Book Review: Reviewing Leadership, by Robert Banks and Bernice M. Ledbetter
Reviewing Leadership, a Christian Evaluation of Current Approaches, by Robert Banks and Bernice M. Ledbetter takes a crack at providing a well-researched book looking at how one’s convictions can shape their views and practices of leadership. With shelves and shelves of leadership books available, Christian readers need a helpful critique.
As the title asserts, Banks and Ledbetter set out to review and evaluate leadership, beginning appropriately with “The growing interest in leadership today.” As they survey trends, sociological issues and critical tensions, they note that in all aspects of leadership, the central thread is the issue of values (33). “Leadership is not value free, and to think so is to create a crisis in leadership. There is no neutral ground from which to examine leadership” (34).
The authors then look at how some leadership gurus have let their faith drive their approach to leadership. They begin with one of the best examples, Paul the Apostle. I must note that Banks and Ledbetter are to be praised here! In chapter 2, they spend a good amount of time looking at scripture as they examine Paul. For a book on leadership, looking to scripture to help draw conclusions is pretty rare. After spending time in the Word, which they say presents a “normative and determinative Christian view of leadership,” they describe how others of the Christian faith (and varying faiths) approach leadership.
In the closing chapters of the book, Banks and Ledbetter address “leadership through integrity, faithfulness, and service.” In their final chapter, they go a step further presenting Christian case studies of a few who have lived lives of leadership. Readers are offered a slightly more in depth look at the lives of those whose “Christian” faith was integrated with their style of leadership, men like Soren Kierkegaard, or Gordon Cosby, “ranked among the high priests of church renewal with Bill Hybels and Robert Schuller” (126). WOW!
Banks and Ledbetter set out to answer the question, “Does faith play into how one understands leadership?” To their credit, the task is decently accomplished. But come on…the question itself is weak. It is not that complicated to show how one’s worldview influences their understanding of the world- including leadership theory! Taking 171 pages to show that was a quite draining.
Not only was their thesis weak, the title doesn’t help drive it anywhere. Reviewing Leadership, a Christian Evaluation of Current Approaches. “Reviewing Leadership”—they did that. “Christian Evaluation”—Hardly! Praising men in the same category as Robert Schuller and Kierkegaard is in no way encouraging. And if they are slipping through the ink, this book is hardly a “Christian Evaluation.” There is nothing explicitly Christian about it. Sure, there were references to the Bible. They examined Paul’s letters. Even Jesus was mentioned; but in the midst of all that, readers are never given a clear definition or even a picture of what they meant by “Christian.” This book was driven more by “Christian values,” which does not necessarily mean it is a Christian book.
In the “Christian values” vein, Banks and Ledbetter state that from a Christian’s perspective, “Godly leadership only occurs when the direction and the method are in line with God’s purposes, character and ways of operation” (17). “To develop a comprehensive biblical theology of leadership, one must draw on the person and work of Christ” (93). This sounds great doesn’t it? Their desire is to submit themselves to following Jesus. But what do they mean by “person” of Christ? What do they mean by “work” of Christ. Sadly, no clarity is to be found. Because God’s salvation/historical plan is never revealed or mentioned, I fear their mention of Christ is only in regards to His moral behavior. What a shame. There is no mention of Jesus as the Savior who died on the cross for the sins of his children. If Banks and Ledbetter are going to claim to write a “Christian” book, then they should point readers to Christ for who he is! They don’t even offer one clear definitive sentence. Christ is a leader and an example, but God’s purpose in written scripture was not to preserve a record for the sole purpose of encouraging Christians to mimic our Lord’s organizational communication skills!
Though Banks and Ledbetter mention Christ, they spend more time drawing theological conclusions pertaining to leadership from Paul’s writings. “To gain a more basic point of reference, however, it is important to go beyond these influential traditions and begin with the Bible, for the Bible provides the normative yardstick for investigating all major aspects of belief and life, including leadership” (35). Again, this sounds great, but is it? Is there a normative yardstick in scripture for “Leadership” dealing with business communication? Absolutely not.
Banks and Ledbetter think that the examination of Paul’s communication with his “parachurch missions team” provides enough texture to form the beginnings of leadership theory. Their desire to let scripture determine their development of leadership theory is great! However their argumentation is not. It is clear they begin with the musings of popular leadership authors and then proceed to argue their positions from scripture using proof texts and lousy exegesis.
For example, Banks and Ledbetter list many “common emphases” in popular leadership writing. The authors (e.g., Max De Pree, John Gardner, James Kouzes) share a common emphasis in that leadership is “a potential in everyone, not just a special group. They see authority as shared, distributed, or pervasive throughout an organization” (53). Banks and Ledbetter agree and argue for that position by noting that the word ‘authority’ rarely appears in Paul’s writings. “References to order, or the need to be orderly, occurs infrequently in Paul’s writings” and that by “simply looking at basic words” and the “infrequency of terms related to those in formal power”, “Paul never suggests that it is the role of one or a few people in the assembly to regulate its gatherings” (36).
Though they argue from scripture, Banks and Ledbetter rarely cite the pastoral letters from Paul, making readers wonder, “Why not?” Is this evidence of their proof text method? Are Banks and Ledbetter in the camp that dismiss the Pauline authorship of the pastoral letters and therefore refuse to cite them? I wonder what their view is on scripture as a whole?
Another main emphasis noted by the authors is that “the servant-leader paradigm” is used “or the image example of the leader as a steward or trustee” (53). From scripture, Banks and Ledbetter try and support that by stating “as far as the usual terms for secular offices are concerned, only one of the more than thirty that existed in the first century appears in Paul’s writings, but it is used exclusively of the governing role played by Christ in the church (Col. 1:18). Instead, the language of servant-hood dominates” (38). The authors conclude that the “common emphases” they so happen to list “have much in common with biblical perspectives on leadership.”
The problem isn’t always that their scriptural conclusions are wrong. While some are, their problems arise when the authors apply them. Take this conclusion for example: “For Paul, what happens at church gatherings originates in the Spirit and flows through the entire membership for the benefit of all” (37). That is a true Biblical conclusion regarding the church. Banks and Ledbetter make the mistake of flatly applying God’s intention for the church at large to “leadership” in particular and, while not directly stating that, they may say it is similar to “biblical perspectives on leadership.”
Not only do they apply scripture poorly, they also interpret it poorly. Take the quote, “Reference to order, or the need to be orderly, occurs infrequently in Paul’s writings…” Paul in fact was tremendously concerned with order in the church! Paul’s writings include a great deal about order and a church’s need to be orderly. And the fact that Paul uses the words “authority” and “order” infrequently, doesn’t mean that he is relatively unconcerned with these concepts. What about words like “head”, “submit”, “honor”? Banks and Ledbetter make the mistake of basing their argument solely on frequency of word use.
While Banks and Ledbetter accomplish the incredibly easy task of showing how one’s faith shapes and forms their views and practices of leadership, I don’t think I would recommend Reviewing Leadership, a Christian Evaluation of Current Approaches to many people. If you are particularly interested in leadership theory, read the book. It does survey quite a bit of leadership literature. If you can stomach using Christ and Paul as mere leadership examples without mention of God’s true purposes, go for it. Know that there is nothing particularly Christian about the book, that the interpretation and application of scripture is poor, and that the evaluation and critique is not that helpful. Christians wanting a true evaluation of current approaches to leadership will unfortunately have to wait.