Doing Good is my Middle Name: a book review.

Peter Greer is no stranger to doing good. As president and CEO of HOPE International, he has invested his life in addressing both physical and spiritual poverty through microfinance. However he also knows the shadow side which can accompany good doing. When people give their life in service through activism, missions or ministry, they may end up serving from the wrong center. Some serve to earn salvation. Some give their life to a cause to prove their own worth. The Christian response should be to serve out of a response of overflowing gratitude for all Christ has done on our behalf. Unfortunately, we often louse that up and end up casting more shadow than light.

In The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good Greer shares his own journey  of ways he’s ‘done good’ but from the wrong motivation. At one point he devoted his life to ministry but ended up giving ‘leftovers’ his wife and family. He had bought into a sort of Christian Karma which declared if ‘I do this for God, God will do (fill in the blank for me). He has used the wrong measuring stick in defining success and has compared himself to others.  The lessons he’s learned along the way help us be aware of where our ministry might have slid into the danger zone.

Greer shares lots of stories of where ‘doing good’ can be dangerous for our souls. He isn’t trying to talk us out of doing good, but to examine our internal motivations. So he turns over the idea of ‘doing good’ and points to the places of possible danger.  We’ve all heard the stories of the Christian leader who blows up and blows it. Greer gets us to examine our own hearts in action before our own life falls off the rails.  The fact that he does it with humor and grace is an added bonus. 

Much of the advice in this book is practical good advice like: have friends you are accountable to, listen to feedback, being authentic and humble, don’t take photos of nursing gorillas or tell a room full of ministry supporters that you welcome them with open legs (a language error, in case you were wondering). These should be obvious and basic. Unfortunately life in ministry can sometimes reflexively fall into the category of ‘doing important tasks’ without doing the hard work of self reflection which should accompany ministry. Greer’s book provides a good diagnostic tool for Christian ministers. 

I enjoyed this book and give it four stars. It is a good read for active minded people who like to ‘get involved’ in ‘helping others.’ Greer’s recommendations will help us do that from a healthier place. 

Thanks to Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Leaders Love Alliteration: a book review

I have a confession to make. When Andy Stanley’s The Next Generation Leader came out ten years ago, I scooped it up from a bargain table and had every intent of reading it then. I knew Stanley to be a good speaker and was curious about what he would say about leadership. Yet I was also pretty suspicious of the Evangelical leadership fetish, so I never read it. The book rode my shelf for a couple years before hitting the donation bin.

< em> Next Generation Leader: Five Essentials For Those Who Will Shape the Future </em> by Andy Stanley

And here I am ten years later reviewing this book. There are no substantive changes to the contents of this book.  As near as I can tell, the biggest change was the publishers decision to trade in the old shiny metallic cover, for a glossy yellow and black.  I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but this cover really pops.

But you don’t want to hear my opinion on the cover, let me tell you what’s inside. Stanley explores five essentials for the ‘next generation leader’ which will ‘shape the future.’  This sort of world changing language is what makes me suspicious of leadership books in general, but it also explains their appeal. When you open up a book on leadership  (and despite my criticisms I read my fair share),  you can expect some good advice, some inspiring words, and principles for success. At their worst, leadership books are elitist, at their best they describe the characteristics of good leadership and challenge readers to grow in their own development.

Stanley certainly is inspiring and dispenses advice which will not only make you a good leader, but also a good human being. His five essentials of leadership include:

  • Competence– Leaders do the things they are good at (what only they can do for their organization). They delegate and outsource the rest. This allows leaders to maximize their effectiveness by focusing on their areas of giftedness.
  • Courage– Leaders take risks. Leaders who are afraid to take stands or to act, are not good leaders.
  • Clarity- Leaders are clear about the direction they are leading (even when everything seems uncertain).
  • Coaching- Leaders seek out ‘coaches’ who will evaluate and help them continue to develop as a leader.
  • Character- Good Leaders are good people. If you want to inspire loyalty and commitment in those you lead, be a person who is worth following.

Each of these five points have three short chapters where Stanley presents the principle, illustrates it with a Bible story and presents exercises (or reflection questions) to help you develop in each of these five areas. I think each of these 5 c’s are good and worth putting into practice. But most of what Stanley says here isn’t ‘new.’ It could easily be cribbed from John Maxwell, Steve Covey or Jim Collins. And the way that Stanley uses Bible passages is uneven. Using the story of David and Goliath to illustrate courage makes sense (David the giant killer is archetypal). In other places, I felt like the biblical stories were flattened out in order to illustrate a principle. For example Joshua is used as an example of clarity in uncertain times for leading Israel into the promised land. This is true enough but it fails to grapple with the deep ambiguities in the Joshua narrative (If God tells him to be strong and courageous, why does he send spies and wait?).

I found I liked this book (leadership suspicions aside) but I think it oversimplifies and over-promises. I give this book ★★★ and would recommend it for people who want to grow in their leadership through focusing on areas of personal development. While I agree with most of what is written here, I feel like the Next Generation Leader should also add a sixth “C” to their list– Content- Leaders need something of substance to say.

Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

What’s in a Word?: the problem with “Leadership Development.”

I’ve been in the market for a ministry job I have had lots of opportunities to read job descriptions from various churches. Curiously the language of discipleship has all but disappeared from many of the pastoral jobs. Instead, churches talk a lot about ‘leadership development.’ If these were the same thing then there is no harm in new nomenclature. But while ‘leadership development’ and ‘discipleship,’ may look similar they operate from very different conceptual frameworks.

Before you dismiss this as your typical Gen-X Christian rant against leader-driven seeker-sensitive church (why can’t I be nice like kids these days?) let me just say I have read my fair share of leadership literature, listened to talks, gone to workshops and have taken copious notes of ‘leadership’ presentations. I believe in leadership and I certainly want leaders to develop. Personally, I will continue to read and look for ways to develop my own leadership and if you are a leader, I hope you do too.

But the problem with leadership development, is if that’s all you got, you are elitist. When we talk about discipleship, we are talking about followers being formed in the way of the Master. We are helping people follow Jesus with their whole lives. Discipleship is walking with people through their lives and it can look very ordinary and mundane. It also is where the hard work of life transformation happens. Discipleship describes the process of helping people grow in character and in faith in Jesus.

Conversely, when you talk about leadership development our fundamental aim is to help people become better masters not better followers. When we emphasize leadership, we help people be better managers, shrewd and effective. We teach them ‘best practices’ and bottom lines. We challenge people to take entrepreneurial risks and expand their influence.

Everybody wants to lead and no one wants to follow, so discipleship has fallen on hard times. It has none of the glitz of ‘leadership development’ which promises that if you master a set of skills and increase your aptitude you can impact larger groups of people and organizations.

At best, leadership development is a part of discipleship. Clearly we want disciples who will lead others into more of what Jesus has for them. The problem is that leadership has become the whole enchilada. But the problem isn’t just that we lost the language of discipleship, we were confused about discipleship even before our leadership fetish. The discipleship machine which shaped me as a young Christian, told me I should invest in ‘discipling’ (not an actual verb) those that were FAT: Faithful, Available, Teachable (not sure of the origin of this acronym because it is fairly widespead. I know I’ve read it in something Howard Hendricks wrote, but I’m not sure if it’s original to him). Makes sense right? Invest in those who offer you the biggest pay off. Isn’t that what Jesus did?

No. Jesus didn’t do that. He did the exact opposite:

  • The disciples were unfaithful. When adversity came they were scattered like sheep without a shepherd. At Jesus’ arrest the disciples turned and ran.
  • The disciples were unavailable. Jesus did not go pick up some day labors who were waiting for something to come their way. He told a group of fishermen to leave their nets and follow him. He told Levi the tax collector to follow him as he sat at his desk. He took an otherwise engaged group of guys and had them leave their life behind.
  • The disciples were unteachable. Can anyone seriously argue that these guys were teachable? They were arrogant, proud, obstinate and they just didn’t get it. Think of the number of times that Jesus has to drill the idea of humility or service into these guys. They did not learn well or easily.

If the disciples could ever be described as Faithful, Available and Teachable it was because the Master helped them cultivate those virtues in them (with a good dose of the Holy Spirit’s work!).

And it is the same with me. Long before I was a developing leader, or an elite disciple, I was unfaithful, unavailable and unteachable. That I am actively pursuing God’s call on my life today is because people invested in me when I didn’t merit or deserve it. I thought I knew everything, and was pretty resistant to people’s attempts to help me grow in Christ. Lucky for me I had a few friends and key mentors who invested in me before I was leadership material. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.

The kind of discipleship which turns lives around is what are churches need, not just bigger and better leaders.