Book Review: Radical Leadership

Disclaimer – this is a book published by SPCK, the publisher for whom I currently work, but I hope that doesn’t affect my view.

For some strange reason I was once nominated for an award as a ‘leadership’ blog, which I didn’t win (phew!). I never really understood why – but I’ve been on a personal journey over the last few years, with a balance of both recognising that I am in some way a leader, but also not being at all comfortable with the way church and world often talk about leadership. I’ve read a lot of books on leadership – and not reviewed hat many, because I don’t think many of them are as helpful as you might think. Obviously, that’s my personal opinion. So I was quite excited to see that Michael Green, an academic evangelical Anglican New Testament scholar and university evangelist, and a leader I admire in various ways and from various angles, has written a book about leadership shaped by Jesus and the New Testament.
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Radical leadership opens with a helpful discussion of leadership and a brilliant first chapter on Jesus’ own leadership style. Echoing Michael’s own story, and the Anglican roots of the publisher, SPCK, there is a focus in the introduction on Church of England ordinating training which some might find a little frustrating, but he offers five things that he (in my opinion rightly) thinks are often missing from training courses for leaders. Whilst they don’t shape the book, I think they are a helpful set of threads that run through the book, filling a niche and offering a healthy biblical correction to the overly-CEO model of leadership on the one hand (which I think the church too often uncritically baptises to negative effect) and the overly holy and otherworldly impractical model that some people offer, rejecting ‘management’, for example, as evil (which in my mind is ironic given that one of the gifts of the spirit is administration!). These five, though, would helpfully shape leaders young and old, new and established:
Teaching on possessions – sharing and giving
Teaching on how to pray
Teaching on servant ministry
Teaching on management
Teaching on the kingdom of God
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The initial chapter on Jesus touches on all of these things, and as I say, they are threaded throughout the rest of this book. It’s worth noting that this is an excellent dense little book – no wasted words or waffle in just over 100 pages.
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Some of the following chapters engage with key New Testament characters and their approach to leadership. My personal favourite, in contrast to what I expected, was ‘Peter on Leadership’. I see some of Peters bombast in myself – and hope that, in however many years time, I will be able to look back and see ways that the presence and principles of Jesus in my life have matured the way I communicate, lead, and live. In this chapter there is a priceless paragraph that I’ve blogged about separately (p. 2, reproduce as ‘lifestyle and leadership’ for a short blog), which makes it helpfully practical.
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As well as these profiles of key leaders in the New Testament, or contexts where the text focuses on leadership, there a number of chapters engaging with some key issues in and around leadership. One of the most helpful is Green’s short chapter on women in leadership. A settled issue for some of my friends, anathema to others, and a bone of contention and discovery in a wide range of contexts, this little chapter is a helpful evangelical and thoughtful summary of the arguments that lands on the side of understating the bible and Jesus as releasing and affirming servant leaders both male and female. Some will, of course, disagree, but I hope that this chapter will not put those off reading this book. Others, of course, will be encouraged, and nourished by the whole of this book, especially with this chapter in mind.
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Overall, for a short book on a big topic, I was very encouraged. Indeed, had this been around a few years ago I might have been happier accepting a mantle or label of leadership of some kind. I think this is – given the authors cv and examples – a perfect book for those considering leadership, particularly ordination, in the Church of England and similar churches. However, for those of us in other contexts there is much good meat in this book, pointing us back to the example of Jesus and the real early church leaders of the New Testament. So, secondarily, I recommend it to anyone pondering what Christian leadership actually is and should look like. I hope it will be read widely, and restore some balance to this complex conversation.

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