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Book Review Fridays: Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft

I wanted to venture into the world of Christian leadership. I have already read many books on leadership, but aren’t distinctly Christian in its nature. Thankfully, I learned about Dave Kraft’s Leaders Who Last (Crossway, 2010). I asked a friend to buy it for me in the States. And after a period of waiting, I finally got my copy.

The Goal/s of the Book

Clearly, Kraft’s book aims to help leaders “finish well.” This is the important to him since “many leaders are not doing well and are ending up shipwrecked” (20). He cites a book by Professor Bobby Clinton of Fuller Seminary, in which the author concludes that only 30% of leaders finish well. Thus, the cover of the book states: “Only 30% of Leaders Last.” This actually what grabbed my attention and made me buy the book.

The book is “written from a Christian perspective,” and is “primarily, but not exclusively, addressed to the following types of leaders: Senior pastors, ministry staff members, volunteer leaders, Sunday school teachers, small-group leaders, leaders in local parachurch organizations.” Truly, it is distinctly Christian in nature. In fact, Chapter 6, entitled The Leader’s Calling, is even written “primarily for leaders in full-time vocational Christian ministry” (77). Obviously, the chapter deals with calling.

Initial Observations

The book is divided into 3 parts: Foundations, Formation, and Fruitfulness. In Foundations, Kraft focuses on “leading from the inside out.” He means that a leader must live with Jesus Christ in the center of his power, as he develops a purpose and a passion, as he sets priorities, and as he develops pacing for how much he needs to accomplish and how fast he does it.

In Formation, he deals with the leader’s calling, gifts character, and growth, while in Fruitfulness, the leader’s vision, influence, and legacy.

At the end of every part, Kraft includes a Thinking Things Through, which are questions and points for discussion. This is helpful for readers since it makes them remember what they read, reflect on it further, and put it into action.

The book is also readable. Once can finish a chapter in 5-10 minutes (Consider the fact that I’m a slow reader).

Additionally, the book is full of personal stories, illustrations, and practical insights. Kraft writes:

Most of the leadership books in my library are based on surveys and studies that attempt to crystallize key principles and proven methodologies for discovering, developing, and deploying leaders. These books are written by successful CEOs of large organizations or professors in MBA programs who use the business world as their model.

In contrast, this book is written from my personal leadership journey for over forty years. It is not the result of interviews and surveys from the business sector, nor is it the product of analyzing and dissecting successful leaders from the Bible or history. Instead, it is a personal and extremely practical account of essential leadership principles I have learned and used. (21)

Gospel-Centered Leadership

Kraft uses this definition of a leader throughout the book:

A Christian leader is 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)

I agree with Kraft. But take a look at the opening sentence of Chapter 1:

As a leader, everything I am and everything I do needs to be anchored in my identity with Christ. 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, emphasis added)

When I read those words, I immediately knew that this book will talk about a Gospel-centered leadership. I’m so glad I have such a book!

Leaders are Gifted to Speak

Before I end this review, allow me to highlight a point of Kraft which I deeply agree with. It’s about speaking gifts. He asserts that the leader who least must be gifted to speak:

After many years of teaching on the subject of spiritual gifts and working with hundreds of people to help them determine their gifting, it seems the gifts of a leader tend more toward speaking and serving. Bobby Clinton of Fuller Seminary refers to these gifts as word gifts. A true leader is gifted and skilled at using words to shepherd, develop, equip, and empower followers and potential leaders.

The leader who lasts needs to have word gifts. This is not to say they don’t serve. But what distinguishes them as leaders is their ability to use words to accomplish the mission, communicate an agreed upon vision, climb the mountain, and reach the goal. (89)

He goes out on a limb with this statement:

If a person’s gift mix is not predominantly in the speaking category, that person should not consider a major leadership roll. (89)

In my experience, the leaders who made an impact on me are the very ones who have the ability to move me through words, either verbal or written, in the form of preaching or in the form of a simple encouragement.

Conclusion

Leaders Who Last is a Gospel-centered, biblically-grounded, and deeply practical book on leadership. Any leader, especially those working full-time for churches, will greatly benefit from this book. I recommend it to you.


Recent book reviews in The Reading Disciple:

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
God is the Gospel by John Piper
Truth Endures by Phil Johnson and Mike Taylor (eds.)

The Determination of a Leader

It’s been a while since I last posted a blog for the Nehemiah series. I hope to finish this study series in a few months time. Anyway…

In my blog In The Face of Opposition, we saw Nehemiah face opposition and he handled it well. As always, he prayed and trusted in God, who is great and awesome. From verses 16 to 23, we will see how determined he was to complete the rebuilding of the walls. Let me show it to you.

16From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. (Emphases added)

In the verses above, Nehemiah distributed the workload among his men. Some worked on the construction, some held to their weapons, and some (the leaders) “stood behind the whole house of Judah.” He gave clear job descriptions.

18And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. 20In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” (Emphases added)

Now, he established clear communication lines. This is in case of military attacks.

21So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. (Emphasis added)

He and the people worked longer hours.

22I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” (Emphasis added)

And they were now more cautious and alert for a possible enemy attack.

23So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand. (Emphasis added)

Lastly, he and his team were also on guard. They set a good example.

We now see how determined Nehemiah was. He made sure that nothing would hinder the project. It is amazing that after facing opposition, he was even more determined to finish the rebuilding project. May we be like him, determined to complete any task that is before us.

In The Face of Opposition

In chapter 3, there was a significant progress in the rebuilding of the walls. We learned that ministry is community (see my blog on Nehemiah 3). Chapter 4 begins with Sanballat mad. He was angry and greatly incensed (v.1). So he unleashed a series of verbal onslaught:

1…He ridiculed the Jews, 2and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”

And Tobiah joined him in ridiculing:

3Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!”

This was an insult to the people. A fox is a small animal. To claim that a fox can tumble a huge wall questions the strength of it.

Responding with an Imprecatory Prayer

But Nehemiah, always ready to retaliate with spiritual weapons, responded with a prayer:

4Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.5Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.

This may seem for a plea of revenge. Did not the apostle Paul exhort us not to seek revenge (Romans 12:19)? Did not our Lord Jesus command us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36)?

This prayer is called an imprecatory prayer. It is not a prayer seeking for revenge. Rather, it’s a call to God’s holiness and justice and that His will be done. I also learned from a pastor that when such prayer is said, the one praying submits himself to God’s justice. So be careful. It’s not an easy prayer after all.

Despite the discouragements from the Nehemiah’s enemies, they continued working, for the worked with all their heart (v.6). They weren’t bothered. They just kept on working.

Not Yet Done

But their enemies (the men of Ashdod were added to the list, v.7) weren’t done with them. When they learned that verbal attacks did not work, they turned into a more devastating option—threats of physical attack (v.8). But Nehemiah again prayed and was confident in God, that he only posted a guard to meet the threats (v.9).

Now, due to the huge task, the people were losing energy (v.10). There was so much rubble, which literally means dust. This was due to the prior destruction of the wall. They have to clear these out first before they can rebuild the wall.

In verse 11 and 12, news of threat continued to surge in. The Jews living near their enemies were really worried, as seen in the frequency (ten times) of the reports. They were really worried simple because they were surrounded by the enemies—“Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” Samaria is in the north, Ammon in the east, Ashdod in the west, and the Arabs are from the south. These really caused them great anxiety.

In response to this, Nehemiah devised a plan. He organized the people into families (v.13). This was a public declaration of unity. This implies that the people within the family will support one another and will fight with one accord as lead by the family head. He was strategic. He was brilliant!

Then he motivated the people to remember the Lord (v.14). He urged them to dwell in His character—His greatness and awesomeness. Moreover, he urged them to fight for their families and properties (v.14)—things that are of value to them.

In verse 15, God thwarted the plans of their enemies. And Nehemiah and the rest of the people resumed their work.

Nehemiah faced opposition—in the form of verbal attacks and physical threats—and handled it well. He trusted in God. In leadership, we will always deal with opposition. And they will not easily cease. But let us place our confidence in the Lord, who is great and awesome.

Nehemiah: Leadership in Action

We left Nehemiah conversing with the king. We learned on the importance of prayer and planning (see my blog The Importance of Prayer and Planning for further discussion). Now, we will see him in action. Turn your Bible to Nehemiah 2:10-20. We shall learn three leadership lessons from Nehemiah.

Lesson #1: Nehemiah Performed a Needs Assessment and Convinced Himself

11I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days.

When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he did not immediately immerse himself into action. Instead, he spent three days (v.1). Three days doing what? As we have learned from the previous blogs, Nehemiah was a man of prayer. And those three days weren’t period of inactivity, but rather of spiritual productivity. He spent those days in prayer and meditation. (See my blog Period of Inactivity? for further discussion).

12I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.

Then he went out with his team but “had not told anyone what [his] God had put in [his] heart to do for Jerusalem” (v.2). He did not speak a word on his vision for reconstructing the walls of Jerusalem. This is because he didn’t want to alert his enemies, as well as create unnecessary tension among the Jews on which way the project should begin. Nehemiah was a man of wisdom.

13By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.

Now, Nehemiah began the inspection by night (v.13). He did this so he wouldn’t get attention from his enemies. Inspecting, he went through the Valley Gate, then southward toward the Dung Gate. As he examined the walls and gates, he noted that they were “broken down” and “destroyed by fire” (v.13). It only means that Jerusalem were really in ruins, even highlighted by the fact that “there was not enough room for [Nehemiah’s] mount to get through” when he got to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool (v.14). This implies that the walls were so torn down that even his mount couldn’t get in. Then he went to the valley and went back to Valley Gate. (See the map below to further appreciate Nehemiah’s inspection).


So what happened to the other gates? This is an interesting question. A pastor suggested that we are not told of the other gates simply because there was nothing more to inspect (Remember, Jerusalem’s walls were in ruins). And I agree with his view. So whether Nehemiah had nothing else to inspect or we are not told of his further inspection, the point is he performed a needs assessment. He did this to convince himself that the project was worth undertaking. Personally convinced, he could now convince others to join him in this massive construction project.  Furthermore, this assessment of needs allowed him to determine the people he’ll be asking for a hand (v.16). (Notice, Nehemiah approached leaders—people of influence. He did the right thing because these leaders was in a better position to influence more people).

Are you truly convinced that your vision is worth the time, effort, resources, and risk? If you’re not sure, then do a needs assessment. You must convince yourself first before you can convince others to buy into your vision.

Lesson #2: Nehemiah Motivated the People

17Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”

Now, he stated their situation. Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates were burned. They were simply in trouble. So he invited the people to join in this building endeavor.

But take note of his words. He uses words such as us and we. He was not calling the people to work for him. He was communicating that they should claim ownership of the vision. They were all on this.

18I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

He also told the people how God had blessed him and how the king granted his requests. The project will be successful because both heaven and earth were in agreement of it. And he was able to motivate them.

As leaders, we must motivate the people around us. So ask yourself, Have I been motivating the people around me?

Lesson #3: Nehemiah Faced Opposition and Handled it Well

19But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”

Nehemiah faced opposition. We first read about Sanballat and Tobiah on verse 10:

10When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.

Sanballat and Tobiah were governors in their respective areas. They knew Nehemiah could rebuild Jerusalem. Rebuilding the city was a threat to their authority. But in verse 19, they were joined by Geshem. Now, we can call them the three stooges.

But why was rebuilding Jerusalem called a rebellion? This is because the city was branded as a rebellious and wicked city (see Ezra 4:12). Rebuilding it would also affect the royal revenues (Ezra 4:13). (Notice that in Nehemiah 2:3,5, Nehemiah did not mention Jerusalem. This is to avoid tension with the king. He was indeed a man of prudence).

20I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”

But Nehemiah did not let his enemies discourage him. He knew that God will give them success.

Remember that in leadership, we will face opposition. But we must always remember that God will give us success in our endeavors.

The Importance of Prayer and Planning

In my blog Period of Inactivity?, we learned that Nehemiah spent four months seeking the Lord (Nehemiah 2:1). He prayed and really thought about the vision he received. But it’s now time for action. Here, we will learn another lesson from Nehemiah’s life—the importance of prayer and planning. Join me in Nehemiah 2:1-9.

The Importance of Prayer

1In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before.

Aside from spending four months seeking God, we also find Nehemiah sad. Why was he sad? Commentators suggest that he had a dilemma. On one hand, he was faithfully serving the king. On the other hand, he wanted to go to Jerusalem. He did not know what to do! He was the cupbearer, a position so high (and dangerous) that finding a reliever or replacement can be difficult. (Just imagine what could’ve happened if Nehemiah prematurely decided to ask for a leave. This could’ve created unnecessary tension with the king and it will make things even more complicated for him).

2So the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid.

First, Nehemiah was afraid. Now, he became sad. Why was that?

It was dangerous to show any form of sorrow in front of the king. This would displease him, and he could easily ask for the execution of the person who showed sadness. Since Nehemiah held a high position and represented the king as well, he should always wear a smile on his face. But we see from the tone of the king’s statement that he was concerned of his servant rather than displeased.

3But I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven.

Finally, Nehemiah voiced out the reason for his sadness. Then the king asked him what he wanted. But he did not answer right away. He did not even excuse himself so he could pray. While in the middle of the conversation with the king, he instantly connected with the King of kings! And I strongly believe that the four months time, from Kislev to Nisan, of seeking God really helped him develop an intimate relationship with Him. This solid relationship allowed him to connect with God right there and then.

Do you have this kind of intimate relationship with God? Do you pray for your visions and plans?

The Importance of Planning

5And I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.” 7I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? 8And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?”…

When Nehemiah was asked, he knew what to say. He knew what he needed. These were permission (v.5), protection (v.7), and provision (v.8a). He also knew the people he needs to approach and it seems that he did his homework by researching the name of the keeper of the king’s forest (v.8a).

6Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

Here, Nehemiah was asked how much time he will be gone. So he set a time. His answer was not explicitly stated but he ended up staying in Jerusalem twelve years. We can learn that he was conscious of his time. He was a good time manager.

In all these, we can learn that Nehemiah’s plan was detailed. He knew what his potential project needed and how much time it will take. Details are essential to a plan.

One of the things that irritate me is plans without details. (I wonder if it’s still considered a plan). I have encountered many times people who would “plan”, but doesn’t know the details of their plan such as time, venue, costs, and other specifics. What a waste of time!

8…And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests. 9So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

Although it was the king who granted the requests, Nehemiah acknowledged the sovereignty of God over his plan. I am reminded of Proverbs 19:21:

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

Let us always lift up our plans to God. Do you acknowledge His sovereignty in your plans and as you plan?

Period of Inactivity?

In Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah gave birth to a vision. He saw a need (1:3), responded with discontent (1:4a) and prayer (1:4b-11), and acknowledged his position (1:11). All these happened in the month of Kislev in twentieth year of King Artaxerxes (1:1). (See my blog The Birthing of a Vision for further discussion).

Nehemiah 2 began in the month of Nisan in the same year of Artaxerxes:

1In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes…

How much time had passed? Let’s find out.

The months in the Hebrew calender begin in the middle of a month in our modern calendar. Kislev falls between November and December, while Nisan falls between March and April. So just how many months had passed from Nehemiah 1 (Kislev) to Nehemiah 2 (Nisan)? Answer: Four months!

What was Nehemiah doing at this time? Shouldn’t he be doing something about the vision from God? Moreover, was this four months time a period of inactivity?

I believe Nehemiah, being a prayerful man (read the whole book and you will see him always praying) spent this time seeking God. He prayed and planned. That’s why when the king asked him (2:4), he knew what to say. He really thought about the vision (to the point it made him sad; see 2:1).

We live in a world where the words “fast” and “instant” are common. If we are hungry, we go to fastfood chains of buy no-cook foods. If we want to connect to others, we use our cellphones, e-mails, and Facebook accounts. What’s my point? We want action now, fast, and in an instant. We don’t want periods of inactivity and waiting. (I can prove this by asking you to fall in line or to use a dial-up Internet connection). Ultimately, the values of waiting, solitude, and reflection are often neglected.

But not in the case of Nehemiah. He took time—four months time—to seek God about the vision he received.

If four months seems too long, just take a look at the life of the apostle Paul. We read of his zeal to persecute Christians, conversion, and transformation in Acts 9:1-25 (35 AD). Then he went to Jerusalem to get acquainted with the disciples in Acts 9:26. The time span between verses 25 and 26 is three years (Paul went to Jerusalem in 38 AD; see Galatians 1:18). So what did Paul do in the span of three years?

When he arrived in Jerusalem, he spent fifteen days with Peter (and probably with James, the brother of Jesus). And he wasn’t doing any vacation. He had fellowship with them, learning from the very people who met Jesus in the flesh. They were encouraging one another, probably sharing the experiences they had with Jesus.

Now Paul had his first missionary journey in 46 AD. From 38AD to 46AD, there are eight years. Again, what did he do in that span of time?

Commentators say that he used these seemingly inactive times to prepare himself for ministry. This period included time alone with God and time of fellowship with other believers.

Nehemiah spent four months and Paul eleven years seeking the Lord. And my point is simple: We must seek God before taking action.

So let’s ask ourselves these questions: How is our relationship with God? Do we spend time seeking Him and having fellowship with other Christians? Do we pause and pray before we make any action?

My Vision of Planting a Church

In my blog The Birthing of a Vision, we learned on how to have a vision from the example of Nehemiah. I felt that that I ought to share one of my visions here. Acts 2:42-47 says,

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This is known as the Acts 2 Church. I call it the Model Church. The believers in this church were devoted to learn, to fellowship, and to pray. They were sacrificing their own possessions to help others who were in need. And the number of those who placed their faith in the Lord continually increased (take note of the word daily). Wow!

The Acts 2 Church was indeed a healthy and vibrant church. And I want to see one planted in the area of Malate, Manila, where I live. I’ve been living and studying in this area for more than four years. I’ve also been reaching out to the college students of the schools located there. I believe with all my heart that Malate is my mission field.

So in everything I do, I make sure its aligned to my vision.

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