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Book Review: Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development

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Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck, Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development. Nashville: B and H Publishing Group, 2016. 234 pages. (aff link) 

 Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck have written an excellent book addressing leadership development in the local church. Geiger is a vice president at Lifeway Christian Resources and Peck is the lead pastor at Austin Stone Community Church. Their focus is the local church and its acute need for developing leaders.

The authors contend that the local church should be a “leadership locus” (1). They argue that, in light of Christianity’s claims, the Church is best suited to develop leaders with the largest vision and scope for their influence (7). The key is God’s activity in the leader’s life. They claim” “If we believe that apart from Him we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5), we must recognize that much of what is recognized as ‘leadership’ will not stand the test of time” (2).

The authors build a strong case that developing leaders is not merely a pragmatic need, but a divine calling. God designed people to lead and in so doing, bring Him glory. Leadership development becomes a part of the Church’s responsibility for discipleship.

The authors maintain that “churches must possess conviction, culture, constructs” (14). They maintain that leaders, and organizations, are driven by convictions. However, culture determines what is actually done. They define culture as “the shared beliefs and values that drive the behavior of a group of people” (15). Constructs are the systems that make sure the right things get done. They argue that many churches believe in the right things, but they are not structured in a manner to accomplish the right things.

The authors believe that most churches have no plan for developing leaders. They offer: “Often the local church is built to make great followers but not great leaders” (80). In one survey, only 25% of pastors acknowledged they had an actual plan to develop leaders (34). They believe that much of the leadership training in churches is taken from the world. As a result, they write: “Chillingly, our equipping can be all too much like giving murderers better knives” (61). They suggest that “The primary purpose for our leadership mandate is to make known the glory of God by leading others to flourish in God’s design” (62). They argue that “When unbelievers witness God’s people leading with confidence, joy, and grace through adversity, they become captivated by the hope of God’s kingdom (81).

The authors devote significant discussion to the process of changing culture. They note that “managing culture is ultimately a pastoral function” (130). They add: “Without great communication, a vision is a mere dream” (137). They suggest that leaders must cast a vision (143). This is one area I would like for them to expand. They do not explain how leaders develop vision for their organizations. Ultimately a church’s vision must come from God, not the leader. But this is not explained.

The authors suggest that 60-70% of leadership is applicable to any domain or context (177). This means that when churches train leaders, those leaders can take those skills into the home or marketplace as well as the church. This makes leadership training in the church even more important.

Overall, I felt that this was an excellent book addressing a crucial issue for local churches. They do an excellent job building a biblical and theological basis for their claims. My major criticism would be that they did not offer enough specific illustrations. There are some biblical examples, but except for the final pages, there were few examples from current churches so readers can see real life examples.

A second slight criticism is there assertion that “Leaders manage and change church culture most effectively and accurately when expositing the word of God” (145). While strong, biblical teaching and preaching is crucial for healthy churches, it also seems somewhat naïve to suggest that changing culture is best done through preaching. There has been many a young, discouraged preacher who discovered to his dismay that, despite his fervent preaching, the culture of his congregation remained unchanged. Pastors who want to change culture must certainly uphold biblical teaching, but they must do much more than that. I am seeing too many young pastors leaving seminaries today who assume that if their theology is pure and their preaching biblical, all of the church’s problems will eventually be solved. But preaching is only one aspect, albeit an important one, of pastoral leadership. Leaders who want to change culture will have to do much more than preach!

Overall this book does a great job of helping church leaders understand the importance of developing a leadership pipeline in their congregation. The success of churches hinges on how well they develop leaders. This book builds a strong, biblical case for this. It also raises the standard for discipleship, which is about more than filling people’s minds. It is about developing leaders.

I enjoyed this book and found much strong teaching in it.

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