Lets get the headline out of the way. This is one of the, if not the, best books on leadership I’ve read. Certainly for its size it is one of the most complete, the most meaty, and the most thought-provoking. Authored by the legendary English Evangelical Anglican John Stott, ‘Challenges of Christian Leadership’ is a collection of four talks given originally to overseas parachurch leaders at an IFES conference in Ecuador. It is now available for the first time in English, and has jumped right into my list of favourite John Stott books.
This slim (94 page) book is divided into 5 chapters. The first three deal with three of the eponymous challenges of Christian leadership. In chapter 1, Stott engages with ‘The challenge of discouragement: How to persevere under pressure’. Here, Stott moves through 2 Corinthians 4, and reminds us of the secret to persevering under impossible circumstances for the cause of Christ. Chapter 2 deals with ‘The challenge of self-discipline: How to maintain spiritual freshness’. Stott is clear and to the point here, and with reference to Mark 6:45 he notes ‘Jesus dismissed the crowd in order to go away and rest and pray, so we must not feel guilty if we are taking a period of rest‘. Stott goes deeper, and this is a really helpful chapter. The third chapter deals with what is identified as ‘The challenge of relationships: How to treat people with respect’. Here Stott emphasises the human necessity of relationships, and also looks at some ways that leaders should conduct themselves. This is a helpful synthesis of theology and praxis.
If focus on the fourth chapter because it resonated so much with me, and because it deals with a topic dear to my heart. Stott addresses ‘The challenge of youth: How to be a leader when comparatively young’. He is quick to note the actual context of the youth of Timothy, and it is with this honesty that the careful reader – or the listening young leader – can gain a lot from this chapter. Stott unpacks, as you might expect, 1 Timothy 4:11-5:5. From this (and you really must get and read this book if you are a young leader, or a leader called to invest in young leaders) he gives six key pieces of advice, straight out of Paul’s prose:
1) Watch your example
2) Identify your authority (Stott sites this external to us, in bible-handling and usage)
3) Exercise your gifts
4) Share your progress (Stott advises young leaders to be going somewhere, demonstrably!)
5) Mind your consistency (For me, the challenge is to keep life and doctrine intertwined)
6) Adjust your relationships (This is a helpful reminder to be sensitive, careful, and respectful of all others)
For me, as a younger person interacting with leaders and leading some people who will go on to be much better leaders than me, this 4th chapter was a great bonus. And the treat continues into the 5th chapter, which is the examination of two examples of people that Stott mentored who have gone on to serve well. Chapter 5 looks at ‘Two ‘Timothys’ – Mark Labberton and Corey Widmer’. This chapter is a fitting close to the book, and contains wisdom and touching reflections on ‘Uncle John’.
Essentially, then, this is a fantastic book on leadership. It is notable for being very based in biblical exegesis, whilst be undeniably aware of the realities of leading in today’s world. I think the chapter on leading when young is fantastic, and I haven’t come across anything, particularly anything of real substance on this topic before. So, I thoroughly recommend this book to those involved in leadership, and especially to those invested (either in raising/training or being) in young leaders.