Leaders Who Last – Book Review
Of the writing of leadership books, there is no end. Both secular and Christian bookstores are filled with volumes on how to become a more effective leader. Unfortunately, many of the Christian leadership books are more for the Christian businessman than the pastor. What is lacking in leadership literature are books that address the pastor as a pastor, not a CEO. This is what makes Dave Kraft’s book Leaders that Last so refreshing; there is an unashamed emphasis on leadership within the local church.
The goal of Kraft’s book is to exhort Christian leaders to finish the race. He believes that far too many Christian churches are floundering because of pastors that do not know how to lead, and as a result, drop out of the race (22). Kraft defines a Christian leader as a “humble, God-dependent, team-playing, servant of God who is called by God to shepherd, develop, equip, and empower a specific group of believers to accomplish an agreed-upon vision from God” (25). The rest of this book is spent expounding on the characteristics of this kind of leader.
The first five chapters look at the “foundations” of the leader. Kraft uses the spoke to describe these different foundations. These spokes consist of the leader’s power, his purpose, his passion, his priorities, and his pacing. In the center of the spokes is the power of a leader. The Christian leader has no power of his own, but all the power he has comes from his identity in Christ (29). This being the case, it is important for the Christian leader to stay connected to Christ through the spiritual disciplines. Kraft says that “great men and women of God are great because they enjoy exceptional intimacy with the Lord. The failure to establish intimacy imposes a limit on genuine spiritual development and effectiveness” (34). With power in the center of the wheel, the four spokes that are connected to the center are the leader’s purpose, passion, priorities, and pacing. According to Kraft, one of the reasons that leaders quit the race is a lack of purpose. Once the leader has a clear purpose, or “spiritual focus,” he is fueled with passion and he is able to say no to the things that don’t align with his purposes. With that being said, it is still important for the leader to go at a good pace. Kraft believes that “most leaders travel too fast and attempt to do too much” (69).
Part two of the book consists of the leader’s formation. The formation of a Christian leader includes his calling, gifts, character, and growth. These are the areas that the Christian leader must confirm and cultivate. Kraft states that there are four spiritual calls; “the call to salvation, the call to discipleship, the call to service, and the call to leadership” (80). Since this book is about finishing the race as a Christian leader he spends the bulk of this chapter on “persevering” in the call to leadership. The next chapter is about the leader’s giftedness. The leader, according to Kraft, can be gifted in many different areas, but must have what he calls “speaking gifts” (88-89). In fact, Kraft goes so far as to say that “if a person’s gift mix is not predominantly in the speaking category, that person should not consider a major leadership roll” (89). The last two chapters of part two have to do with character and growth. A leader must not only have competence, but he must also have integrity. One reason many leaders don’t finish the race is a failure in the area of integrity. As Kraft states, “character will stand the test of time and hold up when the wind howls and the storm rages around you” (96). Closely connected with character is a humble attitude that never stops asking questions and never stops seeking to learn new things. Kraft believes that “one of the worst mistakes you can make as a leader is putting your life on cruise control” (105).
Part three of the book consists of the Christian leader’s fruitfulness. The fruitfulness of a leader has to do with his vision, his influence, and his legacy. The leader must not be satisfied with the ways things are, but must be able to paint a “clear, challenging picture of the future of ministry as it can be and must be” (119). In order for the leader to accomplish this vision he must assemble a team around him. This team will help spread the leader’s vision. Kraft says that “a leader influences many by investing in a few and letting those few influence the rest” (129). These few that Kraft is talking about are the leader’s team. The beauty of building this team of leaders is that it ensures the leader’s legacy. The legacy of a leader is the reproducing of other leaders. Kraft believes that “the top priority of a leader must be to invest in future leaders” (139). He goes on to say that “the single greatest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development” (139).
There are several strengths in this book. First, it is rare that one finds a leadership book that is gospel-centered. Kraft says that “leadership begins and ends with a clear understanding of the gospel and being rooted in the grace of Jesus Christ as a free gift” (29). In other words, grace needs to be at the center of the Christian leader’s ministry. Second, Kraft does a good job of combining traditional teachings on pastoral ministry like calling, character, and the importance of study, with more contemporary teachings on leadership like prioritizing, casting vision, and thinking about one’s legacy. Often times leadership books emphasize one or the other.
This is an extremely helpful book that contributes significantly to the current conversation on Christian leadership. Its gospel-centeredness and focus on both the inward and outward qualities of a leader will help the young Christian leader finish the race.