Monday, April 23, 2012

"Spiritual Leadership" (Henry and Richard Blackaby)

TITLE: Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God's Agenda
AUTHOR: Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2001, (308 pages).

This book is a classic. It is a no-holds-barred expose on the perils, the disappointments, and the immense challenges facing leaders, especially those intending to lead according to what God has intended them to lead. The constant messaging in the book is, "Spiritual Leadership is not an occupation: it is a calling."

It begins with a recognition of the challenges facing leaders. Not only are they constantly questioned by their followers through skepticism or a failure to meet expectations, leaders question themselves too about their sense, their purpose, and the meaning of spiritual leadership. The  Blackabys recognize that even secular leadership materials, like Harvard Business Review, point to some forms of Christian leadership. The problem about leadership in society is not a lack of leaders but a lack of understanding of Christian principles in leadership. This is where the authors seek to place this book.

Using Jesus as a model example, they redefine the purpose of spiritual leaders as moving people toward God's agenda in 5 ways:

  1. "The spiritual leader's task is to move people from where they are to where God wants them to be."
  2. "Spiritual leaders depend on the Holy Spirit."
  3. "Spiritual leaders are accountable to God."
  4. "Spiritual leaders can influence all people, not just God's people."
  5. "Spiritual leaders work from God's agenda."

Through the life of Abraham, one is prepared to be a spiritual leader beginning with one's ordinary self and heritage, learning from failures, building spiritual landmarks, experiencing God's redemption, learning by experience, living by faith, braving the tough, demonstrating the faith, obeying God, and subsequently cultivating friendship with God.

Spiritual leaders will play a major role in vision setting. The authors highlight 6 wrong ways before pointing out the essential way to set vision toward God's agenda. Firstly, one cannot set a vision purely on the basis of something visible, because vision has more to do with invisible future rather than meeting an immediate goal. Secondly, leadership is not about duplicating success but thoughtful innovation in the light of God's agenda. Thirdly, it is not to feed inner vanity but God's purpose.  Fourthly, it is not need-driven, but dependent on calling. Fifthly, it is not simply due to the availability of current resources, but the vision will drive the organization to seek out whatever resources necessary, including the existing ones. Finally, leadership is not leader-driven but God-led. It is not focused on a small vision but dedicated toward a large one. I The authors have this special word for churches.

"While churches are sensitive to the needs in their communities, a need expressed is not the same thing as a call by God." (61)
They have a word for parents too.

"For example, when parents run their families by worldly standards, their children may experiment with the temptations of the world. The parents may believe what they need is a community center to keep their teenagers off the streets. In reality, what they need is to have Christ as the head of their home and to raise their children using God's standard instead of the world's. Need-based visions not only allow unregenerate people to set the agenda for churches, but they also tempt churches to focus on symptoms rather than causes." (62)

Well said.

On character, the authors warn of the illegitimate sources of influence like position, power, and personality. Often these clouds out God's authentication, encounters with God, character and integrity, to develop a successful track record of depending on God, and the need to prepare one toward God's agenda.

On purpose and goals, they point out three 'misguided goals' that are based on 'bottom-line mentality,' 'perfection,' and 'bigger, faster, and more.' Instead, the three 'worthy goals' are firstly to lead people toward spiritual maturity, leading people to lead, and leading in a way that brings glory to God.

On influence, leaders need to pray often, work hard, communicate well, serve others,  and maintain positive attitudes. The section on how to communicate is a tremendous resource for all communicators.

On decision-making, the most important task is not to make right or wrong decisions, but to be prepared to bear the consequences of any decision made. They provide four guidelines on decision making.

  1. Letting the Holy Spirit guide them through prayer, the Word of God, and discerning circumstances;
  2. Teachability
  3. Aware of their history
  4. Accountability to God
Spiritual leaders will manage time wisely through scheduling, and their understanding of God's will helps them say yes or no to various demands. They cultivate healthy routines, delegate appropriately, and apply focused concentration to the most important tasks.

Finally, the Blackabys give ample warnings on the pitfalls of spiritual leadership. They highlight ten of the most common pitfalls.

  1. PRIDE that take credit from others, that makes one unteachable, leading to a increase in self-sufficiency and a decrease in compassion for others.
  2. SEXUAL SIN: where 5 safeguards are not practiced. Safeguards of accountability, heeding own's counsel, contemplating consequences, developing healthy habits, and prayer.
  3. CYNICISM that continually concentrates on the negative that they lose sight of the positives and the big picture.
  4. GREED of money, possessions, power, that distracts the leader from the real important goals.
  5. MENTAL LAZINESS where people are 'intellectually stagnant' and never start growing.
  6. OVERSENSITIVITY in which people cannot handle criticism, and are unable to take opportunities to learn from constructive criticism, and easily discouraged by negative remarks.
  7. SPIRITUAL LETHARGY in which people forgo the time with God and mainly works on a get-things-done mentality.
  8. DOMESTIC NEGLECT where one neglects the family.
  9. ADMINISTRATIVE CARELESSNESS where basic fundamentals of administrative efficiency are compromised. This is especially in the area of conflict resolution and communications within and without the organization.
  10. PROLONGED POSITION HOLDING in which some leaders stay too long on their positions and prevent newer people from stepping in.
Thankfully, the authors conclude not with pitfalls, but the rewards of a spiritual leadership that honours God and moves people toward God's agenda.  They point to two kinds of rewards. The first kind are the tangible rewards like monetary, legitimate power, respect and prestige. The second kind focuses on five types of spiritual rewards. Firstly, it is a reward of God's affirmation and calling. Secondly, it is the integrity at home, at work, relational, and self. Thirdly, the reward of contribution to people, to organizations, and to the next leader in line. Fourthly, the rewards of relationships in family and friends. Fifthly, the rewards of influence.

Closing Thoughts

This is a very comprehensive book on spiritual leadership. If Oswald Sanders's book of the similar title has done for his generation in the 60s-80s, the Blackabys have done the same for the generations beyond the 80s. With the many stories, illustrations, and wisdom of real life examples, the individual points are communicated clearly and powerfully. The authors have not only given readers a broad range of leadership material, they have helpfully reminded all leaders past, present, and future, or leaders to be, that leadership is not about us or the organizations we serve in. Leadership is beyond just seeing the big picture. It is living beyond ourselves by looking at the world from God's perspective. It is replacing worldly goals and agendas with God's agenda. It is not about moving up the hierarchy of power and prestige but moving people along toward God's will and purposes.

This is what spiritual leadership is all about. I recommend this book highly for students of leadership, existing leaders, teachers, trainers, and anyone concerned about the quality of leadership in any organization.

Rating 5 stars of 5.


1 comment:

  1. This book is worth reading by anyone who is thinking of how to be a spiritual Leader to and for God's people and those who are already in a leadership position.