Book Review: “Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God’s Agenda” by Henry and Richard Blackaby (2001)

Blackaby, Henry T., and Richard Blackaby. Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God’s Agenda. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001.

Spiritual Leadership, a book by father and son team Richard and Henry Blackaby, deals with leadership principles that are distinctly different from those found in secular leadership manuals.  This intriguing and convicting book will affect anyone seriously interested in discovering their strengths, attacking their weaknesses, and improving their effectiveness as they seek to lead others toward God’s agenda.  The following paper will first summarize the entire book, and will then evaluate both the strengths and weaknesses of the book, and finally offer a personal application of the material found therein.

Content Summary

The authors begin Spiritual Leadership by stating their goal for the book, namely, to assist Christian leaders in guiding their followers towards God’s agenda (p. x).  From this vantage point, they lay their material out in eleven chapters, each of which deals with a particular aspect of the leader’s position.  Below is a brief sketch of each of these eleven chapters.

In Chapter 1, the authors discuss the leader’s challenge, cuing in on their intended audience, the spiritual leader (p. 3).  The stated challenge for spiritual leaders is the persistent compression of time (p. 5) and the resulting persistent demands this puts on leaders (p. 4).  They discuss many aspects of leadership (p. 5), such as those in politics (p. 7), in business and in the church (p. 8), and they touch on the inherent differences between secular and spiritual leadership (p. 9-15).

In Chapter 2, the authors discuss the leader’s role.  They first define leadership as involving such things as persuasion, example and influence (p. 16-20), and then redefine leadership as the process of moving their followers towards God’s purpose and will (p. 20), using Jesus Christ, the greatest Leader, as the perfect example.

In Chapter 3, the authors discuss the leader’s preparation and spiritual development.  They focus first on the natural elements of the leader’s development (p. 32-42), and then on the divine (p. 42-53).

In Chapter 4, the authors discuss the leader’s vision. A proper vision, they conclude, originates  in God’s revelation alone (p. 69-72).  They then describe how vision motivates people (p. 73-74), and how leaders can properly communicate their vision (p. 75-83).

In Chapter 5, the authors discuss the spiritual leader’s character, one that commands a natural following (p. 86).  They offer three illegitimate sources of influence—position, power and personality (p. 87-92)—as well as five legitimate sources: God’s authentication, encounters with God, character or integrity, a successful track record, and preparation (p. 92-117).

In Chapter 6, they discuss the leader’s goal, which, as stated above, is to move others towards God’s agenda (p. 119).  After sharing three unworthy goals—a “bottom line” mentality, perfectionism, and physical growth and improvement (p. 120-217)—the authors share three worthy goals: leading towards spiritual maturity, leading others to lead, and leading other to glorifying God (p. 127-145).

In Chapter 7, the authors discuss the leader’s influence.  They name five specific actions that define a leader’s influence: prayer (p. 148), hard work (p. 153), communication (p. 159), service (p. 164), and positive attitudes (p. 168).

In Chapter 8, the authors discuss the leader’s decision making.  They discuss first the sources of a spiritual leader’s decision making—help from the Holy Spirit, a teachable attitude, mastery of history, and accountability to God (p. 179-190)—and then the results of their decision making: accepting the consequences, admitting their mistakes and standing by their decisions (p. 190-195).  They finish by advising how to improve decision making: evaluate the decisions, develop a relationship with God, and seek God’s vision and wisdom (p.195-198).

In Chapter 9, the authors discuss the leader’s schedule.  Within the realm of time management (p. 201-212), they suggest making time for more important things,  avoiding timewasters and using extra time wisely (p. 212-227).

In Chapter 10, they discuss the leader’s pitfalls, naming ten specifically. These pitfalls are pride (p. 230), sexual sin (p. 237), cynicism (p. 241), greed (p. 242), mental laziness (p. 243), oversensitivity (p. 247), spiritual lethargy (p. 250), domestic neglect (p. 252), administrative carelessness (p. 253), and prolonged position holding (p. 256).

In the final chapter of the book, the authors discuss the leader’s rewards.  Besides the obvious—money, power and prestige (p. 264-265)—the spiritual leader also receives spiritual rewards (p. 266-269), the rewards of integrity (p. 269-275), of having made a contribution (p. 276-280), of relationships (p. 280-283), and of influence (p. 283-285).

Evaluation

Richard and Henry Blackaby are both prolific writers and the founders of Blackaby Ministries International, a group which is dedicated to guiding people toward experiencing God, to see revival and to teach spiritual leadership.[1] This book, Spiritual Leadership, grows out of this dedication and supports biblically-based leadership techniques that greatly surpass those techniques of secular leadership training courses.  The following paragraphs will offer an evaluation of this book, focusing predominantly on its strengths and weaknesses in its development as a guide to spiritual leadership.

To begin, this book contains a great many strengths as a guide to leadership development.  These strengths involve pertinent examples, familiar relationships, and proper focus.

The authors supply in Spiritual Leadership a great deal of vital examples to prove their points.  First, they include a plethora of Biblical examples, ranging from Abraham (p. 47-53, etc.) and Moses (p. 94-95, etc.) to Jesus (p. 115, etc.) and Paul (p. 186, etc.).  The wealth of Scripture references makes this “how-to” book more than simply an interesting read: it proves itself to be a worthwhile Bible study as well, one that would certainly invigorate any leader interested in improving himself in a scriptural and godly way.  Second, the authors also share a harvest of relevant historical illustrations and models, many of which stem from political and military history.  Their passion for historical reading and study is most evident in Spiritual Leadership.

The authors also supply in this book a wealth of familiar relationships to prove their points.  One described relationship, applicable for many younger leaders and readers, might be the family relationship. The authors suggest that a leader’s true ability is best displayed in the home, not on the job (p. 269), and they also describe the importance of nurturing children to be leaders when they are young (p. 32).  Another exemplary relationship described is that of the teacher and student. The authors point out that only when students learn, have teachers taught (p. 21).  They also often refer to Jesus’ relationship with His disciples as the consummate example of leadership through relationship (p. 154).

The authors also supply a proper focus when attempting to strengthen one’s spiritual leadership.  Beyond pointing to Christ as the best example, they point specifically to the Holy Spirit through Whose guidance leaders are better able to make decisions (p. 179-184).

Besides these strengths, this book also contains some weaknesses.  Both weaknesses that stick out involve  an absence of useful information: there is minimal mention of Christian politicians, and there is a noticeable lack of discussion on one of the major leaders in biblical history, Nehemiah.

While maintaining a strong use of military and political examples throughout Spiritual Leadership, the authors seem to shy away from direct discussion of how Christian leaders can overtly employ these methods in extremely secular situations.  From the text, the authors seem to teach that spiritual leaders, pastors, teachers, fathers and even Christian managers and CEOs have the ability and freedom to portray themselves as strongly religious or spiritually minded.  Political leaders, however, face far more difficult situations with a more diverse, and therefore sensitive, following, making the principles listed within this book more difficult to faithfully follow. One reason for this variance is how the leader attains the position: whereas a father, teacher or manager attains his position naturally or through promotions based off results, politicians must be elected or voted into their positions based on promised results.  In the first instance, religiosity matters little to how the one promoting determines qualifications for promotion; in the second instance, religiosity plays a major role in turning voters either on or off to the politician running for office.  A discussion regarding how such politicians might manage their Christian faith as they approach an office would have been welcome in this book.

A second weakness was the noticeable non-mentioning of Nehemiah, one of the greatest leaders in biblical history.  This became a major issue, specifically, in the authors’ discussion on a leader’s use of delegation. While the authors specifically mention Moses’ failure to delegate in Exodus 18:13-26 (p. 209), they fail to give an example of when a leader wisely delegated responsibility in a seemingly impossible circumstance.  One of the most obvious examples of such delegation is that of Nehemiah, whose delegation directly influenced his people to complete in fifty-two days a job that had been ignored for over one hundred years (Nehemiah 3-7).

Personal Application

As I first began reading Spiritual Leadership, I unwittingly approached it as I had many other books on leadership.[2] As I delved deeper into the book, however, I recognized the major differences between generic leadership and spiritual leadership.  Spiritual leadership involves the heart, far much more than actions and results.  As the authors suggest, spiritual leadership is based entirely on character and integrity—the more character a leader has, the more responsibility God will give him (p. 53).  The following paragraphs will discuss how I will strive to personally apply the lessons I learned from this book. Specifically, I will focus on my own strengths, my weakness, and several areas in this book with which I can personally relate.

Spiritual Leadership has helped me discover several areas in which I am already strong.  The majority of my noticeable strengths and weaknesses came out Chapter 10 in which the authors related ten pitfalls which can disqualify a spiritual leader.  Of these ten, I recognized four that were obvious strengths.  First, I believe that one of my strengths is minimal struggle with the specific type of pride found in Chapter 10 (p. 230-237).  While I, like all human beings, struggle with pride in many areas, I do not in areas that relate to leadership: I am not tempted to take credit from others (p. 231), I am teachable (p. 233), I do not consider myself self-sufficient (p. 234), and I have compassion for those I lead (p. 236).  Another strength is my lack of mental laziness.  Like Harry Truman, I read constantly, even when waiting in line (p. 226): I crave knowledge and I study constantly (p. 9, 112, 226-227).  I also have the strength of maintaining positivity, even in the toughest circumstances (p. 241): I am an optimist, and I find cynicism cold and hurtful.

Spiritual Leadership has also helped me discover several areas in which I am seriously weak.  Also referring to the pitfalls listed in Chapter, 10, I discovered that this list revealed several of my own pitfalls.  While I rarely suffer from mental laziness, I am often entrapped by spiritual lethargy (p. 250): I often neglect my personal time with God and treat my Bible like a textbook.  Recently, I also discovered through discussions with my wife that I am often oversensitive (p. 247): I require words of affirmation[3] and am easily hurt with the opposite, specifically from those I love.  Other weaknesses that have, at times, debilitated me spiritually involve poor time management (Chapter 9), specifically in my lack of routines (p. 206), my poor ability to make time for the important things in life (p. 212-221), and my excessive, unbalanced  hobbies (p. 223).  I have also found myself recently falling to the temptation of figuring out the best possible future for myself and then asking God to bless it, rather than asking God to lead me wherever He wants to take me, no matter what (p. 23, 70).

Spiritual Leadership has also helped me to focus my attention on several specific areas within the book with which I can relate.  The first area actually deals with China, the eventual location for my family’s ministry.  The authors mentioned Watchman Nee, a Chinese religious writer from the early 20th century, and his view on the power and responsibility of leaders (p. 91).  Through this brief glimpse into one of China’s great religious thinkers, I recognized an aspect of Chinese culture that has often intrigued me—their almost unquestioning attitude when it comes to their being taught.  It often seems that, no matter what the Chinese people hear, they believe.  According to Watchman Nee, this stems from an understanding that it does not matter whether the teacher is right or wrong, the student must always obey: if the teacher is wrong and the student obeys, only the teacher will be held responsible (91).  I can use this insight as I train to effectively reach the Chinese people for Christ.  The second area with which I can relate is that of the local church, specifically a disorganized church (p. 224).  I appreciated the authors’ words encouraging the laypeople gifted with administrative ability to use their gifts in ministry by helping administrate their local church, specifically if their church leadership lack administrative skill.

This book by Richard and Henry Blackaby has significantly affected my personal outlook on my own abilities as a spiritual leader and on my vision as a Christian desiring to give my life for full time Christian service. The strengths and weaknesses that it has revealed in my life have now become the target of my own personal study, as I strive to lead because God has called me to lead, not because I have cast a vision to lead and asked God to bless that vision.

Bibliography

Blackaby. “About Blackaby Ministries International.” Retrieved on November 6, 2010 from http://www.blackaby.org/about/

Chapman, Gary D. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Chicago: Northfield Pub, 1995.

Maxwell, John C. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You. Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.

[1] Information retrieved on November 6, 2010 from http://www.blackaby.org/about/

[2] Specifically, those by John C. Maxwell, such as The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You

[3] Chapman, Gary D. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate (Chicago: Northfield Pub, 1995), p. 39

© 2010 E.T.

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6 Responses to Book Review: “Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God’s Agenda” by Henry and Richard Blackaby (2001)

  1. Devis lagas says:

    Avery nice comment which helps a lot of God”s people.

  2. Ron Cress says:

    Excellent review with much to say of value. I expect to be leading an online discussion of this book and would like refer to your blog and share its address.

  3. Ben Perry, Jr. says:

    I, too, appreciate your review of this book. It is not only a thoughtful review, but it seems that reading the book has made a change in your life.

    Allow me to quote the founder of theother6days.com, David Cox:

    “I wold never refer to anything as secular because according to the Scriptures, everything is sacred in the eyes of God. I would expose the manufactured wall of separation that I (and many other pastors) errantly helped to erect that divides work into one category and church into another as if they have no real relationship to each other. I would teach the truth that they are so intricately connected that they cannot be separated in the mind of God.”
    (Reflections in Ministry: Errant Thinking and Missed Opportunities with Regard to Work and Workplace; David B. Cox, Director, http://www.theother6days.com)

    It seems to me that the Blackaby’s may understand that all is sacred.

    Ben Perry

  4. Pingback: 400th Book Review! | Elliot's Blog

  5. Pingback: Book Review: “Becoming a Healthy Church: 10 Traits of a Vital Ministry” by Steven A. Macchia (2003) | Elliot's Blog

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