For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘leadership

Here is a summary of all the non-fiction books I read in 2017, sorted by category. Because there are so many, I’ll divide it into two posts. There is more non-fiction, plus fiction and an explanation.


Four books about George Whitefield. One about the Reformation. Why? Studying up. The church I came to London to serve is on the site of the Whitefield Memorial Chapel, and I wanted to learn more about this great preacher who linked London and the United States in the 18th Century. Also, 2017 was the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses, and I wanted to understand more about this tumultuous period of Christian history.

20180114_165201The Printer and the Preacher: Ben Franklin, George Whitefield and the Surprising Friendship that Invented America by Randy Petersen, Nelson Books, 2015, 281 pp.

This book turned out to be terrible, but the only one of its kind. That makes it somehow still valuable, even though I don’t recommend it at all. Petersen is no scholar, and it shows on every page. His work is derivative of accredited scholars, and full of leaps and assumptions that are utterly unsupported by evidence and drawn from his own pet passions rather than helpful insight. Nevertheless, the relationship between George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin is fascinating, and this is the only work dedicated to distilling it into a narrative. The two shared an approach to self-promotion, a concern for the well-being of the working class, and a passion for the new identity of America. I learned anecdotes and connections, even if I rolled my eyes and sifted out Petersen’s embellished interpretations.

George Whitefield: God’s Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century, Crossway, 1990, 219 pp.

This book is a much-abbreviated summary of Dallimore’s multi-volume biography of Whitefield, as a way to make his work accessible and readable for non-scholars. Like most Whitefield biographers, Dallimore is an American evangelical whose theological perspective colors his interpretations, adds elements of moralizing and adulation I might prefer to omit, and omits more complicated or unorthodox information. However, his scholarship and storytelling are solid, and this was a helpful introductory biography for me to learn about Whitefield.

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas S. Kidd, Yale University Press, 2014, 325 pp.

Kidd attempts to offer the first comprehensive biography of Whitefield by a professional historian. He shares an American evangelical perspective, and this biography argues that “George Whitefield was the key figure in the first generation of Anglo-American evangelical Christianity.” (3) Kidd’s admiration of his subject, his desire to sanctify Whitefield against the Wesleys and other critics, and his whole-hearted acceptance of evangelicalism gave me pause, though the argument that Whitefield created American evangelicalism is compelling. Kidd is more comfortable than I am making peace with the hard Calvinism and racial prejudice of that movement, both then and now. This was still a helpful, comprehensive outline of Whitefield’s life, full of insights that I can draw upon and carry forward as examples for our church that carries on in his name—though with a stronger critique of those things that belong in the dust bin of history and theology.

Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism and the Making of a Religious Icon by Jessica M. Parr, University Press of Mississippi, 2015, 235 pp.

One of the most problematic aspects of Whitefield’s biography is his advocacy for the institution of slavery and its expansion into the state of Georgia. Yet his prejudices on race are not so simple, as he was also more open-minded than many in preaching the gospel to enslaved people and befriending people of African and Native American descent, believing them fully capable and worthy of Christian life. He was famously memorialized by Phillis Wheatley and praised by Olaudah Equiano. As I think about how (or whether) to reclaim Whitefield’s legacy in our ministry on his site, this is one of the most critical issues for me to understand and address. I was eager for Parr’s book to help. It did not deliver what I hoped, which was an analysis and some conclusions about his words, their repercussions and impact (positive or negative). It did at least catalog most of his interactions around race, slavery and theology, which was helpful. Instead, Parr’s book is an argument about how Whitefield and those who have since studied and written about him have tried to craft his image as a religious icon. This was itself interesting and valuable. Scholars, preachers and theologians have been able to make Whitefield over in the service to a variety of causes—and Whitefield himself not only allowed such a mutable image, but cultivated his image to be flexible and appealing to all.

20180114_165303The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Penguin Books, 2003, 832 pp.

I started this book in early 2016, but couldn’t keep up in the midst of moving. It was densely packed with information, but fascinating and readable. What I appreciated most about this book was that MacCullough did not focus only on the theologians and their differences, but on the way these theological disputes were lived out in political and social realities. From the beginning, he paid attention to the everyday spiritual lives of Christians, and how the waves of Reformation impacted their relationships with God and one another. In chronicling the relationships between churches, princes and Rome, he captures the upheaval not just of war and conflict, but of spiritual homelessness found in the Reformation. A great read.


20180114_165609Good News Preaching: Offering the Gospel in Every Sermon by Gennifer Benjamin Brooks, Pilgrim Press, 2009, 158 pp.

This book had been in my shelves for a long time, acquired on sale at some UCC General Synod, but I needed it urgently in this last year. With the Trump administration, the rise of right-wing ideologies of hate, and the impact of terrorism here in London and everywhere, it was hard not to spend every week in the pulpit condemning some new heresy and prejudice in the name of Christ. While that proclamation is also important, I recognized the need to also offer good news, hope and courage rooted in the Gospel. Brooks’ book was right on time, not only making the case for why preaching must always include good news in a bad news world, but offering techniques and examples for including this message of grace and salvation even as we sustain our prophetic critiques.

Weird Church: Welcome to the Twenty-First Century by Beth Ann Estock and Paul Nixon, Pilgrim Press, 2016, 176 pp.

Estock and Nixon are church consultants helping congregations grow, thrive and change. This book begins with an analysis of our social and ideological reality, which contains multiple worldviews at work all at once. I am not sure I agree with the evolutionary understanding Nixon and Estock offer, as though humanity is becoming more enlightened, but the worldviews they describe are readily in evidence, and in conflict, within our congregations and communities. The first half of the book identifies trends and challenges of church life today. While it was a helpful summary, there were not a wealth of ideas and insights I had not already read elsewhere. The second half of the book catalogs new incarnations of church that respond especially well to the newest worldview (not integrating the various worldviews, as we are doing in traditional settings). From dinner church to coffee house enterprises to mission outposts, they look at creative “weird” endeavors that speak to changing realities.

Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation by Charles R. Lane, Augsburg Fortress, 2006, 128 pp.

This is a popular read among clergy trying to improve their congregational giving, and it is a solid, helpful and rich resource. Lane’s main emphasis is on discipleship, and the need to develop people not as givers or members, but as disciples. Cultivating generosity is about learning to trust God with our money. I also appreciated the simple outline he offers, from the title on: ask, thank, tell. There is no life-changing program here, but too often churches try to work on better “asks” without following up on the other portions of the cycle of inspiration—thanking people for their gifts and telling them how the church’s ministry is making a difference. This is a softer, gentler approach than J. Clif Christopher’s Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, but with similar ideas and themes.

Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity by Emily C. Heath, Pilgrim Press, 2016, 136 pp.

This was one of my favorite books this year, and not just because Heath is a friend. This book makes the case that discipleship is the missing ingredient in progressive churches, and that we ought to be paying far more attention to the development of the faith lives of our congregations as our most critical task. Heath expresses concern that progressive Christians often define our faith by what we are against, or how we are not like “those” Christians who are anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-sex and all the rest. Instead, we should be asking how we can live lives and build communities that glorify God, with joy and compassion. That means cultivating transformed lives, letting God change us and work through us in prayer, study, generosity and—yes!—acts of justice. Heath speaks concerns and passions I have shared since seminary, and I am grateful for this clear case for the importance of discipleship in our progressive churches.

20180114_165359Leadership Without Easy Answers by Ronald A. Heifetz, Belknap Press, 1994, 348 pp.

This book isn’t specifically about church leadership, but leadership in general. I’ve read about this book and its ideas in many sources, but it took me a long time to get around to reading the original source. In many ways, this made it feel like a refresher to concepts I already knew (and have used many times). Reading Heifetz’ arguments and defense of his ideas revealed to me how innovative he was by moving away from understanding leadership as a trait or character type and instead as an activity and skill set. Leadership doesn’t reside in personality, but in one’s ability to build trust and move people to follow. Beyond the helpful distinction between technical and adaptive change, Heifetz’ articulation of “leadership without authority” is a perfect way to capture the essence of congregational leadership, both clergy and lay. He addresses the pain and personal challenge of sustaining this kind of leadership in long-term struggles, and offers reassurance and insight. I’m glad I finally read it—now on to the next volume, Leadership on the Line, which is still on the shelf.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor, ed. by Rev. Martha Spong, Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT, 2015, 215 pp.

Woman in the PulpitFor years, my clergywomen friends and I have been swapping stories about what our lives are like in the crazy, beautiful work of ministry. “You should write that down.” “We should write a book someday.” “Somebody needs to publish all these stories,” the voices echo. Finally, someone did!

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit captures the stories of dozens of clergywomen across denominations and cultures and across the world. The initiative began with the RevGalBlogPals, a blog ring of women in ministry that I read for a long time and was honored to join when I became a blogger myself. Many of these women have been writing their stories for years, others are new to ministry or to writing. They pulled together the best of the best from all the submissions for There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.

Here’s my response: I laughed. I cried. I shouted, “I know exactly what you mean.” I had to put the book down because I was too deeply moved to turn another page. I wanted to answer back by swapping stories of my own. I felt like I was hanging out with old friends (and, truth be told, several of the authors are my friends–in person or via the internet). I said a deep, sighing “yesssss” on multiple occasions.

The breadth of the stories moved me. While I expected the stories about tender moments with the dying to bring a tear or two, I was surprised to also find myself sighing deeply over the stories of mothering through ministry, or presiding at the communion table, or preaching. There were stories I immediately recognized as similar to my own, like keeping vigil at the bedside of a beloved church elder or searching for a nice pair of preaching heels, and stories that offered me a window into another’s life, like parenting a child with a disability or juggling a church and a farm.

If you want to know what it’s like to be a woman in ministry (or just a person in ministry–not all stories are gender-specific), this is the book for you. If you are a person in ministry and want to read something reflecting our experiences with beauty and wonder and humor, this book is for you. If you love a woman in ministry, this book will offer insight into her world. While there are occasional stories of sexism or gender bias, most of the book is just about the beautiful, messy, holy lives we share with beautiful, messy, holy people and congregations.

When I have shared stories like these with others, including male clergy colleagues, there is often disbelief. “That doesn’t really happen, does it?” You might read this book and feel the same question arise. Here is my three-part reply: 1. Yes, this stuff really happens. 2. Yes, I mean it. It really does. 3. Isn’t it beautiful and messy and holy, and isn’t that just what God is like?

I’m so proud to know many of the women whose writing is contained in this book, and I feel blessed to have our stories told for the world to share. Get it, read it, love it.

Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations by Anthony B. Robinson, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008, 199 pp.

Changing the conversationAnthony Robinson is among my favorite authors when it comes to explaining the changes facing the world, articulating their impact on the church, and raising the questions that we all need to contemplate in response. In this book, he takes it farther, drawing some conclusions about what mainline congregations need to do to engage with this new era. In Transforming Congregational Culture (one of my favorite guides for leading change in the church), Robinson makes the case for why change is necessary and hints at the kinds of changes that will be required. Changing the Conversation is a tool to help congregations launch the conversations that will engage the work of transformation.

The premise implied in the title is that congregations have been having conversations for the last few decades about whether they are liberal or conservative in their politics, traditional or contemporary in their worship style, emergent or established in their way of life. Robinson labels these conversations ubiquitous, unhelpful and even destructive. (4) The third way moves beyond “either/or” into “both/and.” How can we be about faith formation AND social justice? How can we be about personal transformation AND public transformation? How can we be serious about scripture AND about reason? The path he charts guides congregations around those unhelpful conversations and into new ones, conversations that will move the church forward into a new way of life.

Much of the material was familiar to me, both from Robinson’s other books and from a myriad of authors addressing similar topics, like Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Phyllis Tickle, and Gil Rendle. However, this book is unique because it condenses all that material into short, topical chapters that are perfect for discussion with leadership groups in congregations. I ordered copies of this book for every member of my church Council, and we are going to be working through these conversations throughout the coming year, one chapter at a time.

Robinson covers all the major topics that churches should be considering. The first two chapters are titled, “It’s Not About You” and “And Yet…It Is About You.” These two chapters recap his earlier work (which I think is some of the best out there for mainline churches) on the death of Christendom and its implications for the church. The third chapter puts forth the key challenge for mainline churches: moving beyond civic faith to have “a new heart,” passionate about God and following the way of Christ. This chapter reminded me of a line in Martha Grace Reese’s work in Unbinding the Gospel, “You can’t give what you don’t got. Changing the church demands that all of us grow in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ. He imagines four chambers of this new heart:

an encounter with the living God and the message of and about God; the power and purpose of Scripture; evangelism for the “churched”; and reclaiming theology as “wisdom proper to the life of believers.” These are four aspects of one whole transformation, that is, being “formed anew” or “formed over” by the living God. (79)

Subsequent chapters address more specific questions: leadership and governance, vision, purpose, mission and public role, stewardship and faith formation.

One of the most important things for me in this book was the chapter on a church’s purpose. Robinson traces a variety of authors (including each of the Gospel writers) on the purpose of the church, such as making disciples, changing lives, embodying Christ’s way of life in the world, glorifying God. All of these are variations on a theme. In a workshop with Robinson I attended on Sunday, he put it this way, “we’re in the people-making business,” making Christians not just by conversion but by a steady, shaping way of life. I think clarity of purpose is critical for all congregations, because it should shape everything else. Our purpose guides what we do (and what we don’t do), and how we go about it. We need to be clear on it, and reiterate it over and over again in everything we do as a church. For my congregation, this will be our starting place. We developed a purpose a few years ago, but we have not revisited it recently.

While I may have read or heard many of these ideas before at multiple clergy workshops, and while our church has already been doing this conversational work together over the last five years, it will still be new to many of the Council members reading this book throughout the year. For me, it is a reminder that the conversation needs to be ongoing, not just a one-time thing. Most importantly, this book (far more than many others) does not just lament the past or imagine the future in vague and dreamy ways. Robinson’s questions and model of congregational conversations offers a path for practical, local, immediate and meaningful ways for real churches to engage with change. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, I finished Changing the Conversation thinking, “we can do this!” I can imagine my church having all these conversations, and, with the help of this book, we will.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t by Jim Collins, HarperCollins, 2001, 300 pp.

Good to Great for Social Sectors by Jim Collins, self-published, 36 pp.

I am always cautious when people try to apply the principles of running a good business to running the church. However, Jim Collins’ work is more about leadership and organizational development, and those kinds of ideas can easily be modified and adapted to the church world. His original research and ideas in Good to Great were so popular in the non-profit sector (including the church) that he wrote the secondary monograph to explore how to make those adaptations. His work is based on deep analysis of corporations that have been successful for the long term, defined as at least 15 years, and he identifies the core characteristics of companies that make the leap from good to great. I’ll comment briefly on the insights that I’ll take away from each, freely mixing between the two volumes. I know I am late to the party on this (the book is 10 years old, and well analyzed by pastoral leaders), but I want to process what I think that church leaders could learn from these guidelines.

1. Level 5 Leadership: a leader who combines personal humility and professional will, rather than charisma or packaged programs.

The Level 5 leadership Collins describes is very apt for pastoral ministry. We all know clergy who are charismatic, who wow crowds with their preaching and publish books by the scores. However, their churches often do not survive losing them. Level 5 leaders, on the other hand, may never have a famous name, but they build an organization that lasts by putting  the good of the institution above their personal gain, measuring success not by their personal progress but the strength of the institution. Some of the best pastors I know have built great churches that last and grow–but they are not snazzy preachers or sought-after speakers, although they are certainly competent in those areas. What they know how to do is develop faith and leadership in others, and always defer to the wider group rather than touting their own success. We in the church should affirm the gifts of these Level 5 leaders.

2. First Who… Then What: a primary focus on getting hardworking, team-playing people with the right skills and passions into the organization, then figuring out what to do and how to do it.

In my ministry, this has proved critical. If we can get the right people in the right positions, great things will happen with little direction or motivation from the pastor. On the other hand, we don’t hire and fire church members, lay leaders or volunteers. Part of being the church is working with who God sends, and faithfully welcoming every soul into Christ’s service. This is also especially tricky when working with volunteers and church members who may have served for a long time in the “wrong” position. Just because everyone is welcome in the congregation does not mean that everyone has the gifts to chair the Council, teach the children or manage the finances.

I practice this “first who” by never asking for volunteers anymore. When a task arises or position opens, I prayerfully consider who I think the right person is, then consult with the other leaders in charge of nominations. We then ask that person directly to serve. It takes extra time and energy up front, but saves so much difficulty and energy later if you have to motivate or direct the wrong person. If you get that right person, they can get more right people to work with them.

“Rightness” in the church is not about the best or most righteous or most faithful—we are a community of broken, flawed people and sinners. “Rightness” is about matching a person’s spiritual gifts with the needs of the church, as Frederick Buechner says, “the place where your deepest joy and the world’s deepest hunger meet.” (An important side note: I have never found people put out by never hearing a call for volunteers. Instead, they are flattered to be called directly. If you believe that everyone has spiritual gifts, then there is a place for everyone.)

3. Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith): a willingness to name and grapple with harsh realities, accompanied by a steadfast commitment and confidence that success can happen anyway.

If that’s not at the core of our Christian faith, what is? We follow a God who took up the cross, facing and calling out the brutal realities of death, sin, violence and empire—only to be resurrected three days later, having overcome them all. Yet far too often, we in the church are not willing to confront harsh facts. We are declining, young people are missing, buildings are decaying, Christendom is over. Only when we acknowledge the reality of our situation will we be able to effectively move in new ways to address it and be transformed–and, I believe, resurrected.

4. The Hedgehog Concept (Simplicity within Three Circles): a clarity about the organization’s primary purpose and mission, defined as what you are passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and what multiplies (for companies, profit and for non-profits, resources).

This is, I believe, the hardest one for churches. We harbor the belief that we should be all things to all people. In some ways, we are right—just look at Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and in prison and you visited me.” So, in addition to offering awesome worship, excellent preaching, quality Sunday school for all ages, and being good stewards of our buildings and resources, we are also supposed to demonstrate excellence in food ministry, prison ministry, a clothes closet, hospital and nursing home visitation. Most churches do a great job at some, a mediocre job at others, and leave some out completely—and always feel guilty that we “should” be doing more.

I remember attending a workshop with Gil Rendle where he said that family-sized (less than 50 in worship) and pastoral-sized (less than 120 in worship) churches cannot do everything, so they need to find what they do well and build from there. He told the story of a small church that hosted birthday parties and social events for children with special needs. At the time, I remember thinking that didn’t sound much like a church’s mission statement. After all, we in the church are, first and foremost, about spreading the love of Jesus. While those birthday parties would definitely be something Jesus would like and approve of, they can’t be the central mission of Christ’s church. Yet I think that Rendle and Collins are on to something. We will never handle disaster response as well as the Red Cross, or homelessness as well as our local shelter, or clothing needs and job training as well as Goodwill. We should figure out what we can do in our community that no one else can do as well.

Each church has its own culture, its own way of telling the story of Jesus, its own ministries that are part of its DNA. We can grow and strengthen the local congregation by discovering those spiritual gifts as a congregation and building on them. If opportunities or needs arise that do not belong, we will have to trust God to find another church that will be able to respond effectively. That means learning to say “yes” and learning to say “no” in discerning ways. I think that Jesus would be O.K. with that. After all, he did not heal all the crowds, nor did he seize every opportunity, and he said “no” to some times of teaching and serving so that he could be in prayer. God has the whole world, full of people of faith—God does not need our one local congregation to be all things to all the world.

5. A Culture of Discipline: people within the organization exercise a great deal of freedom and responsibility, self-disciplined by the Hedgehog Concept.

This one needs little adaptation for the congregational context. When a church is micromanaged, or when someone must always be pumping up or directing in order for a program to happen, whether that is the pastor or board or committees or lay leaders, growth and sustainability are impossible. The church needs to have a shared sense of what its purpose is, what its core values are—and let the ministries unfold from there. If people are growing in discipleship, they are growing in discipline.

6. Technology Accelerators: use of technology and technological innovation does not drive success, but it can accelerate success if used in accord with one’s Hedgehog Concept.

Church leaders share this misconception with corporate leaders: if we are declining or falling behind, it’s because we don’t have the latest technology; if another church is succeeding, it is because they use technology we don’t have. Collins proves this to be untrue. While technology used wisely will accelerate greatness, it cannot cause it. Technology might cause a short-term spike in energy or growth, but it will not be sustained. If you think technology is the cause of a church’s success, it’s only because they are using it effectively, in accord with a deeper sense of purpose.  Churches that invest in technology without investing in developing the tools of leadership and purpose will only have empty robots and fancy screens.

7. The Flywheel and the Doom Loop: organizational transformation works like slowly pushing a flywheel, grinding and slow until others join and it gets momentum. The Doom Loop is the cycle of jumping from program to program, fad to fad, and replacing the ideas after they fail to produce success quickly.

Oh, if only we could imprint this wisdom in the mind of every new pastor (not just new to ministry, but new to a congregation) and to all those expecting great things from them! Real, meaningful change happens slowly, invisibly at first, as a few core leaders begin to push the wheel. There are no overnight sensations that are lasting–it can take five, ten, 20 years for the change to really take off and have energy of its own. The “Doom Loop” is what happens when you implement a fancy new program that you think will change everything. When it doesn’t, you take your discouragement and go try something else. While I don’t think most congregations will give us 20 years to figure it out, if you start out with small changes, you can build momentum over the course of 5-10 years and see the congregation really begin to take off.

8. Built to Last: Preserve core values and core purpose while changing cultural and operating practices and specific goals and strategies.

This one also seems obvious for the church world. Our core value (“love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind”) and our core purpose (“love your neighbor as yourself,” and “go, therefore, to make disciples of all nations”) have been in existence for 2,000 years. When we keep those cores at the center of our life together, the church thrives—because it is being the church of Jesus. We can change “cultural and operating practices and specific goals and strategies” all over the place, as the church has through reformation after reformation.

As you can see by the length of this review, I think Good to Great and the accompanying volume on social sectors have much to mine for leadership wisdom in the church. While there are plenty of passages and bits of advice that clearly don’t apply in an organization that is about people and not profits, developing disciples not customers, there is plenty to make it worth your time to read.

My biggest question at the end is about some of the companies featured in the book. In the most recent financial collapse, several of Collins’ “great” companies have fallen apart—Fannie Mae & Circuit City chief among them. The book is 10 years old, but these companies clearly did not remain great. I wonder if Collins has analyzed why—if they changed some of their behaviors after his book was written, or if he would change some of his analysis.

Leadership for Vital Congregations, by Anthony B. Robinson, Pilgrim Press, 2006, 128 pp.

This is a book I wish I had found and read a long time ago–even before 2006, when it was first published. Over the last five years, I have been engaged in leading a church through a time of major change. I found Robinson’s book Transforming Congregational Culture incredibly helpful in understanding the kind of change required, and his book with Robert W. Wall, Called to Be Church: The Book of Acts for a New Day shaped a sermon series I preached to help my congregation understand and tackle these issues from a biblical framework. This book on leadership brought together much of what I have learned over the past five years of this journey, and encapsulated it in a clear, straightforward way. Having read Robinson’s earlier books and many of the books he cites as references,  I felt familiar with most of the guidance he offers, but I have never seen anyone collect and share it so directly and concisely.

Robinson begins by describing various images of leadership, in an attempt to expand our images of leaders and their tasks. Influenced by Ron Heifetz, he describes the task of leaders as “mobilizing a group or community to make progress on its own toughest challenges and problems.” (24) He points out some factors unique to pastoral leadership, such as working with volunteers, being more accessible than most leaders, and understanding God’s leadership as ultimate. One chapter is a very helpful literature review of some of the most widely respected secular writers on leadership. This was an excellent introduction to these authors, but also serves to broaden the imagination about the function and purpose of leadership.

Robinson’s chapter entitled, “Pastoral Leadership: Seven Strategies,” is what really made me wish I’d had this book several years ago. He describes seven leadership strategies that pastors must follow in order to lead. They are sequential—you must do one before the other—but pastoral leaders are always doing all of these steps as they move ahead in leading congregations. Everything starts with building trust (Strategy One), and discerning what’s going on (Strategy Two), why we are here (Strategy Three) and what God is calling us to do (Strategy Four). Once change begins, the pastoral leader manages distress (Strategy Five), persists (Strategy Six) and helps build a learning congregation (Strategy Seven). This is exactly what we have  been doing in our congregation over the last five years. It is almost an exact map of the terrain we have covered in our change process. I only wish I’d had the map ahead of time—it would have made me feel less like a wilderness wanderer!

The remaining chapters talk about sustainability practices in leadership. Robinson talks about growing and developing spiritual leaders, the role and responsibilities of the congregation, caring for your soul as a leader, and leadership itself as a spiritual practice. I have never heard anyone talk about leadership itself as a spiritual practice, and I found myself saying, “yes! yes! yes!” He outlines five specific examples drawn from the story of Moses about how leadership is a spiritual discipline, but I thought of a dozen more. For me, the act of prayer and discernment with God about my congregation and how I am called to challenge and connect with them is incredibly holy. It has made me a better Christian and a better person. The act of leading a congregation engages my heart and soul for God’s use just like personal prayer, study, meditation or sabbath-keeping. It shapes me in the ways of Christ. For example, our church is currently engaged in a capital campaign. Being a pastoral leader challenging others to greater generosity has transformed me into a more generous person. It was a gift and a revelation in this book for Robinson to name that as a spiritual discipline.

This book is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in engaging in deep, transformative work as a pastoral leader. In a few short pages, Robinson summarizes what that kind of leadership looks like, the basics of how to do it, what to expect and how to sustain it. This book will not tell you the details of why the church needs to change (see Transforming Congregational Culture for a good primer on that one), how to conduct a visioning or planning process, what changes the church should be making, or even what your changed church should look like. There are plenty of other books out there that will do that. Instead, Leadership for Vital Congregations tells you what kind of leader you need to be to get there. If you want to be that kind of transformational leader but don’t know how to start, start here. Like any map, this book won’t tell you where you need to go or describe the details of the landscape you’ll see. It will simply orient you on the journey. You’ll have to trust God, your congregation and your own discernment for the rest.

Call me crazy, but it’s true. I love a good meeting. The key being “good,” of course–no one loves a bad meeting.

When the ideas are flowing,  energy is catching on, plans are being made, learning is happening, leaders are emerging–God’s spirit is real. It’s one of my favorite moments in ministry.

So I love a good meeting.

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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