).
If you are looking for something to guide you step-by-step through how to discern a vision, how to apply Belbin to your ministry leadership team, or how to find tools that will help you to communicate more effectively, or strategies for managing change, The Gift may not quite be the book you are looking for. It doesn’t aim to answer all those questions. In many ways it is more fundamental than that and that is why you will benefit from reading it! As I said at the start of this review, it will provide you with an opportunity to recalibrate your ministry and remind you how the Lord of the Church has equipped you to do what you do.
For more on the book, you can watch out for a podcast conversation with Chris in the second half of the month, after the book has launched.
Meantime, for those of you on Facebook, you can join the book launch team (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thegiftlaunch/) and you can even join in a ZOOM session with the author on Wednesday evening (August 12).