Leading with Love
Alexander Strauch, Leading with Love. Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth Publishers, 2006. 189 pages, paperback.
When I was asked to review a book, I had the opportunity to select from several possibilities. The title of this book immediately attracted me. I have been both an observer of leaders and in leadership roles as a professor and church member. Sadly, I have seen more leadership that was characterized by loveless attitudes and behaviors than characterized by loving attitudes and behaviors. Thus I was eager to see what the author had to say about leadership that followed this biblical principle.
An early quote in the book by Dwight L. Moody reflected the power of the doctrine of love. Moody stated:
I got full of it. It ran out my fingers. You take up the subject of love in the Bible! You will get so full of it that all you have got to do is to open your lips, and a flood of the Love of God flows out upon the meeting. There is no use trying to do church work without love. A doctor, a lawyer, may do good work without love, but God's work cannot be done without love (p. 8).
Moody made it sound that action rather naturally followed conviction, but this book would suggest that to lead with love takes very intentional work. This often is at odds with one's natural inclinations.
At the core of this book, is a very practical appeal and application of the biblical mandate to love those you have been called to serve. The author started with an excellent exegesis of I Corinthians 13 specifically applied to the role of leadership within the church context. One of the things I enjoyed so much about the book was the wealth of experiences he drew upon to enrich his points. He shared references from early church scholars, reformation writers, revivalist writers, and contemporary persons of influence. He included both references to contemplatives and practitioners. He used both Old and New Testament references to support his points. There is also a wonderful multicultural flavor as he shared stories from persons who lived and/or worked in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Australia, as well as the United States. These human stories helped bring life to biblical principles that I had been exposed to for years. It reminded me of the role of a color commentator for sports events, which adds to the overall enjoyment of the activity. He included personal experiences of those who provided examples of loving leadership and some examples of Christian leaders who provided less than stellar examples. I found hope in those positive stories; hope that I can follow their examples and hope that Christian leaders that I am called to follow will emulate their predecessors. I felt sadness when reading the stories of those who lead without love because, as the author pointed out a number of times, a leader's attitude is so often what attracts a person to Christ and the church or deters a person from seeking Christ in the context of the organized church.
In the second section of the book, the author discussed the character and behavior of a loving leader. Having been a counselor educator for twenty years, I very much appreciated the application of principles to attitudes and behaviors. One of the things that I "preach" to counselors in training is that every good counseling session should include an exploration of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This section examines that application of thoughts and attitudes to behaviors. I am sure that there is not a Christian leader who does not believe in love and aspires to lead with love. However, one must behave in ways that communicate that love to those with whom she or he interacts . The characteristics highlighted in this section come straight from I Corinthians 13 and include the familiar character traits of being patient and kind, not envious or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not selfish or easily angered, not resentful or joyful over evil; and traits that bear, believe, hope, and endure all things. Once again the author shared a plethora of stories of persons who bore witness to these character traits and a few who did not. The author closes this section with a plea to use the book for self-examination rather than to judge others. He stated "....do not use this book to tell other people they have no love. Some of the most loving people I have ever known have been wrongfully accused of a lack of love" (p.87).
The third part focused on the works of a loving leader. As the section title suggested, this is a very practical section. Strauch discussed difficult challenges including finding balance, confronting sinful or problematic behavior, and making time to pray for the needs of others and personal needs. Just prior to reading this book, I was journeying through Abba's Child by Brennan Manning with my mentor. One of the chapters focused on the importance of discovering or rediscovering one's unique personhood and how critical it is to be true to one's God created personhood rather than "playing to the audience." I was finding a lot of tension around these ideas. Though I philosophically embrace the concept of uniqueness, how does one minister to others without compromising some of the passions and convictions for the good of others. The chapters in this third section helped me find resolution to the tension I experienced. Though the task is still challenging and demands much wisdom and discernment, the principle of leading with love helped me reduce the tension between being the unique person God made me to be and yet interacting with others in ways that are not offensive.
While reading this book, I was part of an interaction that would be characterized as a loving confrontation and was the initiator of an interaction that was insensitive and disrespectful. In both cases, I was instantly aware of the principles of loving leadership and the need to practice love in all my interactions. I also realized how very difficult it is to practice loving leadership when personal needs, time limitations, and stress tempt us to "make things happen now."
One of the very helpful resources to this book is the companion workbook. As a teacher, I often use workbooks to assist students in applying the ideas discussed in the textbook. This workbook is superb. It assists the serious reader to apply the ideas in very practical every-day life situations. Though time did not permit me to address the workbook questions, I will return to it and devote time to addressing and applying the concepts in each chapter.
I believe this book could be very useful to an individual leader seeking to improve his or her leadership in any context. Though its primary target audience is for leaders in the church, I will find it equally useful to apply in the classroom and with a secular group for which I provide leadership. I think that it would be beneficial for groups of Christian leaders to use this in a group study. I know that I would benefit from learning how others are practicing leadership with love. I also would benefit from a group that honestly confessed our failures and held each other up in prayer for greater understanding of how to lead with love and for Christ to so fill us with His love that paraphrasing D.L Moody, I get so full of it that it flows out of me unto others.
Because the author and I live in the same city, I was able to follow-up my reading of the book with a personal interview. The question that followed me through the reading of this book was what motivated and shaped the author's interest and commitment to the topic of loving leadership? His response should challenge each of us called to leadership.
He indicated that he had not grown up in a Christian home and became a Christian as a young adult. After having been involved in a church for a few years, he began to ask himself "Why do Christians fight so much?" He then read through the New Testament with a single focus to explore what the Bible had to say about love. This was followed by years of experience as a pastor and reading what others had to say about the subject of love. This life-long pursuit of learning about love and leading in a church context resulted in this theologically sound and very practical book.
I will close with one more personal reflection. One of many reasons I decided to come to Denver Seminary was because I recognized the visionary leadership of Dr. Craig Williford, president, Dr. Randy MacFarland, dean/VP, and Dr. Vernon Grounds, chancellor. I wanted to be part of an organization that made decisions and related to people based on a relatively clear vision. What I have experienced over the two years I have been part of the faculty is the large degree of love that is characterized in the leadership of Denver Seminary. As I review the topics of section three, I recognize that I have witnessed each of these concepts in action: expressing love and affection, practicing hospitality, caring for people's needs, laboring in prayer, feeding hungry souls, protecting and reproving loved ones, disciplining and restoring the wayward, managing conflict in a "more excellent way," and obeying Christ's commands and teaching others to obey. I close with asking myself and the reader this question: Can visionary leadership succeed without the intentional practice of love towards those being led? I think not!