Last week I finished reading Better Than Success: 8 Principles of Faithful Leadership by my good friend and colleague, Jeff Woods. Twenty years ago there were very few books dedicated to pastoral leadership. Now it seems like a new one comes out every month, and big buck conferences on pastoral leadership are springing up like weeds. That says something about the ministry environment today. But why would I recommend Jeff’s book out of such a burgeoning field? Jeff’s book belongs on a short shelf of texts fundamental to pastoral leadership. From the ecclesiastical world I include: The Once and Future Pastor by William Hobgood, The Pastor’s Survival Manual by Kenneth Moe, Jesus on Leadership by Gene Wilkes, and The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.
From the business world I include: Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf, Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen Covey, Leading Without Power by Max DePree, and Stewardship by Peter Block.
Early books on leadership focused on technique. More recent studies have emphasized the inner life of leaders, the motivation of persons, the dynamics of systems, and the gauntlet of change. Better Than Success follows that pattern.
Jeff’s premise is that success (the business leadership model) is a path contrary to faithfulness (the church leadership model). I quibble with Jeff over semantics here. I think both “business” and “church” models of leadership are about faithfulness. The real question is the object (or person) of that faithfulness. Further, I think a leader who is faithful to God and faithful to their call to lead a church is, by definition, successful.
This may seem a minor issue (and it is) but my reaction stems from the observation that many times the success vs. faithfulness dichotomy is a smokescreen to hide incompetence and self-centeredness. Since I know Jeff does not intend that, I really have no argument with him.
Jeff stimulates reflection with his catalog of leaders as jealous, greedy, frightened, opportunistic, or naïve. All of these are in contrast to a faithful leader who “leads their church to a place where it can accomplish God’s mission.”
With that definition, it is no surprise that the first chapter is Discerning a Vision from God. Jeff gives a sober assessment of “vision,” and offers a prayer-based model to discern God’s vision.
In the next chapter, Jeff turns to Attending To and Rekindling Our Gifts as living faithful to God’s vision. Gift-based leadership and ministry has emerged as one of the key self-understandings of the Church as we enter the 21st Century.
Subsequent chapters include: Prioritizing to Please God, Redeeming Crises, Creating Kairos, Making Mentors, Caring for the Soul, and Navigating the Templates.
The last chapter is one of Jeff’s most innovative contributions. He uses the familiar computer document “template” as a metaphor of ministry. Such a template is a framework where we “fill in the blanks,” or “complete” the form. Matthew 5:48 calls us to completeness. “One way of striving for completeness is to navigate the templates” by naming the essential components of God’s mission for the congregation and applying creative means to accomplish that mission.
Suggested templates are: spiritual maturity, resource utilization, organizational structure, organizational health, organizational function, organizational focus, and denominational structure.
Every point in the book is given solid biblical and theological reflection. It is also informed by an intuitive understanding of congregational polity. Jeff also includes very practical activities for ministerial leaders and churches committed to faithfulness.
Some gems I really liked:
· Everyone seeks to please someone. Faithful leaders seek to please God.
· We create kairos moments by seeking to advance God’s mission in the midst of crisis.
· There are not many organizational factors more difficult to deal with than rapid change. An overabundance of inertia, however, is one of them. Do not underestimate the power of inertia.
· In bringing about change within an organization there is a right way and a wrong way. Basically, one method embraces strategy and planning and the other does not.
· The faithful leader recognizes that at some point training and equipping must end in order to allow the mentoring process to encourage the mentee to develop his or her ministry beyond the skill level of the leader. … An equipping style of ministry is hierarchical. [Ouch!!!]
· One of the reasons the world [Our church?! Our denomination?!] is in such bad shape is that we spend do much effort on the small stuff. It uses up all our energy.
· One of the aspects of faithful leadership is to strive for completeness [wholeness, maturity] within the congregations that we are leading.
Jeff’s book is published by Judson Press.
© American Baptist Churches
of the Great Rivers Region
Permission to copy for noncommercial use is granted