Book Review

Spiritual Leadership


Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God's Agenda by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby. B&H Publishing Group, May, 2001. 306 pages; hardcover; ISBN-10: 0805418458 ISBN-13: 978-0805418453; $13.59 at Amazon.com

Part I: A Western Perspective

Reviewed by Jess Nelson

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to read many different authors on leadership, both secular and spiritual in nature. With many different concepts and strategies, the ones that have focused on my walk with Jesus Christ have always been those that have brought the greatest vision, revelation and conviction to my life. Spiritual Leadership, by Henry Blackaby, brought to light many concepts that focus on spiritual matters and the heart that I would like to implement in my life. He develops the concepts of the heart of a leader, the leader's personal relationship to Christ, his vision, and the leader's agenda versus God's agenda.

Blackaby states that the heart of man is the central issue in leadership. Having a clear understanding of submission and authority is very important. If, as a leader, I cannot submit to my fellow man, how am I going to submit to my God? The authority of spiritual leaders comes only from the Father, and this authority is obtained through brokenness and a complete dependence on God, a hunger after his heart, his character and intimacy with him.

For the leader to gain the heart of Christ and submit to him requires a vibrant personal relationship with Jesus. In John 15, Jesus talks about spiritual fruitfulness coming from being attached to him as the vine. Apart from Christ we can do nothing and will not bear fruit. Without sitting before the Lord, allowing him to speak and restore, leaders will live and lead out of their own strength and agendas. As a leader, developing a relationship with Jesus through the Scriptures, prayer, meditation, journaling, worship, obedience and service has to be the number one priority. Leaders may have a "title" or "position," but they will have no spiritual authority without a vital relationship with Christ.

Blackaby states that leaders must also have a vision for where they are going and where they are taking their people. Those around a leader want to know where he is going and how they are going to get there together. Blackaby argues that revelation is needed to attain God's vision of what is to be done. "Vision is something people produce; revelation is something people receive. Leaders can dream up a vision, but they cannot discover God's will. God must reveal it." (Blackaby, pg. 69)

Another key aspect Blackaby discusses is receiving revelation about God's agenda versus a leader's agenda. A leader cannot have God's agenda without having God's heart and a personal relationship with him. "Spiritual Leadership is moving people on to God's agenda." (Blackaby, pg. 20) To have God's agenda you have to know God. This book has challenged me to make sure that I am aligned with God. If not, all of my good ideas, intentions and strategies are from me and will be of no value to the Kingdom.

Blackaby states that leaders must be ready for God to purge the "self" that is left in every area of their lives. They must allow God to break, heal and restore their heart. The leader must continue to say "yes" to all that God would have for him or her. This road is a road of brokenness and utmost humility; however, it carries God's promises of a life of abundance, love and hope.

Blackaby concludes his book with a section on the leader's schedule. The challenge in a leader's daily life is making the time to seek God, to be with God, to know God intimately and to make the pursuit of His kingdom our priority.

This is one of the most complete and challenging books on leadership that I have read, and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to lead God's people.

Jess Nelson is a member of the pastoral staff of Newsong Church in Tacoma, Washington.

Part II: An Eastern Perspective

Reviewed by Chuanhang Shan

The authors of this book, Henry and Richard Blackaby, contribute a comprehensive and insightful analysis of the issues of spiritual leadership in Christianity. To understand what "spiritual leader" means is the first step towards the actualization of leadership both in Christendom and society. Looking at the various aspects of a spiritual leader's role, function and responsibilities, the book, as its backbone, focuses on the idea that spiritual leaders should have not only inherent and learned qualities and skills, but also know how to rely on God's leadership. It also reminds us of an easily ignored concept in our postmodern world: the success of spiritual leadership depends on the Holy Spirit.

In the first part of book, the authors point out the difficulty of being in leadership. They address how God prepares and develops leaders and how leaders receive and communicate God's vision. Their discussion focuses on innate qualities, life experience, and God's work through the Holy Spirit for making or creating a leader for God's kingdom.

In the churches of China, spiritual leaders, called by God, are despised by the world. The church movement was started in rural areas by leaders without strong educational and good social status backgrounds. Many women have become ministers, and they do a great job in the churches. The Holy Spirit's guidance given to the leaders of the churches of China, has been clearly seen in the church movement.

In chapter four, dealing with how leaders receive and clarify their vision to the followers of the Kingdom of God, the book points out inspiration and revelation as the main sources of a vision for spiritual leadership. However, the vision should be proven to followers not only through good results but also with powerful and clear prophetic outcomes. People want leadership with a clear spiritual endorsement and authority from God.

In the churches of China, prophetic leadership plays an increasingly important role. Such kind of leadership normally is not chosen through an institutional structure but is promoted by God. In the house church movement, this kind of leader appears more easily than in the Three-Self Church which has a more formal hierarchy system. Through prophetic vision and prayers, the leadership gain great authority and spiritual success in the church movement.

In the latter part of the book, the authors discuss ethics, personal qualities, motivation and skills of the spiritual leader. The work of the Holy Spirit and the responsibility of leadership are very crucial elements.

The leadership structure in the churches of China is in chaos right now. The traditional leadership structures of Confucianism and Communism influenced the church administrative structure. Most churches have obvious dictatorships. The voices demanding democracy are very loud. However, the problem is whether Chinese Christians are ready for democracy in their churches, or if the spiritual leadership of China's churches needs dictatorship authority. In China, people's thoughts regarding democracy have not matured. What would be the best model of church leadership and structure for the churches of China?

Chapter nine addresses the leader's schedule in work and life. This is a challenge to any leader. Both leaders and common people confuse the ideas of "working hard" and "working well." The idea of a "tight schedule in the name of not wasting time" misleads and so easily wears out spiritual leaders. Spiritual leaders need more time to rest, think, enjoy life and talk with others than do leaders in other fields. If the outcomes and results of a ministry come only from working hard without leaving a miraculous mark on the ministry, it would be a great failure for a spiritual leader.

In the churches of China, a strange and interesting phenomenon is that part-time, non-vocational workers normally enjoy more success in the ministry than the vocational workers. The part-time workers contribute much less time and work to the ministry, but they know how to invite God to join their ministry, and they work with the Holy Spirit as a great team.

The book points out that people need good leaders more desperately than ever; yet, the concept of being a leader becomes more and more mechanical without the necessary spirituality. This book definitely does a great job in the analysis of being a spiritual leader. However, in relation to the goal of moving people to God's agenda, we need to go further to develop practical theory, especially in the different cultural and political contexts of other countries.

In the twenty-first century, the whole world may evidence a greater interest in spiritual leadership in religion, politics and economics. The cry for strong leadership in our mechanical, materialistic, globalized world is the demand for security and confidence that human beings desire. This can only be provided through the guidance of spiritual Truth. Thus, in this new century, the spiritual continues to oppose "the foolishness of the Greeks." (1 Cor. 1:20 - 25)

Chuanhang Shan is a Chinese Christian leader and scholar in church movements in China who is currently studying at Boston University.

Photo credit: Visions by erwinkarim, on Flickr.