In slight contrast to my last book review (of Apollos’ new title The Essential Trinity) today is a review of a book about leadership, less than 80 pages, and deeply practical. Canny readers will notice a similar visual style to the book on preaching I reviewed recently, To Fly To Serve by Adrian Reynolds. This is because they are both part of the very helpful little series from 10Publishing and the FIEC. Readable, pocketable and very practical, these are valuable resources for those considering, training, and continuing as, church leaders.
As alluded to above, this is an immensely practical book. Other than its purple cover, one thing that makes it stand out is the structure. Perhaps rightly so – the author has been involved in pastoral ministry for decades – the structure is both personal and general. General, in that it aims to speak into a wide variety of contexts (Though, I’d argue, too wide, as I’ll explore shortly), and personal in that some of the best chapters in my opinion include ‘A Talk that Enlightened Me’, ‘A Habit that Shaped me’, and ‘The Challenges that Still Face Me’. This is a book structured around the reality of local church leadership – and with one notable exception, it succeeds in its aim.
The content of this book follows the structure. This is a book about leadership written by an experience leader for leaders in the local church. That previous sentence is deliberate – the title departs from the book at this point. In the introduction, Evans defines leadership (quoting Derek Prime, who is introduced as “an experienced Christian leader“, rather than a bible teacher, interestingly…) as “‘the ability to encourage and equip other leaders‘”. This definition is adopted uncritically and wholesale – providing what is in my view an Achilles heel to an otherwise very helpful book. This aside, there is much in this book to commend. As Evans notes, “God specialises in taking the weak things, and the small people, and multiplying beyond counting“. This is a book written for our time, for our weaknesses, and for the glory of God. Normally, this would make me rabidly recommend it.
I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, though, because of a conflation of terms that switches this book from being a genuine breath of fresh air in the Christian leadership conversation, to being just another book about leadership. Evans (again, in my opinion, though it is hardly controversial given the New Testament’s language of sacrifice and discipleship) rightly calls all Christians ‘Full Time Christian Workers’. Absolutely we are all called to ‘work’ for Jesus all the time. But this does not mean what Evans goes on to say. ‘Everyone leads someone’. This is infuriatingly close, in my opinion, to the fallacy that everyone is a leader. This might be true in a secular sense. But leadership in the Church must be more than ‘influence’ or direction, or vision. By focusing on this notion that everyone is a leader, and that everyone leads, I think that Evans distracts from what is otherwise an excellent book on Church leadership.
I really wanted to like this book. And the fact that two of the four paragraphs of this brief review begin with ‘I’ is demonstration of my personal grappling with this issue of leadership. I think that, if readers are aware of the caveat around who is a leader, this is a brilliant book for people pondering prayerfully what it means to be a leader in the Church. Given the packaging, publisher, author and likely readership, this book is a good thing. But I can’t quite remove the taste of ‘everyone is a leader’ from my mouth’. That might just be me. If you can overlook that – and I’d imagine most folk can – then this is a really helpful book about church leadership with one stumbling point for pedants like me.