Book Review: Lead, by Paul David Tripp
Paul David Tripp, Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church. Crossway, 2020. 231 pages.
Since the 1950s, Western culture has created an industrial management machine that navigated the seismic shifts in business and technology that led to the dawn of the digital age. During that time, Christian ministries in the United States also borrowed the language and tactics of business administration and implemented them in local churches. The result was large scale ministries that would, quite frankly, look very strange in most parts of the world.
I’m not suggesting that modern innovations have not served to advance the gospel. But alongside these novel practices has also emerged a steady stream of ministry leadership scandals. In an effort to utilize the best practices of marketing firms, the mission to reach people for Christ morphed into large scale ministries that allowed men and women to live secret lives of the rich and famous until the scam was exposed.
THE FAILURE OF MODERN MINISTRY METHODS
The exposure of modern ministry failure is nothing new. Read through the book of Acts and the Pastoral Epistles and you get the clear impression, to paraphrase William Gurnall, that a Christian (particularly a Christian minister) resembles a man walking on a path with enemies hiding in the hedges ready to shoot arrows at him at every turn. With such obstacles and opposition arrayed against men who seek to lead the people of God, is it any wonder that chronic failures of leadership in churches and ministries seem to be skyrocketing in the age of COVID induced media ministries?
In this era of ministerial failure, Paul D. Tripp’s Lead:12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church is a welcome resource. This isn’t another how-to book on the highway to heaven. Rather, it clarifies a vision of leadership in the local church in an age of crisis.
Lead reminds us that the great need of churches is healthy leadership communities (17). Tripp asks,
Could it be that the way we have structured local church leadership, the way leaders relate to one another, the way we form a leader’s job description, and the everyday lifestyle of the leadership community may be contributing to factors to pastoral failure? Could it be that as we leaders are disciplining the pastor, dealing with the hurt he has left behind and working toward restoration, we need to look inward and examine what his fall tells us about ourselves? Could it be that we are looking to the wrong models to understand how to lead? Could it be that as we have become enamored with corporate models of leadership, we have lost sight of deeper gospel insights and values? Could it be that we have forgotten that the call to lead Christ’s church is not summarized by organizing, running, and funding a weekly catalog of religious gatherings and events? Could it be that many of our leadership communities don’t actually function like communities? And could it be that many of our leaders don’t really want to be led, and many of our leadership community don’t value true biblical community? (17)
The obvious answer to these questions is a resounding, “Yes!” Tripp’s focus begins and remains on life in the community of a local church—not a huge media empire. Local churches are the focus of the Bible, and local churches should, therefore, be the focus of Christian leaders. Yet, so much of what modern pastoral leadership moguls discuss in their books and seminars bears little or no resemblance to the Bible’s teaching about who should serve the church and how they should serve once in office.
THE DANGERS OF ISOLATION IN LEADERSHIP
Tripp is a welcome antidote to this virus. Churches do not merely need a leader, they need leaders—a plurality of leaders (cf. Titus 1:5). By biblical design this leadership community should not focus solely on an individual leader because this leads to the inevitable consequence of isolation in ministry. Isolation is dangerous and deadly (18). An isolated man is a vulnerable man. Simply put, Christian leaders need friends—real friends.
The problem is that churches have divorced friendship from leadership, assuming it is sub-spiritual. Many believe that leaders should be loners because their abilities seemingly rise above the needs of “mere” human beings. Super spirituality is required for leadership. Friendship is an optional add on. As a result, leadership communities evaluate an individual leader’s spiritual health simply by how well (or not) they make leadership decisions and “perform” on stage.
Healthy leadership communities, however, according to Tripp, will foster friendship that loves serving one another (24) as the leaders grow in dependence upon one another (25) so that they can “interrupt [each other’s] private conversations with protective biblical insights and restorative gospel truths” (26) to protect the leader, the leadership community, and, ultimately, the church (27).
DON’T VALUE GIFTS OVER GODLINESS
The character of the leader matters more than his theology, gifts, or passion. Tripp asks, “Have we closed our eyes to certain character deficiencies in a leader because of the effectiveness of his leadership performance?” (105) Too often leadership communities mistake giftedness for godliness, or are willing to sacrifice the latter for the former. The qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3:1–7, however, have only one “performance gift” (i. e. “able to teach”), everything else is character (104). When leadership communities confess the value of character, but reward and praise performance, they functionally don’t value what God has deemed most important (101). When that happens, they “will no longer value what [our] Savior values or conduct [themselves] in a way that pleases him” (107). So, the leadership community accepts what it should not, evaluating a leader’s performance rather than their character and “is silent when it should speak, [or] is passive when it should act” (111). That leaves the leader unprotected and unpastored (112) and the church, therefore, vulnerable.
Pastors need deep relationships with other leaders because of their natural limitations (70–84), character blind spots (114–127), and growth in personal holiness (144–158). No leader is designed to know or do everything (74), because no leader is the Christ. A healthy leadership community is a “community of gifts operating in cooperation with one another” (75).
No leader is meant to do his work alone (74), because “we simply were made for nothing less than a one-another existence.” “A gospel-shaped leadership community, [therefore,] will be a confessional community” (152), but that requires “redemptive vulnerability.”
The ministry leaders I regularly meet with often share a personal experience, but leave out how they themselves factor into it. They talk about what happened and what other people did and said, but they give me little sense of their own heart struggle as it was all going on. I find that I have to pry a bit to get to the spiritual struggle behind the situational difficulty. (150)
Under-confessing our sins prevents us from being known and held accountable. A healthy leadership community enables others to open up to exactly how sinners’ sin and, by means of this honesty, community blossoms.
Finally, Tripp helps us see that local church ministry is people oriented because the “church will never be a community of spiritually mature people if leaders are so busy achieving that they fail to treat immature people with patience and grace” (45). Tragically, however, many leadership communities allow “the [ministerial] cares of the world and the deceitfulness of [ministerial] riches [to] choke the word, [so that] it proves unfruitful” by not caring for the unfinished people in their midst. This will only be remedied when Christ is the goal and identity of Christian ministry. As Tripp notes, “If ministry leadership is your identity, then Christ isn’t” (156). Ministry cannot do for ministers only what the Messiah can do for them. In God’s mercy, he gives us his friends as our own. In the end, the friend we need is the one who lives and is the eternal Word—the Lord Jesus Christ, the friend of sinners.
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This insight comes from Drew Hunter, Made for Friendship: The Relationship That Halves Our Sorrows and Doubles Our Joys (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 46.
This phrase comes from Dane C. Ortlund, Deeper: Read Change for Real Sinners (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021), 118.