Gary Bredfeldt, Great Leader, Great Teacher – Recovering the Biblical Vision for Leadership (Chicago, Moody, 2006) 208 pp.
It only takes a moment in a bookstore to see that leadership and success literature abounds in our country. Leadership is an entire industry in America spawning seminars, DVDs, personal training and the ever present stacks of books. The church is also in love with the leadership genre, with all of the above offered for both ministers and lay people alike. Human beings universally recognize something very insightful in this. God has designed human beings with a need for leadership, some of which he delegates to us, without which our world would decay into chaos. There is much to learn from many disciplines regarding leadership. The social sciences and business schools offer profound insights that believers may find helpful in their efforts to lead people in the mission of the gospel. Yet many times we can place things in an order which is foreign to our worldview. Instead of searching for the voice of scripture on our manner of leadership, we can adapt a completely secular view of leadership and then graft this on to the Kingdom of God. Gary Bredfeldt, in his recent book Great Leader, Great Teacher – Recovering the Biblical Vision for Leadership, calls the church to a different paradigm. Instead of beginning with the avalanche of schemas from other points of view, he challenges us to do the work to recover a uniquely scriptural view of leadership. From this point of view, what he calls the biblical vision for leadership, we might then walk faithfully in our leadership, even when plundering theories from other places. The following is a review of his work to recover the biblical vision and offer this to the church. A brief summary of the work will be given, strengths and weaknesses discussed, and personal ministry insights and applications will be drawn in closing.
The thesis for the book is stated clearly in chapter one of the book: “The most powerful means of leading the people of God is by teaching them the Word of God” (Bredfeldt 2006, 18). The first half of the book endeavors to unpack and demonstrate this, to show where the church has lost it leadership moorings having adopted its models from the world rather than biblical foundations. In this half of the book a high commitment to the primacy and priority of the word of God was the main focus. Building upon this ground, the second half of the book begins with robust discussions of the virtues (qualities) and competencies (skills) required for the task of biblical leadership. From there the book examines the challenge of leading change, the contexts of the churches to which leaders are called, and closes with a chapter focused on persevering amidst the many challenges a biblical leader faces in the twenty-first century.
Bredfeldt’s book has many strengths and insights for those who desire to lead in a biblical fashion. First and most outstanding is the book’s laser clear focus on the importance of Scripture in leading the people of God. Second, a strong a critique of leadership tendencies in the local church today was a welcomed asset. Third, the book focuses on Jesus as modeling a different sort of leadership than the success paradigms of the world. Jesus led differently, so much so that many might call him a failure. Fourth, the relationship between the virtues of a Christian leader and his competencies was very helpful. Finally, an unexpected engagement with contemporary philosophical and cultural shifts was a welcomed addition at several junctures in the book. Though at times it seemed the author incorrectly categorized some people within some movements, a reflection on the many problems in the philosophies of our day was very enjoyable. These five strengths will be covered in turn.
Strong Emphasis on the Bible
Right from the beginning Bredfeldt makes it very clear what his primary concern is for contemporary Christian leaders. Bredfeldt states very early in the book that ideas and the modeling of them so powerfully move the world (19). This has been and will continue to be reality on the earth. This being true, our ideas and our lives must originate and be modeled upon the Word of God. Today God’s people live in a shocking ignorance of God’s Word (38) and many lives display a corresponding anemic condition. Leaders must preach God’s Word and personally live in light of its teaching (44). The focus on the Bible as a map for understanding life (42) a revealer of our sin (44) and a director to God’s will (48) was refreshing. It would have been good to see the Bible’s primary focus, the revelation of the person and work of Jesus Christ for our treasuring, adoration and exaltation, included in the work, but the purposes for Scripture mentioned were helpful. Overall there is no better ground upon which to base Christian leadership, than Bredfeldt’s focus on the Scriptures. In the Bible, God reveals truth which must be taught to God’s people, lest they be led astray into heresy (49) with their joy and freedom swept away in the process. This is a tragedy taking place in far too many corners of the church. Finally, his use of many biblical persons like Ezra, Paul and Jesus illustrated his point from within the pages of the Bible he exhorts others to teach.
Critique of the CEO/Manager Model
Bredfeldt spent quite a few words in critique of certain models of leadership absorbed by the church in America today. Primarily in his crosshairs were the leader as a CEO or corporate manager (34). He leveled the critique at leadership which becomes far more concerned with mission statements, graphs, vision, projects, budgets, and statistics than bringing the meat of Scripture to God’s people. Though at times his tone may be construed as dismissive of all things managerial, Bredfeldt did not dismiss them. The managerial and executive functions of a leader are actually highlighted in the latter parts of the book. The point made is that these things cannot replace the centrality of the leader being a teacher of the people. If a Christian leader remakes himself in the mold of a CEO or manager, he just may lose his heart in the process. An excessive focus on growing the organization, seeking personal recognition, and the making of a ministry career can rob a leader of his true calling and joy (40). Bredfeldt’s concern is that leaders may focus their success criteria on the very same things upon which the American enterprise is obsessed. Many will measure a church by “size, rate of growth, and the number of square feet in the newly constructed facility” (78). Or as many insightful people have quipped there is more to leading the church than butts, budgets, and buildings. It is reiterated that planning, statistics, facilities, etc. are not to be dismissed, but the placing them as the pinnacle of success gives way to a managerial pragmatism which is found more on the pages of Forbes than in the Bible. A fine exhortation which is much needed in our day where copycat models and mega-churches do abound.
Jesus the Failure!
One of the more intriguing chapters of the book dealt with Jesus as a failed leader when judged by the worldly rubric of success, status, and political standing (50-52). Bredfeldt summarizes this with a pithy rhetorical question on page 50 “What leader wants to be crucified by those he seeks to lead?” In seeing Jesus as the failed leader there is a point to be made. After all, Jesus has spawned and inspired a movement that claims some 2 billion adherents today and has shaped the destinies of people and nations over the last 2000 years. What greater success story could there be? Yet in terms of immediate, temporal, worldly, business methods – Jesus would be a failure. Yet he is not. The reason being is that he taught, shepherded and inspired his followers with the truth of God. Such an impact is lasting, not flashy and fading. The
Marriage of Virtues and Competencies
Though perhaps not an original insight, it was good to see the book’s focus on the virtues and competencies of biblical leaders. A person must be a type of person that is trusted and exemplifies character if people are going to follow. A competent jerk, no one shall follow. On the other hand a person can be a great guy and exhibit the highest levels of incompetency. Being and doing must flow together in effective leadership. A book on leadership which does not see this is deficient. Though virtue is making a comeback, much of the world is satisfied with results at any cost. A biblical leader must never tread such ground.
Assessment of Contemporary Culture
Finally, the book provided an enjoyable treatment of prevailing contemporary philosophies. There were two primary critiques offered in relating to today’s cultural moods; Bredfeldt presented these as ditches that we ought to avoid (70). The first dealt primarily with accommodating the edges of postmodern thought while the latter dealt with that of isolation from the culture. He critiqued the postmodern views of truth as relative and truth as that which is derived as useful to the community (74-75). It was expected that the author would rightly come down hard against the excessive accommodation to culture found in churches. The pragmatic cultural urge was critiqued in the mega sized, theology light churches found in increasing number today (76-79). In addition a strong critique of the existentialist urge of the Emergent strain of the church was also levied (79-80). Again, it was no surprise to read Bredfeldt’s critique of those who have rejected an objective revelation of truth from God in favor of the cultural winds of either pragmatism or existentialism. What was not expected was the equally strong warning against the fundamentalist urge to isolate the church from culture (80-82). It is often that the sin of cultural accommodation or worldliness is focused upon. While the sin of a separated church, disconnected with Non Christians, is sometimes overlooked. The inclusion of the warning to the isolated was refreshing indeed. Bredfeldt’s idealistic yet difficult exhortation was to lead from the center. The task we must lead towards is that of being relevant and biblical, biblical and culturally accessible (82). This was a joy to see in this volume.
In confession, I must admit that I peaked at some content at the end of the book before taking up the read itself. What was read there was a weakness which almost biased me against the work. This would have been very unfortunate. Yet there were a few shortcomings found later in the volume mainly surrounding chapter 8 – Leadership in Context: Four Basic Types of Churches. We will briefly touch these below. Some Unnatural Classifications Though charts and graphs are helpful, the book intensified in fitting things into boxes, quadrants, diagrams and categories towards the end of the book. I did not find this to be helpful to the book’s over all theses particularly where the classification just seemed at best odd, at worst, flat out wrong. Chapter 8 showed a determination to describe every sort of church today within a grid of four categories (Power Church, Program Church, Pluralistic Church, Proclamation Church) built by the combination of four other categories (Spirit/Truth, Works/Faith). All of it was nice and tidy, but it seemed to fall short of really placing things in nice boxes. There was of course some truth in the categorizations, but also some clear errors. One of the most glaring was the classification of various scholars, pastors, and teachers which were placed in the pluralistic category of church. It appears that Bredfeldt lumped together a large amount of men who have associated with one another in some way in the past. For this reason they were categorized side by side. One quick example will illustrate. Under the pluralistic section pastor’s Mark Driscoll and Doug Padgett are lumped together (172). This is ironic because these two men might as well be from other planets in terms of ecclesiology, homiletics, and theological method. Driscoll advocates eldership and authority, preaching as preaching, and a reformed, biblical hermeneutic and method. Padgett advocates a flattened church polity, preaching as dialogue and a malleable, culturally dictated hermeneutic. Literally, a re-imagining of literally everything. One believes there is a faith once for all entrusted to the saints, the other believes the church should reimagine its doctrine in every age and cultural setting. These two men’s essays and responses in the recent book Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Church – Five Views (Weber 2007) makes this clear. There are other people listed together in this section that cause one to scratch his head, but it will be left at one example for the sake of brevity. At the conclusion of all the church categorizing, his exhortation was towards the center of the spirit, truth, faith, and works intersection. This was diagramed on page 174. The plea for balance is appreciated; it just seemed that such a plea could have been accomplished without most of this chapter; certainly without throwing some people under an Emergent bus in the process.
Application to Life and Ministry
There are many things in Great Leader, Great Teacher which are of great benefit to my ministry responsibilities. First, the emphasis that Scripture must steer the direction of the leader is absolutely invaluable. It is so easy to give way to the lure of success, station, and status when it is peddled in the church by those who are “doing it right.” As I am working towards planting new churches, the reminder to keep teaching central is greatly appreciated. The pulpit, small groups, and ministries to the poor, all need to engage in teaching the biblical gospel. This was a great reminder of a value currently held dear. Second, the care not to capitulate to the world and give way to an impotent cultural captivity is needed in every era. Efforts in church planting should walk a balanced line of utter biblical and theological faithfulness, while faithfully contextualizing and incarnating the church in contemporary culture. Such a balanced approach to ministry in the twenty-first century will shape our desire to reach out to people in culture, but hold to a theologically driven paradigm. Bredfeldt’s book has encouraged us to avoid the ditches of excessive pragmatism and existentialism while living lives connected with unbelievers in culture.
Bredfeldt’s efforts to inspire Christian leaders to lead as teachers are timely yet not reactionary. There is no exhortation in this book to jettison leadership principles and only preach a sermon once a week. This is a book on leadership, but a book with a goal to ground all leadership with a biblical vision. The leader who does not teach the Word of God will run his own soul and life of his congregation aground upon the rocks of the world. Yet the faithful man who desires to lead by teaching charts a clear course from God’s Word into God’s Mission in the world. One could not help to hear Paul’s words to Timothy echo in this desire: Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:16 ESV I found the book well worth the time.
Weber, Robert, Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches – Five Views (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2007)