Review: Together in Ministry

Together in Ministry, Rob Dixon (Foreword by Ruth Haley Barton). Downers Grove: IVP Academic/Missio Alliance, 2021.

Summary: A field research-based approach to mixed-gender ministry collaboration identifying ten attributes for healthy partnerships.

Rob Dixon is a field ministry director who works closely with a number of female ministry colleagues in a collegiate ministry (in the interest of full disclosure, we work with the same ministry in different parts of the country). I welcome this book because it models and articulates the conditions for healthy mixed gender collaborations in a time of so much relational brokenness, patriarchy, and abuse in the church. Rob casts of vision of what many of us are experiencing in male-female partnerships where no one has to step back but all of us are encouraging each other in the pursuit of God’s mission.

Dixon introduces this by discussing that this has always been God’s intent. He, as others, observes that the “helper” God gives Adam in the form of Eve is an ezer, and far from implying subordination is the term most often used of God as our helper, and God is hardly subordinate to us! It can be argued that the Samaritan woman is Jesus’s first partner in mission, even before the disciples in bearing witness and gathering her village to hear Jesus. And we see a pattern of prominent women who work alongside men in the New Testament. Dixon then lays out his research methodology, which consisted of quantitative measures, interviews with roughly 60 people using an appreciative inquiry approach, as well as participant observation.

Out of his research he identified ten attributes that he clustered in three clusters:

The Inner Life Cluster:

An Authentic learners posture. This involves a mutual commitment to humility, to extend grace, to submit to one another, and curiosity.

Shared Convictions of Gender Equality. This consists of a shared biblical interpretation, an understanding that the Bible advocates full and equal partnership, and that collaborators treat this as a matter of conviction rather than as a pragmatic value.

Awareness of Gender Brokenness. Partners in mission are growing in self-awareness including sexual brokenness, undervaluing of female colleagues, and gender bias.

Community Culture Cluster:

Vision for Freely Shared Power: Rather than the control of power by men, there is a reciprocity between men and women, each affirming and advocating the other, reflected in equitable sharing of responsibilities.

Differences for the Sake of Mission: A recognition that we are equal but different, and that difference ought to be deployed in ways that advance mission, but that individual differences should be appreciated apart from gender stereotypes.

Value for Holistic Friendships: Healthy partnerships involve presence in each other’s lives beyond ministry situations–with families and as part of a community.

Corporate Sensitivity to Adverse Gender Dynamics: Recognizing and intentionally addressing the social dynamics in organizations that often favor men, excluding, discounting, blocking or putting at career risk, the women in an organization.

Intentional Practices Cluster:

Abundant Communication: This involves both quantity and quality and also is enhanced by regular debriefs of conversations.

Contextualized Boundaries: This chapter discussed “The Billy Graham Rule,” how this has not worked, how women have been hurt, and developing boundaries that allow for honest conversations of what is wise for each rooted in self-knowledge, what is situationally wise and, rather than a rigid rule, an understanding of the contexts where men and women can work with good boundaries with each other.

Public Affirmation and Modeling: The importance of leaders modeling their commitments to partnerships, celebrating publicly the work of each other, and good examples, and deliberately assessing how well up-front and other forms of leadership are shared.

Dixon devotes a chapter to each of these attributes discussing research findings about the attribute, the attribute in scripture, benefits of the attribute, barriers to implementing the attribute, and practical steps to develop the attribute. I found Dixon’s identification of barriers and practical steps especially helpful. I thought the taxonomy of sixteen different adverse gender dynamics in organizations especially significant–I think I’ve seen all of them and been guilty of contributing to or benefiting from more than a few! If I were Dixon, I think I might have figured out a way to cover the material on contextualized boundaries earlier, since I think many who read this book are thinking about that. But it kept me reading (or I suppose I could have skipped ahead!). Each chapter concludes with questions that groups working on ministry together can use to process and begin to implement these attributes in their communities.

One other element of this work that I appreciated was the missional focus of the discussion. So often, ministry situations I’ve witnessed are turned in on each other and it is easy to see how ministry partnerships may turn unhealthy. Dixon’s premise is that we have a mission given us by Christ in the world that is “all hands,” requiring the hands of men and women together. I so appreciate Dixon’s approach throughout, his own humility about mistakes, and the consistent effort to move from what is problematic in mixed-gender ministry to the opportunities for both people and ministries to flourish. We need more such voices and models.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Lead Like It Matters to God

Lead Like It Matters to God, Richard Sterns. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.

Summary: In contrast to many leadership books that outline steps to success, describes what it is like to give value-shaped leadership in both for profit and non-profit settings.

No question. Good leadership is a gift to any organization or political entity. Richard Sterns, out of his Christian faith, takes a different approach from many other leadership books. His focus is not on skills or “steps to success.” Sterns should know from work at Gillette and CEO experiences at Parker Brothers, Lenox, and World Vision. He contends that what matters most are the values that shape one’s leadership. After introducing this approach, Sterns devotes a chapter each to seventeen different values.

Beside values you might expect like excellence, vision, courage, self-awareness, and perseverance, Sterns includes values you might not associate with executive leadership. These include sacrifice, love, humility, integrity, generosity, forgiveness, balance, humor, encouragement and listening. He begins with surrender, describing his own painful experience of getting fired twice in a two year period and spending fourteen months unemployed. He describes this period of being “benched” by God as one that convinced him that God wanted his Mondays through Saturdays and not just his Sunday, a life of daily surrender. Likewise, he describes the value of trust, particularly trust in God, as one that enables leading in the face of adversity with calm.

Even typical corporate values like excellence are re-shaped by Sterns’ Christian commitments. He states that “excellence means that we will always strive to use the gifts and abilities that God has given us to the fullest extent possible.” He believes “good outcomes do not lead to excellence; excellence leads to good outcome” (italics in original). He argues for love for the workers in an organization, no matter the title.

One of the endearing things about this book is that Sterns not only values humor but he is practices it, usually laughing at himself. He illustrates humility with his experience of plugging up and surreptitiously plungering his private executive toilet on his first day as CEO at Lenox and describes the “shroud of Turin” he left on a glass window he mistook for a door as he rushed to a meeting with the governor of Tennessee, arriving bloody nosed, quipping, “You should see the other guy.”

He speaks compellingly of the power of encouragement by contrasting two bosses, the one who told him he had no marketing talent, while the second kept encouraging him and giving him stretch assignments that affirmed his confidence. He credits the second boss with grooming him for his first CEO position. He argues for corporate and personal matters, describing the time he was his angriest at World Vision, and it all had to do with pumpkin seeds. And in his description of the balanced leader, he notes the role of reading in the lives of great leaders. I might quibble with some of his examples though–while Harry Truman and Warren Buffett strike me as balanced and sensible, I’m not sure about Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk–all of whom are great readers.

The book concludes with a challenge for Christians to take God to work and offers several closing stories of the unseen acts of faithfulness through which God works, including the child sponsored by a couple through World Vision who became the sixth archbishop of the Anglican church in Kenya. I would commend this book to every aspiring leader. For all the reasons above, it is both substantive and engaging. Note the values that you want to cultivate more deeply in your leadership and get to work. If Sterns is right, it all matters to God.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Longing For Revival

Longing for Revival

Longing for Revival, James Choung and Ryan Pfeifer. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: A practical work on revival that begins with defining what it is and why we ought hope for it; second, what it means to experience revival; and third, what it means to lead in a time of revival.

The word “revival” conjures up all sorts of associations from “revival meetings” to the “sawdust trail” of frontier revivals, to the experience and writing of Jonathan Edwards in New England. For me, it recalled the Jesus Movement, of which I was a part during my high school years. Spontaneously, throughout the U.S., there was a movement of God that resulted in a great turning to Christ of many in the youth culture of the day. Many of us are still following Christ fifty years later, and particularly, in this time of turmoil, and in this time of declining numbers in many churches and the exodus of many youth, we long to see something like this again. But dare we believe for such things?

The two authors of this book, a current and a former campus staff minister with InterVarsity/USA (the organization in which I am also employed, in the interests of full disclosure), write about their own journeys of moving from a holy discontent with the status quo to a breakthrough faith that believes God and begins to experience revival, both personally, and by the power of God, in ministry. They begin with a definition of revival that has been accepted within InterVarsity circles as our working definition of what we mean by revival:

A season of breakthroughs
in word, deed, and power
that ushers in a new normal
of kingdom experience and fruitfulness

They then unpack this definition, noting the importance of “season,” the significance of having word, deed, and power with love at the center, of new normals, for example, where it is the expected reality to see people regularly come to faith, and where the nearness of the kingdom, the presence and rule of Jesus is apparent. This is followed by several chapters tracing the breakthrough U curve: beginning with holy discontent, there is an initial descent to untested faith, then a descent into crucified hope, where our own dreams and expectations die, a crisis of faith where we hit bottom, the revival of hope, not in our own dreams but in God and his capacity to lead us into a new season, followed by breakthrough faith enabling one to minister in word, deed, and power in the confidence of who we know God to be.

The writers then lay out four steps in the experience of revival, exploring how we live in faithful expectancy, yet look for a work only God can do. They walk us through consecration, the setting of ourselves apart to God, to long for more of his presence in our lives; calling, using the example of Peter stepping out of the boat, hearing the Lord’s invitation, obeying in faith, and experiencing the Lord lifting up, as we pursue something new and audacious; contending in prayer and fasting, not to earn something through our spiritual efforts but learning to persist and not give up until we see God act in power; and finally, character, particularly the humility that guards us by reminding us that it is not about us but about Christ, keeping us from being derailed personally, and in leadership.

Choung and Pfeiffer assume that many of those reading this will be leaders. They emphasize the importance that leaders don’t keep the work of leading revival to themselves but have an “all play” mentality. Choung talks about an experience of speaking at a retreat where he desperately wanted to give a call to faith, but agreed to let student leaders do this in small groups, resulting in twenty-seven non-Christians out of thirty-one coming to faith and students who had never invited a student to believe seeing their friends respond. We often oppose planning and the mysterious powerful work of God. These writers explore how the two may walk hand in hand and enhance each other. They offer five questions to guide groups in communal discernment, crucial to groups moving together united in head, heart, and action:

  1. Is it biblical?
  2. What did you hear in prayer?
  3. What if fear wasn’t involved?
  4. Does it produce the fruit of the Spirit?
  5. What does the Christian community say about it?

Finally the authors cast a vision for a revival that is about kingdom building, not empire building. It is not about our organization or church, or national power. It is about the advance of the rule in Jesus moving out from ourselves to our community, our region, our nation, to the world.

Pardon some autobiography. After my experiences of the Jesus movement and my college years, I began working with InterVarsity. As I moved into leadership and to a new city in the early 1980’s I became involved in the Concert of Prayer movement, an effort to seek God’s reviving work. For a time it appeared to gain momentum until I saw many Christians (and perhaps myself) swept up in the Reagan revolution and the hopes of Christian influence in politics. Later, I found myself in a place of disillusion, both that God hadn’t brought the revival for which I hoped and that instead, I witnessed a church increasingly captive to partisan politics rather than the kingdom of Jesus. For most of the time since, I think I opted for the “faithfulness” which settles for the subnormal rather than the new normal of revival. I invested in students and faculty, saw some come to faith, and built and led teams that planted new ministries. But I stopped believing in revival, even though I longed for it, all the more as I’ve witnessed the unraveling of the social and political fabric of our country, and the ravages not only on body but on spirit of this pandemic.

In early January, the national staff of InterVarsity gathered in Orlando, the title of this book serving as our theme (we all were given copies of it). During a day of prayer and fasting, I became aware of how I had surrendered to despairing of revival and made a decision to dare to believe again, to be a “watchman” in prayer waiting for the dawn. I felt God breaking the hard cynicism that had encrusted my heart over thirty-some years.

This book showed me that what happened back in the 1980’s was the death of my own hopes. It gives me hope that God wants to do something new. It also challenges me to the expectant work of consecration, calling, contending, and character. I believe that the only hope for our campuses and our country and our world is not a vaccine, it is not electing or re-electing a president, but the revival of which these authors speak. If you share that conviction, I believe this book will both engender hope and offer practical direction to turn your holy discontent into breakthrough faith.

Review: Leading Minds

Leading Minds

Leading MindsHoward E. Gardner with Emma Laskin. New York: Basic Books, 2011 (Review is of the 1996 edition).

Summary: Studies how leaders effectively communicate with the minds of those they lead using case studies of eleven direct and indirect leaders.

Howard E. Gardner is a cognitive psychologist who works in the field of education. One of his most significant works is The Unschooled Mind, the thesis of which is that outside of domains where an adult has great expertise, most adults theorize about the world with the mind of a five year old. In this work, Gardner focuses on effective leadership as an exercise of communication with the minds of others, seeking to influence them to action that follows one’s leadership. For Gardner, storytelling is central, and effective leaders are not only able to tell a story that communicates with those who share their expertise, but also with a wider public responding with the “unschooled mind” of a five year old. He identifies two types of leaders, indirect leaders, like Albert Einstein, and direct leaders, like Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some individuals exercise both kinds of leadership.

Gardner considers eleven individuals who exercised leadership in a variety of domains:

  • Margaret Mead: Anthropology
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer: Physics
  • Robert Maynard Hutchins: Higher education
  • Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., Business (General Motors)
  • George Marshall, Military and Statecraft
  • Pope John XXIII: Religion
  • Eleanor Roosevelt: American women
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.: Civil rights
  • Margaret Thatcher: Political
  • Jean Monnet: International leadership
  • Mahatma Gandhi: International leadership

After introductory chapters outlining his basic approach and methodology, Gardner devotes a chapter to each of these leaders, except for the last two, who he considers together. What is fascinating is that he looks at the development of these leaders, the story they told and how they adapted their stories when their leadership moved beyond those who shared their expertise, and how effective they were. He looks at indirect leaders like Jean Monnet, who essentially served other national leaders in forming the framework of the European Union, and direct leaders like Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. who communicated a compelling, missional story for General Motors. He also considers their areas of failure. For a leader like Robert Maynard Hutchins, his inability to embody his story with the faculty at the University of Chicago, and include a wide constituency in his vision were critical failures.

From these profiles, Gardner identified six constants of leadership:

  1. The Story: Leaders must have a central story or message that includes those necessary for accomplishing her vision. Often these are inclusive, but not always, as in political or military conflict.
  2. The Audience: A story cannot succeed without being heard and heeded, and the effective leader is able to communicate in a nuanced fashion that different audiences will understand.
  3. The Organization: The influence of a leader’s story depends on an organization for implementation–be it a business, a political party, a movement. Margaret Mead never created an organization and had no school of followers after she died.
  4. The Embodiment: Leaders, especially direct leaders, must embody their story. George Marshall not only spoke about a vision for service but embodied it in his integrity, hard work, and willingness to work behind the scenes for the success of the war effort.
  5. Direct and Indirect Leadership. Indirect leaders influence through symbolic products whereas direct leaders engage with their followers as they articulate a story.
  6. The Issue of Expertise. Those who move from leadership within a domain to wider leadership, like J. Robert Oppenheimer, do so because of proven expertise. The paradox is that the wider one’s leadership, the less their technical expertise alone is a factor.

Two appendices in the form of extended tables chart Gardner’s analysis, the first consider the eleven leaders in this study, the second ten world leaders during the World War II era.

I did have one reservation about this study. It seemed to me that Gardner’s approach presupposed his conclusions. This does not necessarily invalidate his conclusions, given that this work extends prior research. But I would be cautious in considering this as an all-encompassing account of leadership. For me, it suggested the importance of having, and effectively communicating to different audiences, one’s story of a preferred future.

Gardner’s eleven leaders, although they each have their failings, are generally positive figures. His account of story and the unschooled mind also recognizes that some leaders are able to communicate compelling stories and gather a following with very bad consequences, as in the case of Hitler or Mussolini. There are also instructive lessons for those who are so “wonky” about their stories, that they are unable to garner a following outside those who are already sufficiently wonky. There is also a quite wonderful lesson in the stories of those like Pope John XXIII, George Marshall, and Eleanor Roosevelt who embodied the stories they conveyed, and so were able to lead all the more effectively.

Most of us both lead and follow in our lives. Gardner’s book shows important qualities of story, inclusion, embodiment and expertise as critical in leading well. He also helps us when we follow, to listen to the stories leaders tell and the congruence between story and the life of the leader. It seems to me vital to consider whether the story is one that works for all who a potential leader would lead, or whether those stories will intensify the divides between those included and those excluded.

Review: Women in God’s Mission

Women in Gods Mission

Women in God’s MissionMary T. Lederleitner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: An account of research into the many ways women are leading in God’s mission around the world, the distinctive traits in their service and leadership, the challenges they experience around gender discrimination, and the conditions under which they do their best work.

No matter what you believe about women in leadership, women are serving and leading in ways that are advancing God’s global mission. Mary Lederleitner researched their stories, giving an account of their leadership, the distinctive traits that mark their work, the challenges they face because of their gender and how they cope engage these, and what conditions foster the opportunity for them to serve and lead with excellence. In introducing her study, Lederleitner writes:

“My desire is to share stories of faithful and trusted women, so other agendas or issues do not derail the conversation about women in God’s mission. Other people can write books that argue points of view. The purpose for my book is to bring the voices of respected women from approximately thirty nations to the dialogue about leadership in general, and to dialogue about service and leadership in God’s mission specifically.”

This story approach runs through the book, beginning with “Appreciating Their Stories” in Part One. She documents the incredible variety of ways women are leading in networks, new missions, health organizations, in executive roles and in their families, and much more, with a deep sense of the privilege of being able to advance God’s mission in all these ways. Yet they often have faced challenges because of their gender and creatively responded. Many had a deep sense early in life of their leadership calling and struggled between faithfulness to God’s calling and cultural expectations and limitations.

Lederleitner teased out seven distinctive traits in these women, which she summarizes as “The Faithful Connected Servant.”

  1. Leadership is not about them but God
  2. A deep commitment to prayer.
  3. A preference for collaborative leadership.
  4. A holistic view of mission.
  5. Perseverance despite difficulties and injustices.
  6. Intense care for mission impact.
  7. A commitment to excellence and continuing personal growth.

Part Two elaborates these seven qualities, illustrating them with a variety of leadership stories. As a man who has worked with women leaders, I’ve witnessed all of these traits, and found that they have stretched my own leadership. I appreciated seeing these named.

Part Three explores the reality of gender discrimination, from the abuses women endure in society to ways they are discriminated against in the workplace in terms of promotion compensation, invisibility, and having to prove themselves in ways not expected of men. She explores both the ways women sometimes accommodate established patterns of discrimination, and what women do when, out of a sense of call, they cannot accommodate.

Part Four is especially important for men to read, because we can play a vital role in unleashing the gifts of excellence women bring to the church. It begins with husbands who are not threatened by their wives but delight in their gifts and accomplishments and sacrifice so they have the opportunity to excel. It means changing our metaphor in the workplace from a fear of women as temptress (usually the man’s problem that he needs to take responsibility for) to one of seeing each other as “sacred siblings.” It means men opening opportunities for women to step forward. She concludes this section by identifying remaining issues ranging from health and family issues to equity in the workplace.

What I most appreciate with Lederleitner’s story-telling approach is that she is not perpetuating a theological polemic but rather describing present and possible realities for women, the admirable work they are doing in serving and leading, even when limited by structures or theological positions. She shows the barriers the church erects, apart from the theological discussion, in which we hurt those who seek to serve and advance God’s mission.

This is a book men need to read! We need to understand both the internal struggle, and external conditions that make it hard for women to say “yes” to God’s invitations to serve and lead, and how we often make it harder. Men in leadership of ministries and agencies need to understand the potential for the mission of our organizations to be more effectively advanced when the women among us are fully able to lead well. Empowering women doesn’t come at the expense of dis-empowering men, but rather multiplies the power of all of us to fulfill God’s mission. Given the challenges facing the Christian mission in the modern world, that seems a good thing.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Review: The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier. Toronto: Box of Crayons Press, 2016.

Summary: Kicking the advice habit, asking questions well, and using variations of seven key questions can lead to more effective leadership coaching.

Over the next few weeks, I will be mixing in reviews of books on coaching, part of some reading I am doing for my own development. I’ll take the risk of reviewing these because all of us influence others in some way, and it is never a loss to learn how we might do that with greater effectiveness that helps others flourish.

One of the key ideas of this delightfully straightforward and easy to read book is that many leaders tend to give directions, answers, and advice far more than ask questions. This thwarts effectiveness by promoting dependency rather than autonomy in those we lead. It leads to more time being absorbed in this unproductive activity, and at worst, leaders become bottlenecks in their organizations.

Another critical insight is that deciding to ask more and better questions is not enough if the leader doesn’t recognize what triggers the advice-giving habit. With each of the seven questions that follow, the author asks us to identify the triggers that activate habits that derail us from good coaching and to identify a new practice that will be come a new habit.

The core of the book is seven great coaching questions:

  1. The Kickstart Question: “What’s on your mind?” Ask this early, with a minimum of chit-chat and this gets to the reason for the conversation. Often this will be about one of the 3Ps: Projects, People, and Patterns, all linked to each other.
  2. The AWE Question: “And what else?” This question draws out more information, often identifies more options, buys time, and keeps the “Advice Monster” at bay.
  3. The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here for you? Often what is on one’s mind is nebulous, or there are many challenges mentioned. This question gets concrete and personal and prevents “coaching the ghost” of discussing someone not in the room rather than what is facing the person in front of you.
  4. The Foundation Question: “What do you want?” Often the coachee is not clear on this and it is not clear in the situation. Once clear, it is possible to have an adult conversation where it is possible to answer “yes,” “no,” “give me time to think about that,” or perhaps, “not this, but that.” Also, it is critical to recognize the difference between wants and needs, the latter often being the reasons behind the wants. The question can also be a mutual one, particularly in a management situation where two people can get clear on what each wants in a situation and then get on with figuring out how to respond to that.
  5. The Lazy Question: “How can I help?” It question calls upon the person to make a direct request, and it delivers you from being the perpetual rescuer. A blunter way to ask this question is “What do you want from me?” Instead of deciding for a person how one can be helpful, it allows them to say what really would be helpful, and it allows you to decide whether you can offer that help. It is lazy because it saves us from providing all sorts of unwanted and counterproductive help.
  6. The Strategic Question: “If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?” This chapter offers some great help in figuring out how to say “no” when it is very hard to do. It also helps us figure out what we will be saying “no” to if we choose a strategic direction, and what else we may need to say “no” to in order to fully embrace the “yes” rather than over-commit.
  7. The Learning Question: “What was most useful to you?” This recognizes that debriefing is where learning really takes place, and clarifies the most important outcomes to your discussion. It also has the side benefit of increasing the perception that the coach as useful!

Stanier includes psychological research at the end of each chapter explaining why the questions are effective. He also sandwiches a “Question Masterclass” between each question that explores how one asks questions as well as what questions we ask–things like cutting the intro and asking the question, sticking to “what” questions, getting comfortable with silence, listening to answers, and acknowledging them.

The questions ring true with my own leadership and coaching experience–these are good questions. The insight on the “advice monster” is one most leaders need to heed. There is a refreshing contempt for truisms like “work smarter, not harder.” I do wonder about the author’s claim that “Coaching is simple” and that this book will “give you most of what you need.” Is this hype, or simply an author with a lot of chutzpah? What I can say is that this was a quick read, offered good questions and reasons for using them, and didn’t bury its message in a ton of verbiage. That’s worth something.

Review: An Unhurried Leader

An Unhurried Leader

An Unhurried LeaderAlan Fadling. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017/

Summary: Proposes that influential spiritual leadership that bears lasting fruit arises out of unhurried life in God’s presence that results in unhurried presence in the lives of those one leads.

Leadership can be demanding. People come from many directions with needs, agendas, and sometimes, criticism. To-do lists are longer than there are hours in the day. One may feel they have to run faster and faster, even as energy seems to be draining away. In more reflective moments, we might ask, are the people we lead maturing as Christ-followers, more effectively able to use their gifts and engage their world? That is, if we get a chance to ask the question in the midst of a hurried life.

Alan Fadling doesn’t think we will ever evade these demands. Rather, his thesis is that leadership that bears lasting fruit comes out of unhurried time in the presence of God that both fills us, and overflows into our leadership life. Most of all, he contends that when we cultivate this unhurried life with God, it allows us to come along people as an unhurried presence, able to wait and listen for what God is doing in their lives and through our encounter with them.

A key verse for Fadling is Isaiah 30:15:  “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Fadling writes:

“…Isaiah said that we’ll find salvation—help, wholeness, or rescue—in repentance and rest. He said that we’ll find strength—power, influence, and energy—in quietness and trust. Unhurried leaders are different.

  • Rather than fill their lives with noise, unhurried leaders make time for silence in which to listen (quietness).
  • Rather than allow anxiety to drive them, unhurried leaders learn to depend on a reliable God who invites them to join a good kingdom work already well underway (trust).
  • Rather than tackle self-initiated projects under the guise of doing them for God, unhurried leaders humbly orient themselves to the Leader of all, learning to take their cues from him (repentance).
  • Unhurried leaders also learn to rest as hard as they work.
  • Rather than measuring the productivity of their lives only in terms of what they do, unhurried leaders understand the importance of certain things they don’t do.”

Fadling walks us through what he has learned about leading out of abundance, allowing God’s living water to flow through us. He invites us to “come, listen, buy, and eat” in God’s presence, and to cultivate practices of contemplating God’s greatness where we open ourselves to a vision of God from which we lead. “Questions that Unhurry Leaders” was a delightful chapter that was not what I expected but rather a reflection on the wonderful questions Paul asks in Romans 8.

He turns to how our unhurried life with God flows into unhurried influence in leadership. He explores how developing fruitful leaders takes time–not trying to pursue quick, but not abiding fruit. He talks about how grace empowers us, as God meets and works through us in our weakness. Grace doesn’t make us strong, but rather we are strong in God’s grace in our weakness.

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is the relentless stream of thoughts that hurry through our heads. Fadling offers a practice of noticing, discerning, and responding, allowing God into our thoughts–both those unworthy of us, and those that are, in fact, his promptings. This takes us into a life of prayer, in which our primary influence comes through prayer, and in which we do our work “with God,” which has the power to transform our “to do” lists–not necessarily by shortening them, but by allowing us to rest in God rather than anxiously work. He ties all this up by proposing a cycle of contemplation, discernment, engagement, and reflection that may become a rhythm of unhurried leadership.

Fadling helps us “try out” this unhurried leadership life through practices in each chapter as well as reflective questions that help us examine our own leadership. I took this book with me on a recent retreat and found the content, the practices, and the questions all helpful in reflecting on my own leadership journey. Most of all, he reminded me of the foundational truth that I learned as a student leader, and am still learning that he succinctly sums up:

“The secret of my spiritual leadership is God.”

Fadling helps us to examine our own leadership and ask if God is really enough for us. He helps us consider whether our leadership is simply a function of technique and skill, done in our own strength, often leading to hurried drivenness, or whether it is the unhurried leadership that is the overflow of abundant life with God. This is a great book to read for personal renewal, and even better with a team of leaders who can think together how they might encourage each other in the “unhurry” practices Fadling commends. The rest and refreshment both leaders and those they lead experience will more than amply repay the cost and time spent on this book.


Visit my review of Alan Fadling’s earlier book, An Unhurried Life.

Review: Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Lyndon Johnson and the American DreamDoris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published in 1976).

Summary: A biography of the 36th president exploring his ambitions, political skills, and vision, shaped by his family and upbringing, and marred by Vietnam, written from the unique perspective of a White House Fellowship and post-presidential interviews.

This month, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest book, Leadership in Turbulent Timeswill hit the bookstores. The book explores lessons learned from her biographies of four presidents, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. The book that began her study of presidential leadership was her biography of Lyndon Johnson, first published in 1976. In a Goodreads interview about her new book, she describes how her personal encounter with Lyndon Johnson led to her career as a writer and historian:

“I became a historian first, and then a writer. In graduate school, I was working on my thesis on Supreme Court history when I was selected to join the White House Fellows, one of America’s most prestigious programs for leadership and public service. At the White House celebration of the newly chosen Fellows, President Johnson asked me to dance—not that peculiar, as there were only a few women in the program. He told me he wanted me to be assigned directly to him, but it was not to be that simple. 

For like many young people, I had been active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and had co-authored an article that called for the removal of LBJ, published in the New Republic several days after the White House dance. Despite this, LBJ said: “Bring her down here for a year, and if I can’t win her over, no one can.” I worked with LBJ in the White House and later assisted him in the writing of his memoirs. I will forever be grateful to him because there’s no question that my experience working for him shaped my desire to become a presidential historian.”

That experience of working personally for and with Johnson, both in the White House, and later, on his ranch, gave her unique access into Johnson’s self-conception of his life, his House and Senate experience, and his exercise of presidential leadership. Goodwin renders a story of a young man torn between the high hopes and expectations of his mother, and the much easier and more personable style of his father. He hated formal speaking but was the consummate student of people who knew how to make deals and get things done. From his cultivation of a relationship with a university president, a congressional aide who rapidly makes others beholden followers, several terms in the House, a failed, and then successful Senate bid and his rapid rise to Senate Majority Leader, we see someone who studied those around him, learned how to accrue power to himself by bestowing benefits to his followers, receiving their support, if not love, in return.

Presidential ambitions required a different set of skills that Kennedy had and Johnson lacked. Failing his bid in 1960 for the presidency, he accepts the role of Vice President, thinking he could use the methods that worked so well throughout his life, only to find, as have so many, that the office of Vice President has great status, and no power, or potential for such, unless the President dies. Thrust into the presidency by Kennedy’s death, he uses his Senate leader skills to continue and realize Kennedy’s vision, articulated by Johnson as the Great Society. In his first year, and the year after his landslide election, he enacts landmark Civil Rights legislation (as a President from the South) and social legislation including Medicare. Foreign affairs, never a strong suit, struck in the form of Vietnam, a war he could neither win nor walk away from. Goodwin explores why and describes his efforts to sustain his social programs while escalating the war, and the disastrous consequences to his social agenda, and to the economy until the epiphany of the Tet offensive and the McCarthy and Kennedy candidacies made it plain that he could not win in 1968.

Goodwin spent extensive time with Johnson in his last years, and narrates his inability to write his memoirs, his conversations about his presidency, and Vietnam, and his deep frustration from trying to bestow so much of benefit on the country, only to be reviled by the demonstrators and so many others (Goodwin among them). A combination of meticulous research and up close and personal contact helps us understand the tremendous force of personality that made Johnson great, and the flaws that cast a shadow on what, otherwise, might have been a great presidency. I tend to approach psychological portraits with some skepticism, but her accounts of Johnson in his own words, his actions and her rendering of his character has an internal consistency that offers deep insight into a man for whom I had little respect growing up. Now I find myself longing for the political mastery and vision he exhibited at his best leading the enactment of the Civil Rights legislation which was perhaps his proudest legacy.

Doris Kearns Goodwin has gone on to give us memorable portraits of Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and even the Brooklyn Dodgers of her youth. This was her debut effort and reveals the promise of all that would come from her pen over the last forty years. Perhaps the publication of Leadership in Turbulent Times might encourage some to go back and read the work that led to her distinguished career as a presidential scholar.


Review: Kingdom Collaborators

kingdom collaborators

Kingdom CollaboratorsReggie McNeal. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2018.

Summary: An affirmation of kingdom-centered rather than church-centered leadership and a description of eight signature practices that characterize such leaders.

Reggie McNeal coaches Christian leaders. One of his greatest concerns is that many have a vision that is church-centric rather than kingdom-centric. He describes the latter as “kingdom collaborators,” because they are engaged in what God wants to do so that his kingdom would come in the world beyond the church walls, in every sector of society. He argues that church-centric vision comes from a vision of church as institution that is siloed off from other institutions–business, government, arts and media, the social sector, education, and health care. He argues instead for a vision of “church as movement” that encourages people to collaborate with God as kingdom agents in all of these domains, and outside the church building walls.

The book then argues for eight key practices that he sees kingdom collaborators demonstrating in their work:

  1. They practice a robust prayer life that helps them listen to and look for God.
  2. They foment dissatisfaction with the status quo.
  3. They combine social and spiritual entrepreneurship.
  4. They marry vision with action.
  5. They shape a people development culture.
  6. They curry curiosity.
  7. They call the party in their city for collaborative initiatives.
  8. They maintain an optimism amid the awareness that the kingdom has not yet fully come.

McNeal devotes a chapter to each of these practices, giving practical, step by step pointers in implementing these practices mixed with stories that exemplify each practice. I find his ideas incredibly helpful. He roots kingdom collaboration in a prayerful life. He talks about agitating to foment dissatisfaction in constructive ways rather destructive ways that lead to dismissal. He describes a combination of social and spiritual entrepreneurship that sees opportunities, that is willing to risk and fail and practices abundance thinking. His chapter on marrying vision and action has powerful insights into work with volunteers. One could expand his chapter on people development into a book. He talks about the essential character of leaders as people with a lifelong sense of curiosity, and observes how many of them are avid readers. He argues for how effective kingdom collaborators convene and collaborate with others.

His eighth practice of maintaining pain-tinged optimism speaks to the challenge of sustaining leadership over the long haul. If prayer is the foundation of the life of a kingdom collaborator, then the practices he commends to address burnout and compassion fatigue are the capstone.

He concludes with some tips for accelerating impact, whether as church leaders wanting to have kingdom impact, or those working in other domains. For church leaders, he argues that three things are necessary:

  1. Change the storyline.
  2. Change the scorecard.
  3. Change the stewardship of your organization leaders.

For those serving in other domains, he suggests that while you might be tempted to address other pressing needs, leading where you are is the starting place, then networking with other kingdom leaders. Especially, he urges people to “become better at being you.”

I can think of many “marketplace Christians” I’ve known over the years that I would have loved to give this book. Many were excited about the opportunities for kingdom impact in their sphere of influence, but felt guilty that this meant they could not do more in the church. Most found little encouragement for a “kingdom-centric” lifestyle. At worst, they often felt their work was denigrated, except for the money they could donate to the church. This book comes as a breath of fresh air for such folks, speaking a language and affirming practices many have already intuited.

It is also a critical book for church leaders who tend to measure impact in terms of what is happening within the church walls, or through the church’s direct efforts. As important as these are (and the author does not dismiss them), McNeal casts a vision for what people might be engaged in for the sake of Christ and his kingdom in all the hours they devote in other domains. And the eight practices in this book suggest areas where the church might serve to equip young kingdom collaborators for maximum impact (this is where his chapter on a people development culture is so important, I think). Wouldn’t it be a great vision to think about equipping people to be viral kingdom agents in the 40-50 hours many spend in their work, rather than for just a few hours a week in church functions? Reggie McNeal thinks so.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Self-Aware Leader

the self-aware leader

The Self-Aware LeaderTerry Linhart. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2017.

Summary: Explores the blind spots of one’s leadership and helps us become aware of the unseen influences that shape and hinder us, so that brought into the open, they can be recognized, addressed, and redeemed.

It hardly seems that a month goes by where we don’t hear the sad tale of some prominent Christian leader who must step down from leadership because of some personal failing. You probably can multiply these publicized stories a hundred times over with the unpublicized but painful stories of lesser-known leaders, and often, those they have led. We’ve instituted accountability groups, training, oversight–and yet the frequency seems as great as ever.

Terry Linhart would argue that part of the reason is a failure to address our blind spots in leadership:

“The phrase blind spots is regularly used in leadership circles to describe problems or patterns that lurk unseen and pose potential danger. For the last two decades I have been developing and equipping young adults to serve as ministry leaders, pastors, youth workers, missionaries, and managers. That process includes helping them reflect on what they may not notice—the areas of their life too personal or hidden to see easily—that may pose potential problems. The truth is that we all have such areas, even if we’re not that young” (p. 10).

Drivers learn where their blind spots are, and “clear” them when changing lanes or maneuvering. Linhart would contend that we need to develop similar practices of self-awareness for the blind spots in our lives. He uses an example of a cross country coach who called him out to run a better race than he thought he had in him, and in this book acts as a coach, helping us become aware of those blind spots that thwart running our best race as leaders for God’s “well done.” He explores seven area:

  1. Self. At best, leading out of the unique personality and gifts of who we are rather than competing or wishing we were like someone else. He invites us to take “selfies” of our reactions and reflect upon them.
  2. Past. All of us have developed “scripts” from past experience, sometimes deeply painful experiences, that unconsciously shape our behavior patterns. Often, others can help us recognize these and experience healing as we understand where they come from, and how grace brings healing to them.
  3. Temptations. He addresses the “big five” of seeking prominence, control, materialism (“shiny stuff”), inappropriate intimacy, and resentment.
  4. Emotions. He challenges us to emotional maturity through learning to “keep a sentry,” label our feelings, be aware of other emotions, recognize the intensity of emotions, particularly unusual reactions, manage emotions, learn from them, and submit them to Jesus.
  5. Pressures. Leadership is living with pressure. Understanding internal and external pressures and developing systems to address pressure is vital.
  6. Conflicts. Conflict, like pressure is a reality of leadership. It can be handled badly or well. He offers ten pointers to healthy conflict resolution and concludes with some vital insights on passive-aggressiveness.
  7. Margins. Leaders often lack margins in their days, weeks, months, and yearly patterns to listen to God, to grow and renew mentally, and to recover from intense periods of work. He describes the idea of “sprint-drift” that I’ve found so describes the life of ministry. The danger is we try to sprint all the time!

Each chapter includes “self checks” to apply concepts and concludes with questions “for greater awareness.”

This is one of those books I wish I had forty years ago! I think I’ve learned most of the lessons in here, mostly by making a ton of mistakes, and sometimes through the gift of insightful people who observed my blind spots and helped me become aware of them. And that brings me to a paradox in this book. We don’t become self-aware by ourselves. We may take initiatives to ask others how they see us, but the truth is that there are some blind spots we will only see through the help of another–a spouse, a supervisor, a coach, or those we lead.

Linhart is a good coach. He shares his own journey toward self-awareness, his own failings and then, sometimes gently, and sometimes more annoyingly, presses us toward our best self in Christ. I once heard a prominent leader observe that people love to be led well and that aspiring to lead is a noble thing. Sadly, this leader has experienced his own failure in leadership that may reflect a certain lack of self-awareness. But the observation stands. What Linhart helps us to see is that those who lead without ending badly are those who continue to search out the blind spots that may thwart or disqualify them. Perhaps the greatest danger to the leader is the vulnerability one thinks one doesn’t have or doesn’t know about. Linhart names them without shaming us and offers guidance without guilt. Like that cross country coach, he gives us hope that we might be capable of more than we think possible even as we become more aware of who we are.