imageI’ve never been much of a book reviewer. If you want to know what the book says, you should read it. However, this morning as I began reading UNLeader by Lance Ford, I decided to try reviewing it on a chapter by chapter basis. Not so much for you, but because from the moment I began reading the forward by Alan Hirsch, I knew there were things I would be wrestling with as I went though it. And I’ll likely learn more if I do that wrestling here.

I guess I should start with why the introduction and forward to the book resonated so loudly with me in the first place.

The reason I’m reading the book is because it was assigned for the last of four Forge training sessions. (Read more about why I am participating in Forge Training.) And when I saw the pile of books on leadership that I was going to need to read over the final two months of this course…let’s just say I was not excited, I think my response was “ugh”.

The fact is, I’m a bit worn out on the whole Christian Leadership industry.

In the late 90’s as we were getting connected with the Vineyard and preparing to move from being a campus ministry to planting a church, I got my first immersion into this whole world. To be honest, since my background had been as a university chaplain, I was totally unaware of people like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and John Maxwell. The guy who was coaching me at that time was not and he fed me a steady diet of books and cassettes by these guys. Many of his sermons were simply rehashed versions of the leadership gurus. I began attending Christian leadership conferences on a regular basis, and since I love to read, I left every one with a handful of new books and a list of recommended reading.

In many ways, that was an important time in my life. I learned a lot. I grew a lot. I got back into reading in a way that I hadn’t for over a decade.

At one of the major annual Christian Leadership conferences, I began to hear interviews and talks given by secular business leaders. So much of it was really good stuff. And my learning curve continued.
But there was a disconnect. While I wanted to be a good leader, the type of church community that I felt we were called to be was not what I saw from many of the churches we were learning from. I felt called to lead, but I was growing more and more uncomfortable with what I can best describe as the “cult of personality” church leadership I was seeing happen more and more.

(Few things characterise this more for me than the move to multiple venues with the celebrity pastor’s face up on a screen in multiple locations. I am a huge believer in churches multiplying and planting and even having multiple venues…but when it is built on watching guy a screen, rather than interacting with real people, I have a hard time seeing how it is anything but a huge ego trip for the church leader.)

Around 2005 I discovered a new, rising star in the ranks of celebrity pastors. I learned so much from him about organising and structuring a church…and how to lead one. After a couple years of listening to seminars he’d put out, I began attending a couple. Then I signed up for and completed a 6 month coaching network in NYC…twice.

Over the next three to four years, we were in every outward sense successful. The things was, when we finally had to slow down…when we finally had to stop and take stock of where we were, the church, and I, had both emerged unrecognisable. I’d become CEO of our church. The church had grown substantially…but it wasn’t what we had set out to build.

The thesis for UNLeader comes from this passage in Matthew 20:

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭20:25–26‭NIV‬‬

Much of my experience since 2008 has been a process of unlearning. Having layer by layer by layer peeled back…often it has been at the hands of “Christian leaders” who lord their position of leadership over others. Often it has been the Father pointing out another area in my life that needs to be changed. Not always fun to go through, but good…and necessary. While I’d prefer to just learn new ways, there are old patterns and ways of thinking that have had to be rooted out first…exposed as wrong ways of thinking.

Towards the end of the introduction, Ford points out how limited the resources are for servanthood compared to leadership. And that even when we talk about being a servant, we normally talk about servant-leaders.

When Liz and I first moved to Dublin, we answered the question “why are you here?” with the response “we are here to serve people who live in Ireland.” While we have always wanted to play a part in seeing new communities of faith started across the city, we knew that it would start, not from a place of leading, but from a place of serving. We are still discovering what that means. I think UNLeader will be a welcome companion on that journey.