Book Review: Leadership In Christian Perspective: Biblical Foundations In Contemporary Practices For Servant Leaders

Leadership In Christian Perspective: Biblical Foundations In Contemporary Practices For Servant Leaders

By: Justin A. Irving And Mark L. Strauss
Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic, 2019  |  218 Pp. Paperback  | ISBN 978-1-540-96033-7

In Leadership in Christian Perspective, Justin Irving and Michael Strauss present a compelling vision of how Christians might lead in their places of work. Whether this work is in a religious or secular setting, a Christian leader’s goal should be “empowering and equipping others to effectively engage God’s purpose in the world” (5). The authors bring together leadership research and biblical scholarship to show that empowering servant leadership has strong biblical foundations and also support from the social sciences regarding its efficacy. Each chapter is split into three sections to guide readers through this interdisciplinary work— biblical foundations, leadership research and theory, and practical examples and recommendations. Each chapter also ends with next steps to help readers critically reflect upon their personal leadership praxis.

Part One focuses on the internal aspects of leadership. The authors contend that in order to be an effective, empowering leader, one must be authentic and purposeful. This begins by modeling key values to others in the organization. Just as Paul encouraged believers to imitate him, so also Christian leaders must provide an example for others to imitate. However, it is difficult to model key organizational and personal values without honest self-evaluation. The authors contend that two of the most common reasons for failure in leadership are self-doubt on one side and pride on the other. Because a Christian’s identity comes from God, Christians are to have neither too high of a view of themselves nor too low. They should have an honest view of themselves, their relationships with others, and their spirituality. Because servant leaders are honest about themselves and model key values, they can prioritize collaboration in their organizations without worrying about competition or being overlooked. They can involve others in crafting and executing the vision, knowing that their identity comes from God and that increased collaboration is a “statistically significant predictor of effective leadership practice” (61).

Part two moves outward toward a leader’s interactions with followers. While much of the text focuses on individual leaders, Irving and Strauss also emphasize the importance of relationships in leadership. Consequently, the second part of this book guides leaders in their relationships with others. Because every person is made in the image of God, Christian leaders value and appreciate others—not only for their contributions to the organization but also for their inherent worth as humans. One way to value and appreciate others is to make space for individuality. Christian leaders are called to move away from an assembly line view of employees where people are easily replaceable and toward a more organic model where the structure of the organization changes based upon who is present. This allows followers to thrive, benefitting the organizations for which they work. The authors conclude this section by focusing on the relational skills leaders must acquire if they are to value others effectively and make space for individuality. They contend that leaders who prioritize relationships in this manner are more likely to be effective in their organization.

Finally, Irving and Strauss shift toward strategies that Christian leaders can use to be more effective. The first of these is communicating with clarity. Servant leaders focus on what followers are hearing rather than on what they as leaders are saying. In addition to communicating their organizations’ priorities and vision, leaders should communicate clearly the expectations that they have of followers. This leads to a second strategy to be effective—holding followers accountable to carry out their responsibilities competently. Irving and Strauss insist that it hinders the development of the organization and the follower when leaders do not hold followers accountable. Of course, as they insist in a third strategy, servant leaders must do their part to resource and support followers as they fulfill their responsibilities. Unlike Pharaoh, who forced the Hebrew slaves to build bricks without straw, effective Christian leaders know how to serve, empower, and equip those who work for them. With these three strategies, servant leaders are more likely to be faithful to their Christian beliefs and effective as leaders in their organization.

While Leadership in Christian Perspective excels at pulling together the disciplines of biblical studies and leadership theory, its reliance upon the concept of servant leadership will be a problem for many. As many practitioners and scholars in marginalized communities have shown, the concept of servant leadership can serve to continue their marginalization as some communities are more servant than others.

Although some examples are provided that church leaders will relate to, this book is written primarily for Christian leaders in the secular workforce. Its accessibility and the thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter will make this work attractive primarily to small church groups or Christian book groups. Those who are emerging leaders or new to the Christian leadership conversation also might find this work helpful. Leadership in Christian Perspective could become a helpful guide for those who seek to integrate their faith into their daily leadership praxis.

Reviewed by:
Zachariah Ellis
Fuller Theological Seminary
Pasadena, California
Call for Book Reviews.

Want to receive a free book and submit a review? To see the list, or suggest a title for review contact Book Review Editor Michael Wilson.

Call for papers.

Do you have an idea for an article that could be published in the JRL? Contact Editor Robert Martin with your ideas or submissions.

Guidelines for articles and book reviews are located here.

Unsolicited reviews are not accepted.