Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development

By Eric Geiger & Kevin Peck
Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group (2016)
Kindle Version, 256 pages

Reviewed by SHAWN ELLIS

Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development was written by Dr. Eric Geiger, who received his doctorate in leadership from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has co-authored the bestselling discipleship book, Simple Church, and is currently Vice President of LifeWay Christian Resources. The book is also co-authored with Dr. Kevin Peck, senior pastor of the multi-campus Austin Stone Community Church.

Early in the book the authors challenge the status quo by stating that most churches exist to keep programs and services running in the absence of spiritual growth and, if spiritual leaders are developed, it is by accident, not intention. Geiger and Peck assert that most churches are unhealthy and cannot effectively grow leaders because they lack one or more of the following “three C” components: Conviction—the deep passion to develop leaders; Culture—a healthy environment for leaders to develop, and finally, Constructs—systems which help to systematically and intentionally build leaders. For example, a church with constructs but no conviction results in apathetic members with no desire to disciple but simply seek to fill slots for volunteer positions. Constructs without culture results in leader exhaustion as added systems are seen as burdensome. Finally, conviction absent of useful constructs, leads to member frustration as there is no strategy on which to focus their passions.

The book presents biblical and practical aspects of the three C’s with suggestions on application. While the author’s biblical examples of conviction, culture, and constructs are illustrative, there are few examples of present-day implementation, successful or otherwise. The authors assume that real-world expressions of these concepts are intuitive to the reader. It is surprising that research from Geiger’s company on church transformation was not used to provide an up-to-date, quantitative perspective to support the author’s positions. Unfortunately, when such research was presented, it was peripheral to the author’s thesis.

The book itself is laid out in a clear, logical manner, discussing each of the C’s in separate sections. Except for the chapter on conviction, which has an additional section on theology, the chapters on the remaining C’s were broken into two separate sections: one on theology, and the other dealing with practical considerations. Each section includes a simple diagnostic tool to help assess the current state of a given congregation. An appendix is also included that provides a detailed outline of Jesus’ mentorship process.

One of the key aspects of the book are the chapters dealing with culture. To emphasize its importance, the authors quote iconic management leader Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” (loc. 1572). The authors correctly assert that if a church’s culture is not aligned with its mission, the convictions of the members and the constructs to support them will be insufficient to achieve their goals.

The authors define their theology of culture based on the adapted D. Min. thesis of Peck who researched church growth. The authors present three categories: the realities of creation (having a firm trust in God’s word and a sense of urgency of Christ’s return), the household of God (fellowship), and the mission of God (spreading the gospel and making disciples). While the theology of the latter two aspects are presented reasonably well, the authors struggle to present a compelling theology of the realities of creation. Their sense of urgency is centered on the belief that mortal life is “terrifyingly brief.” The authors state: “When church leaders see their lives as undeniably fleeting, it ignites an urgency to make more leaders for God rather than to make more platforms for themselves” (loc. 1694). A well-developed exposition of Revelation 14:7 connecting the personal desire to be ready and to prepare the world for Christ’s soon return would have been valuable to this discussion. The authors also missed an opportunity to define culture in relation to world mission. A reflection on John 17:15 where Jesus states “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (ESV) would have been a helpful bridging concept.

In the chapter discussing how to transform culture, Geiger and Peck’s discussion is largely a repetition of the concepts from the book Leading Change from bestselling author and change management consultant, Dr. John Kotter. While these concepts may be more easily integrated in a corporate environment where financial rewards and termination of non-performers are valid tools; application to church culture is unique and was not well addressed by the authors. It would have been a welcome addition if the authors adapted the corporate concepts to church realities such as working with people where they are; understanding the ethnic diversity within a congregation; mediating low and high powered distance groups and managing an all-volunteer community.

Creating a church that develops leaders is a necessity if we are to bring to life the mandate Christ gave to all His followers as part of the Great Commission in Matthew 28. If we are not intentional in this duty, Geiger and Peck gives the reader a sobering thought: “Should we fail to lead as God has designed, we beckon disaster to enter into our world. Should we develop leaders apart from God’s design, we actually help propagate destruction and misery rather than life and hope” (loc. 1028).

With such statements and challenges, Designed to Lead is one of the few church leadership books that creates a sense of urgency in the reader to do God’s work and create disciples and future leaders for Christ. The shortcomings in the material do not overshadow the book’s overall value. One of the greatest strengths of Designed to Lead is the novel and easy to grasp concept of the three C’s and the inclusion of different diagnostic tools that, while basic, provide a solid starting point for understanding change management and leader development within the church. Any pastor or church leader struggling with change or seeking to create an effective leadership program will find this book a useful primer for their library.

Shawn Ellis is a student in the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry at Andrews University. As a former business consultant, he is passionate about leadership and organizational structure.

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