By Henry T. Blackaby & Richard Blackaby; Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman (2011); Reviewed by STANLEY E. PATTERSON
This “revised and expanded edition” of Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God’s Agenda follows the original 2001 publication, which has for many become the defining work on leadership within the context of the Christian community. It works from the foundational premise that Christian spiritual leadership begins with a relationship of obedient followership of the God of creation (pp. 38- 39). Whatever the specific leadership function or position, the Christian leader leads from a platform of being a steward of the kingdom of God. This subordinate relationship of the leader with God presupposes the subtitle of the book in that the Christian leader serves to motivate, inspire, and coordinate people toward alignment with God’s agenda rather than the leader’s agenda or even the collective agenda of the faith community: God’s agenda is primary.
The theme of God’s agenda is supported by a call to obedience (pp. 80- 82). This is presented as obedience in the context of a “friend” relationship between the leader and God, as opposed to obedience in the hierarchical chain of command. It is further supported by the description of corporate vision: the vision for the organization is developed in a collective manner but via a spiritual process where the goal is to discover a revelation by God of His vision for the organization. This is unique to the Christian model assembled by the Blackabys in that secular leadership does not stray beyond the boundaries of self and community—with the leader as the source of vision or the leader and community collectively developing and casting the vision. Leadership vision that leans on revelation beyond self and community assumes a personal God who is actively engaged in the process of leading both the individual and the faith community.
The book dedicates 33 pages (pp. 147ff) to the role of character as a primary source of influence in the process of leadership. In addition, a full and compelling chapter (pp. 313ff) is dedicated to the failures of character that contribute to the fall of leaders. Character-related dimensions of leadership that were included—position, power, and personality—were treated as illegitimate influences, while God’s hand leading through surrender, integrity, successful track record, preparation, humility, and courage were seen as legitimate influences related to character. It seems unwise to assume the pragmatic posture of a “successful track record” as an indicator of positive character, which interjects a doing element in an otherwise consistent expression of the being aspect of leadership. It nevertheless emphasizes the character of the leader as the primary inspiration and motivation in spiritual leadership.
Surprisingly, a discussion of the role of universal Spirit-gifted competency for all believers is largely absent in this book. Spiritual gifting is a primary function of the Holy Spirit and the bedrock of leadership development in the church. It is the Spirit that gives rise to the adjective that modifies “Leadership” in the title of the book and should be treated as a more prominent element of Christian leadership. In a similar vein, the chapter on character missed the opportunity to tap into the other primary contribution of the Holy Spirit to the body of Christ—fruits of Christian character that take the form of character traits that ensure the relational context in which leadership gifts are practiced by the collective body of Christ.
This updated and revised edition includes new chapters on leading change and leading teams. The book is well-written and edited. Illustrations are updated as are the concepts developed in the original publication. The book successfully and consistently develops the thesis suggested in its title: spiritual leadership in the Christian context must seek God’s agenda for both the leader and those being led. Spiritual Leadership is a book that deserves a prominent listing in any bibliography that would intend to guide the Christian leader. Those who wish to contribute to the process of leadership in a manner that honors the Master and the community that is identified by His name will benefit from reading this book.
Stanley E. Patterson is Associate Professor of Christian Ministry and chair of the Christian Ministry Department at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary and serves as the director of the Christian Leadership Center at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.