The Inner Life of a Christian Leader, by Chris Blakeley & Sue Howard. Grove Leadership Series No. 2. Reviewed by Justin Byworth
The Inner Life of a Christian Leader, by Chris Blakeley & Sue Howard. Grove Leadership Series No. 2.
Grove Books, 2011, 28 pages, ISBN 978-1-85174-772-6, £3.95.
Reviewed by Justin Byworth
This excellent Grove booklet is a great resource for Christian leaders on a topic that any would neglect at their peril – how we keep ourselves open to God’s continuous trans-formation of our own lives so that we might be some earthly (and heavenly!) use to others.
The booklet starts and centres around what is I think it’s strongest point – the notion of ‘leadership moments’ and two fundamental leadership abilities: to notice the moment, and to chose the right response. Jesus’ response with the woman caught in adultery is the perfect example. This led me to think of many more – his response to the rich young ruler, to the Pharisees question on taxes, to the woman who anointed him with perfume, and even to the convict dying on a cross alongside him.
Just reflecting on these, we can glimpse why and how Jesus’ leadership has uniquely influenced millions and how it contrasts with much mainstream teaching on leadership. Compared to these it’s easy to feel humbled or inadequate thinking of moments that we have missed or got wrong, and to feel daunted at the incredible level of insight and perception that this can require, sometimes at a moment’s notice. In a chapter on sin and failure, Chris and Sue unpack the things that can block us from noticing God’s prompts or might lead our responses astray. While humility is one of the fruits they identify from real spiritual formation, humiliation or despair falls firmly into the category of deception and sin. Pride is another; from ‘thy will be done to my will be done’. Referencing one of my favourite Christian leadership books (‘In the name of Jesus’ by Henri Nouwen), Chris and Sue again identify an aspect of Christian leadership that is strikingly counter-cultural; that we need to learn to be led before we can lead others.
This brings us to the need for a continuous process of formation, as they say ‘God works in the leader before working through the leader’. It is greater depths of intimacy with God that he wants with each of us more than specific leadership ‘achievements’. Chris and Sue take us through the pathways to both natural and spiritual formation. Although I’m not convinced the distinction is entirely helpful, the guidance given is valuable. That God wants to work with our natural gifts (he gave them to us after all) as well as a continuing process of breaking and re-making us, surrendering our will to his. Prayer is absolutely central to this.
The booklet closes with practical advice on tools and disciplines that can help us in this journey (silence, lectio divina, Ignatian daily reflection, fasting, spiritual direction, retreats, worship, journaling etc) perhaps developing our own ‘leadership rule’, as St Benedict did. I was both encouraged (as several of these disciplines have been important to me) and challenged (at ones that I’ve shied away from).
I would have liked to see the booklet drawing a little more on mainstream leadership development and both the parallels and contrasts for Christian leaders. I would also choose their phrase ‘helping others to live fruitfully’ over their definition of Christian leadership as ‘making a difference for the Kingdom of God’, which goes well beyond leadership.
Chris and Sue offer both profound wisdom on deep matters and practical advice on ‘how to’, so it should resonate with those of us who are quiet reflectors, those who are busy activists and the many of us trying to be both! It’s also a quick and easy read, so shouldn’t linger long on the bedside table. In leading a Christian organisation I have already found the central two ideas of ‘noticing the moment, and choosing the right response’ very helpful personally and have used this in a team setting around key organisational moments, decisions and actions.