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Spiritual Leadership

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Spiritual Leadership

Henry and Richard Blackaby





“Leadership occurs when you move people from where they are to where they ought to be” as God leads, contend Henry and Richard Blackaby, in their expanded revision of Spiritual Leadership published in 2011. A strong theme throughout the book is that leaders who want to lead in God-honouring ways must hear from God and obey his voice.

Spiritual leadership necessitates an intimacy with God that allows leaders to hear from him as they make decisions throughout the day. “The most crucial objective for any leader,” the authors say, “is personal growth.” A major strength of the book is its call to recapture a high view of God’s role in guiding Christian leaders – a role sometimes dominated by human reasoning and leadership best practices.

Spiritual Leadership successfully integrates theological reflection with practical application. It has a robust theoretical foundation built on Scripture and insights from leadership literature. Yet, the book is also very practical. The authors devote chapters to important leadership topics such as the character of spiritual leaders, how God prepares leaders, making decisions, building teams, getting and communicating vision, and the pitfalls of leadership. As I read the book, I found myself re-examining my own leadership theology and some of my leadership practices. I felt a longing to lead with a deeper form of spiritual leadership. I found myself thinking about how I might lead differently in the future. I suspect the book will deeply challenge the thinking of Christian leaders and give them tools they can readily use to strengthen their leadership.

The Blackabys use many captivating stories to bring concepts to life. Unfortunately, most of the characters in these stories are male. The authors often use American presidents as examples, which gives the book a decidedly U.S.-centric feel. They also rely on military heroes to portray their points, which some readers may find distracting.

The tone of the book sometimes felt overly prescriptive (e.g. these are the six things leaders must do to build leadership teams). Those who prefer a less dogmatic writing style may feel pushed to embrace frameworks that do not adequately account for the complexities of their leadership context or accommodate their own personal leadership beliefs and preferences.

Narrow view of decision making

From a theological vantage point, I noted that the authors seem to take a narrow view of how we acquire wisdom to make the best decisions as leaders. They contend that we need to hear God’s voice or see where God is already working and join him there. I agree that we need to hear and obey God as he speaks through Scripture; we must respond appropriately to the promptings of the Holy Spirit; we need to hear God speaking through the wise counsel of others. Yet, the Blackabys seem to minimize the importance of leadership practices such as strategic planning.

I concur that methods can sometimes move our focus away from God onto the techniques themselves or the resultant outcomes. We can perform a perfunctory prayer at the start of a strategic planning process and then ask God’s blessing upon our plans at the end. However, when mature and wise Christians prayerfully engage in strategic planning and other leadership-related processes, I believe God can use them to reveal his wisdom.

The notion that we should observe where God is working and join him there is a popular one in North American Christian thought, due in part to the success of Henry Blackaby’s earlier book, Experiencing God. Obviously, seeing where God is working may indicate that God wants us to assist in that area. Yet, I did not find that Spiritual Leadership adequately accounted for the possibility that God might lead us into places where we do not observe him working in a noticeable way.

Alternatively, Christian leaders may find themselves surrounded by evidence of God’s activity. In this kind of situation, God may want us to be selective about where we join him so our efforts might have the greatest impact. Seeing where God is working may be an important indicator of where we should invest our energies, but I would posit that it is only one of many possible indicators that can show us God’s leading.

Even though I enjoyed reading the latest version of Spiritual Leadership, I got the impression that parts of the book are a reaction to the excessive emphasis many Christian leaders place on strategic planning and other leadership “best practices.” In some cases, it felt like the authors went too far in discounting or minimizing practices that may help spiritual leaders discern and apply God’s wisdom. However, the call to focus on God and his agenda is a timely reminder that spiritual leadership is primarily about what God wants to accomplish through us.

Spiritual Leadership is a challenging and helpful resource that God can use to take you deeper as a leader and make you more effective in your leadership efforts.

Randy Wollf is assistant professor of practical theology and leadership studies at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary Canada (Langley campus).

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