Review: The Next Generation Leader

The Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Stanley offers a summary of his views on leadership at the end of the book:

  • Play to your strengths. Delegate your weaknesses.
  • Be courageous.
  • Be clear in the face of uncertainty.
  • Find a leadership coach.
  • Maintain your character.

I listened to the book from Christian Audio (thanks to them for the review copy), so I’ll just record most of the thoughts that struck me and interested me enough to pause and write them down. They’ll track more or less with the outline above.

  • Do what you’re gifted to do and, as soon as possible, nothing else. You may think you’re doing others on your team a favor when you do the hard tasks you don’t like doing—for Stanley, that’s event planning. But someone on your team may be gifted at event planning and may actually enjoy it! So let him/her do it!
  • Learn to say no to the many opportunities that, while good, simply aren’t allowing you to focus on the one thing you are most gifted to do.
  • A leader who communicates clearly, even if he’s occasionally wrong, is better than a leader who is always right but doesn’t give clear signals.
  • Have courage to initiate change. It’s usually fear that keeps leaders from doing what they know needs to be done. They disguise it by calling it carefulness. But carefulness is based on knowledge; fear is based on imagination. (I did feel as if Stanley gave insufficient acknowledgment to the clear fact that a lot of ideas are dumb. I sure hope some of the people I’ve met don’t take initiative to act on their plans. I’m sure glad I haven’t been allowed to do everything I’ve wanted to do, even in groups I’ve led.)
  • Leaders must remember that their moral authority is more important than the institutional authority they hold. People will obey a leader to a degree just because he has his position, but they will not really follow him or buy into his vision. Hypocrisy kills leadership.

So far so good. More than a bit platitudinous I suppose, but a platitude achieves its status hopefully by holding on to an obvious truth, right?

However, I can’t really recommend this book, I’m afraid, unless you get it for real cheap. And that’s because Scripture simply doesn’t take a guiding or controlling role; it’s mainly a resource for illustrations. That’s not necessarily bad. I wouldn’t want a dentistry textbook which somehow managed to twist the Bible into determining which brand of anesthetic I ought to buy. Scripture provides general guidance about everything and specific guidance about a more limited number of topics. But people-to-people interaction is something the Bible says a great deal about. And leadership—church leadership in particular—is a major concern of significant portions of the New Testament. This does not come across in Andy Stanley’s book.

There’s a law in Internet discourse formulated by Mike Godwin: the longer a discussion goes, the more likely the combatants are to invoke Hitler and compare him to their opponents. Well, perhaps a new law may form some day in the doctrinally serious portion of the blogosphere, the portion I try to inhabit: the longer a book review of a mainstream evangelical book goes, the more likely the reviewer will invoke Joel Osteen. And I’m afraid I must. I frequently felt as if I were listening to the smiling preacher. My visions and dreams are not questioned in this book; they’re simply stoked. The larger purposes of God into which my dreams are supposed to fit—and to which my dreams are supposed to adjust—are pretty well absent.

For example, Stanley affirmed that it’s the scorecard, not the playbook, which determines success. And I believe I could read him charitably enough to see value in that statement. It’s ambiguous; he could be saying, “The scorecard of faithfulness to God’s word is more important than maintaining the traditional methods you’ve inherited from the Baptist/Methodist/Presbyterian playbook.” Amen to that. But since quite a few of his illustrations have to do with the successful growth of his own church (a success I don’t begrudge him, but which doesn’t guarantee that he has “held to the pattern of sound words” found in Scripture), I first read the illustration as a pretty dangerous endorsement of American evangelicalism’s love-affair with numbers. I hear him saying, “The scorecard of church attendance figures is more important than maintaining the old way of doing church.” (Stanley does acknowledge in chapter 14 that numbers don’t tell the whole story, otherwise Jesus at the end of His ministry would have to be accounted a failure. But I think my analysis of the previous section of the book stands.)

I’m glad I listened to this book, because it was free and it was super easy-going for my commute. Insofar, again, as platitudes encode truth, I got some truth I needed as a budding leader of small church ministries and one work team. But there have to be better books out there which teach leadership without shunting Scripture to the sidelines or, ironically, giving it the wrong kind of first place (as if the book of Nehemiah, for example, were mainly about leadership).

Anybody wanna suggest such a leadership book to me?

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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