Book Review of Jon Coutts (2019) Church Leadership. SCM Studyguide. London: SCM Press. 184 pp., £19.99.
There is something refreshing about a book on leadership whose index ranges from Thomas a Kempis to Bart Simpson, but has almost no reference to the massive leadership literature that has developed over the last 50 years. Also alarming. The author is aware of a range of writing from outside the usual Christian leadership favourites, for example from Alasdair MacIntyre and Max Weber. Even when really interesting critical contributions are mentioned (e.g. Justin Lewis-Anthony) it is usually for a fairly functional table or model rather than for their liveliest and most critical thoughts on church leadership. The author has clearly read widely and recently, but has focused his reading on sources that many of us might think tangential to his topic.
The structure is refreshingly different from most leadership books, with parts entitled ‘Ends, Means, Fitness and Meetings’.Coutts has recently moved from Trinity College, Bristol to Ambrose University in his native Canada. In keeping with the series of which this book is a part, he has tried to make it useful for practitioners, for example with exercises and questions which demand that the reader thinks about how the ideas covered fits into the texture of their life. As always with such procedures in a leadership book, one wonders whether those who had the independence of mind and initiative to exercise leadership would pay any attention to such instructions.
I have four problems with this book. First, the style of argument which dominates the book takes current concepts (e.g. leadership) and then looks for passages of scripture which might be said to relate to the author’s understanding of the concept. This is not a use of scripture that makes much sense to me; the Bible does not purport to be an instruction manual on leadership, and while some such links can always be made, it does not seek to be a source book of aphorisms by which we could judge whether particular ways of leading are more or less Christian. Second, there is a massive amount of research and thinking that has gone into leadership over the last 50 years, and this is a missed opportunity to introduce church leaders to it. Third, there are times when I cannot work out what the author is saying. For example, the first sentence of Chapter 2: ‘It is clear that the good of leadership might be broadly defined but needs context in order to be filled out further’ (p. 16). I have still not worked out what that sentence means, even though I have its context in the chapter in front of me as I write, and this happened quite often. Fourth, and possibly related to this, I often could not work out why the author was taking us in a particular direction, or how he thought that what he was saying related to the chapter and section headings. I kept looking back to see what the headings were, to see if I could work out what argument was being made.
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