October 7, 2013

The Conviction to Lead by Al Mohler, Review

So, I am going to go through one book a month for the next year with my Assistant Pastor, one of our first 20schemes Ministry Apprentices, and some other men in the city (pastors and planters). The idea is to take one Tuesday off per month for a time of discussion, prayer, and reflection on our ministries and how we can improve as Christian leaders of men and/or churches.
For those interested, here is the full list.

8th October:               The Conviction to Lead (A. Mohler)
26 November:            The Holiness of God (RC Sproul)
10th December:         Praying Backwards (Bryan Chappell)
21st January:              Tactics (Greg Koukl)
18th February:           Fearless Pilgrim: John Bunyon Biography (Faith Cook)
18th March:                The Surprising Offence of God’s Love (J. Leeman)
22nd April:                 The Meaning of Marriage (T. Keller)
20th May:                   Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God (JI Packer)
24th June:                  Word Pictures (Jack Hughes)
22nd July:                  Preaching The Cross (Dever et al)
19th August:              A Banquet In The Grave (Ed Welch)
23rd September:      A Scottish Christian Heritage (I. Murray)
21st October:             Delighting In The Trinity (Mike Reeves)

I wanted a list that encompassed doctrine, practice, history, and biography and I think this does just that. The difficulty in our context is taking these books, digesting the information shared, and then‘re-contextualising’them for our specific area of ministry. So, it should be a fun year. On to Al Mohler's book.

I have to confess at the outset that I have met Al, and even been to his (massive) house in Louisville. His study is like the Santa’s Grotto of the evangelical world. The only thing missing from a tour (yes, they do unofficial tours) I did there was the man himself letting us sit on his knee while he handpicked a book for us for being ‘good boys’ (although I’m not sure I would have received one on that basis. I am definitely a naughty list type of boy). It is a ridiculously impressive place. I felt like I was in the White House Library or something. Mark Dever’s office is another smasher but his place looks like a kindergarten library in comparison. It really is that good. If I had to tweet about it then it would definitely be followed by: #shamazeballs! He has little hidey holes with leather sofas, a flat screen TV, art books mounted on stands, and even a picture of himself with Margaret Thatcher! He’s also a very big lad. When I first met him, he towered over me (although most men over 5ft are prone to do that). There’s no doubt that he’s a giant of a man both, physically and intellectually, and his ability to read, digest, and disseminate information is as freakish as it is astounding. He belongs in the category of: “Supremely intelligent dude who I’m glad is on our side.” Also, for the sake of full disclosure, I own an Al Mohler ‘Bobble head doll’I got it for $15 from the Lifeway Campus Store at the SBTS in Louisville. It sits proudly next to Barack Obama on a bookshelf in my living room. I will try not to let it influence my review in any way.

So, Al Mohler. Described by some as an ‘intellectual visionary’ and others as a‘pseudo-intellectual Pharisee’ there is little doubt that this is a Christian as far removed from the schemes as a Saudi prince from a trailer park. He lives and breathes and associates in worlds far removed from mine and most of my readers on this blog (who work in areas of urban deprivation). I'm not getting the Duck Dynasty vibe from him (a little cultural throw out to my American followers there). This is not a man I imagine queuing up down the local chip shop on a Friday night for a Saveloy Sausage and chips. The last time I was at SBTS I was almost too scared to eat the butter because it would have ruined the Seminary’s badge/motto/whatever that was finely embossed upon it. These are classy people! At one point whilst meandering through the (well buffed) marble halls, I felt somewhere between a burglar and the star of a weird, white version of a 21st Century Trading Places movie. I need to get back on track here. I am running away with myself (again).

So, Al Mohler. Let’s start again. This man oozes the leadership gene. It just drips off him. The few times I’ve heard him speak, he has been a veritable dictionary of facts, figures, cultural insights, and biblical wisdom. I’ve got enormous respect for him and so I picked up this book hoping for good things (it also got a decent review on Challies, which helps).

The subheading reading, ‘25 Principles For Leadership That Matters’ seemed simple and clear enough. Which, in effect, describes this book in a nutshell. The book works through what Al expects from what he terms ‘convictional leaders’ across topics ranging from ‘believing’ to ‘passion’ to ‘thinking’ and even to‘death’. Yet, despite its breadth, the book itself is a little under 200 pages of reading (clear, engaging, and wholly understandable reading at that). What I really appreciated about this book is its lack of pretentious, business speak gobbledy gook (something I initially feared as I picked it up). Don’t worry, you’re not going to pick this up and be left wondering what he is talking about. It is crystal clear from chapter to helpful chapter. I’ve read leadership books before and they’ve left me more with a conviction to ‘bleed’ (from my eyeballs) than to ‘lead’. Definite props to the big man that this book doesn’t do that!

The book is simple without being simplistic, and deeply challenging without being overly philosophical. He reminds us that the ability to lead people depends on “self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill.” (p.30) In fact, in order to lead well and to lead Christianly (whatever our context) we must be those who have emotional intelligence (connect with people), ethical intelligence (lead morally), and convictional intelligence (lead faithfully). This is a balance of leadership required for the schemes as for anywhere else. Regardless of the intellectual capabilities of those under our care in schemes, we can teach them how to think like a Christian and walk and lead in such a way as to honour God and inspire people within our particularised framework of ministry.

There are so many helpful little chapters and snippets that it is hard to do justice in one book review. Here are a few of my favourites:

“Leaders need to possess and develop many qualities, but the one element that drives them to the front is passion.” (p.51) Agreed. There is nothing worse than Mr. Bean leading from the front.

“Leaders learn to speak of causes, not structures; of movements, not mechanics; of people, not statistics; of cherished principles, not mere policies.” (p.56)

“The leader’s disciplined posture is to lean into the truth and to be unafraid of it. He demands that those around him tell him the truth, and he leads by being the truth teller in chief. He does not allow the organization (sic) to be tempted by either dishonesty or self-deception, and he models personal honesty.” (p. 62)

“If you are credible, they will follow. If not, you will never be effective as a leader.” (p.85).

Here, for me at least, are the two most important sentences in the book. “What will you leave behind? When all is said and done, what will remain when you are gone?” (p.207).

I really liked this book and look forward to discussing it later in the week with a small group of men. Is it worth buying for those of us working in schemes and/or council estate ministry? I think so. I can’t think of many other Christian books on leadership that will inspire. It will certainly help you to think more strategically. It will help you to analyse how and why you are making decisions (or not). It will give you pause to stop and (re)consider current structures. I think you just need to do the hard work of picking out his overarching principles and applying them where it matters most. I would have preferred something more on the leader and failure, or the leader and difficult choices. Even something on the leader and his family would have been helpful.

If you’re looking for an excellent Christian book on leadership, then give it a whirl. It’s certainly going to be cheaper than buying a fountain pen (re his suggestion on p.171) from that posh shop (across from Starbucks) in his seminary (how much??!).

Buy on Amazon.co.uk

Buy on Amazon.com

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