The aim of this book and the rationale for structuring the book around “The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make”, rather than using an explicitly positive framework, is summarized at the end of the Introduction with the assertion: “The good you do can be destroyed by the precautions you fail to take” (Kindle version lacks page numbers). We study common mistakes in order to learn the necessary precautions. Of course, every discussion surrounding these mistakes is permeated by discussions of leadership values and principles that can prevent these mistakes. Though written by a Christian leading a large Christian mission agency, the book is intended to speak to leaders in any context, not just in ministry. The applications within the book target the corporate business environment, large ministry organizations, and local churches.
With respect to a corporate business environment or a large ministry organization, I found the discussions on the servant-leadership approach in chapter 1, and on making room for mavericks in chapter 4, to be particularly insightful. I have observed and have been directly affected by leaders repeatedly making these mistakes at various levels of the large corporation for which I have been employed over the last 14 years. In addition to ringing true based on my negative experiences, I have also had momentary glimpses of the potential success associated with the alternative approaches advocated by the book.
However, chapter 4, “No Room For Mavericks”, is a good example of where his application of organizational leadership values to the local church context puts Finzel on shaky ground. In contrast to the previous three chapters, this chapter’s lack of a single explicit Scripture reference is conspicuous. The only appeal to Scripture is found in labeling Moses, Joseph, Peter, and Paul as mavericks, leaving much to be desired in attempting to apply any related biblical truths to our lives. The first application to the local church is found in the opening sentences of the chapter where he recounts the story of Bill and Mary, “two extremely gifted individuals who had helped grow their local church very aggressively through their entrepreneurial zeal.” By using business-oriented language while not providing an explanation of the driving motivation behind their “entrepreneurial zeal” and the methods they were employing to “aggressively” grow their local church, these words can be taken as giving credence to the man-centered, pragmatic, gospel-replacing church-growth techniques that have plagued the modern church for years. This may at first appear to be a minor quibble over the choice of words, but the applications to the local church only grow increasingly careless from this point on.
Some of the worst examples can be found in chapter 8, “Missing the Clues of Corporate Culture”. In a section titled “The Value of Understanding Corporate Culture”, Finzel asserts that a “search committee should look at how the potential pastor or leader looks at various issues that the host group holds dear.” This leads into the account of a pastor with “a blue-collar background” moving to a white-collar church, only to find out that “nothing he said was connecting with them.” While it may have been the right decision for them to part ways, he makes it sound as though common worldly experiences are a prerequisite for Christians, bought by the blood of Christ and indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God, to be able to minister to one another. This idea that “leaders” and “followers” within a church need to be a good “fit” in order for things to “work out” is troubling. While there are some helpful cautions to be given in this regard, these must be tempered with an acknowledgement that the Spirit of God works as he sees fit to grow Christ’s church. Oftentimes this involves bringing an agent of biblical restoration to shepherd a wayward flock. Strict application of Finzel’s principles would prevent all such revitalization and reform. Let us beware of itching ears (2 Tim 4:3).
An emphasis on the importance of delegating and otherwise facilitating the ministries of others within the local church, as found in chapter 5 on dictatorship and chapter 6 on delegation, is hugely important for pastors to hear routinely throughout their ministry. However, some of the principles and other truth claims littered throughout these same chapters can lead down some treacherous slopes if haphazardly applied to the local church context. Chapter 5 begins with the declaration, “The one who does the job should decide how it is done.” Then, in a subsequent section titled “Delegate Decisions Whenever Possible”, Finzel states, “If it is done differently but accomplished effectively, then the job gets done, which is all that matters.” In our age of moral relativism, postmodern views of absolute truth, and corruption within government, business, and even the church, these declarations calls for explicit qualification. This form of pragmatism can be dangerous when divorced from the ultimate authority of the Scriptures and the governing authority structures given by God, including the office of overseer within the local church.
I greatly appreciate the emphasis on the critical need for leaders to cultivate humility, as the book repeatedly identifies pride as one of the primary hindrances to successful leadership for a host of reasons. While this is an accurate and forthright diagnosis, it is never connected to that which provides the power and impetus to change, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ. By neglecting to explain who God is, who we are, what Christ has accomplished, and how all of this is connected to the sin of pride and the Spirit-wrought fruit of humility, the unconverted reader, and even the immature Christian reader, is left to seek and rely solely upon the strength and motivations that his or her sin-marred heart can muster. The problem is not that Finzel has simply missed an opportunity to communicate the gospel, or that his moral exhortations are powerless when left unconnected with the gospel, but that identification of sin and moral exhortations divorced from the gospel lead people further down the wrong, sinful, self-righteous path, particularly when found in a distinctly Christian book filled with references to Scripture.
The problematic approach to discussing sin reaches its lowest point in a section of chapter 9 titled “Why Some Leaders Can’t Let Go”. In similar fashion to a section in chapter 6 titled “Why Leaders Fail to Delegate”, a list of possible answers is given, including “fear of retirement”, “lack of confidence in a successor”, and “loss of investment”. Under “self-worth”, Finzel states, “The normal adult (especially male) gains the greatest percentage of his or her identity from his job. . . For many leaders, a job is the very essence of his or her self-worth.” This must be identified as idolatry and cannot simply be passed over as a common phenomenon. The list even concludes with the affirmation that “These are all real concerns”! To excuse this carelessness by arguing that this is a book about leadership and not discipleship is indefensible. If that’s the case, then refrain from speculating about the common reasons why people make poor decisions and instead focus on the repercussions of those decisions and lay out the right decisions. Leaving these statements hanging without admonishment and correction serves to affirm and thus excuse sinful behavior as normal, even if labeled as ill-advised and bad for business.
Before concluding the list, he explicitly asks such heart questions as “Why retire to boredom and loneliness when I can hang on with the people I love to be with?” Yet again, no biblical answer is provided, thereby validating the self-serving, misdirected attentions and affections of those who are without hope and without God in the world. Why step down from leadership within an organization? The same reason we make any decision that changes the work to which we put our hands: because we believe God is leading us to engage in a different labor that he will use to bring him glory and further the cause of Christ in the world. The end of the next section does mention Paul having departed from the church in Ephesus “because there was work for him to do in other places”, but this isn’t directly or immediately connected to the heart questions explicitly asked in the previous section, nor is it directly applied to every Christian in every context. Four sections later, at the end of the chapter, more of these issues are further addressed, but not with Scripture and not with a focus on serving and honoring God. Worse still, it repeatedly speaks of having “faith” and placing your “trust” in “the next generation”, meaning in people and not in God.
As Dr. Mohler described in his sermon at the SBTS commencement service of the Fall 2013 semester, while it was once rare for a seminary student not to have professional experience, it is now rare for a student to have any substantial professional experience. As such, it is highly appropriate for seminary students who are preparing to lead God’s people to study a book addressing practical leadership principles. Since the inception of this modern age, Christians have been seeking to apply Biblical principles in the workplace environment at all levels of organizational structures. Given this reality, many helpful leadership and organizational insights have emerged that hold promise for benefiting the pastor as he seeks to lead God’s people. Furthermore, studying the leadership principles that Christians have found beneficial in the business world also helps pastors to understand the expectations and ways of thinking of many of the members of their flock. Such an understanding can assist the pastor in diagnosing the source of tension and conflict stemming from incompatible expectations, as well as to speak the language of the working professional.
However, God’s design and mission for the local church is radically unique from all other organizations, including para-church ministries. A tight rope is being walked in a book that attempts to present leadership principles that are applicable for any given context, whether inside or outside of the local church. To do so effectively requires a detailed breakdown of the differences between these contexts, but Finzel provides no such explanation. Worse, many of the examples of applying his leadership principles to churches and pastors are flawed and extremely precarious. In the end, some tight ropes are best left un-walked. Given the hazardous traps laid without warning, as well as the haphazard treatment of flagrantly sinful behavior, I would not recommend this book and would be tempted to encourage pastors to instead read either a leadership book written explicitly for the pastor or a book written explicitly for the business environment. When reading a book without any explicit references to biblical wisdom, the Christian reader is more guarded of what he is reading and more likely to test the principles against the clear teachings of Scripture.
Soli Deo gloria!