Two areas I’m particularly invested in are the centrality of the gospel and leadership development. My home library has shelves full of books in each of these categories, and yet those shelves (and the books therein) seem to have little in common. The leadership books are shaped with great principles and best practices with no gospel lens or hermeneutic. The gospel books gives us a great lens but have yet to show us how the gospel colors our understanding of leadership in the local church. Insert Steve Timmis’ newest book, Gospel-Centered Leadership: Becoming the Servant God Wants You to Be (Good Book Co., published October 2012).
In the Introduction, Timmis stakes out the thesis of the book:
“I have a deep and enduring conviction that it is the gospel that should shape my attitude to and practice of leadership. That what God has done in Christ should define who I am as a leader and for what kind of leader I am. That there should be something distinctive about leadership among the people of God, that springs from the message that brings it into being” (Loc 43, Kindle).
In contrast to the style of leadership that presupposes self-actualization and omnicompetence, Timmis explains that gospel-centered leadership leads from a position of repentance and faith, from the leader “recognizing his deep and enduring need for Jesus and the patient work of His indwelling Spirit”. This leadership style works from a profoundly different premise than typical leadership books operating under the delusions of self-adequacy, and the substance of this book provides the “shape, color, and texture” that the gospel brings to leadership, particularly in a local church.
One of the overriding concerns of popular works on leadership that Timmis seeks to correct is how the culture’s view of leadership dictates philosophy of leadership in the local church. He writes,
“Because we instinctively reflect our culture, we should do all we can to ensure our understanding of and response to leadership is shaped by the Bible rather than our culture” (Loc 92, Kindle).
Throughout the book, Timmis strikes a healthy balance of theological reflection and practical application of leadership shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ. He does not begin with principles but with God. He does not talk about technique but the instrumentality of the Word and agency of the Holy Spirit. He refuses to substitute or diminish the dominance of God and having a God-centered focus in leading the people of God. So often leadership focuses on goals and projects and not people, and I would argue that this is ironically due to man-centered thinking and using God as a utility rather than the goal. Timmis keeps us on a right course of pursuing effective leadership by means of God’s Word faithfully applied by God’s Spirit for the welfare of God’s people.
Practically speaking, Timmis shows us how the gospel gives us confidence to address changes, handle difficulties, and pursue opportunities for the church. He broadens the scope of leadership and at the same time corrects misunderstandings related to qualifications for leadership. So often competency (resume/degrees) is place over character (life/example) when it comes to leadership. Timmis simply argues that a leader “must have a godly character and an aptitude to teach. Leaders influence the people of God as they teach God’s word and as they model obedience to God’s word in their lives” (loc 387, Kindle). It’s a simple definition but faithful to Scripture. Sometimes we just complicate things, and a complicated approach to leadership can make it elusive for others to attain and leaders to maintain.
Timmis makes a fascinating observation about Paul’s life and ministry, namely that he never complained about or request the need for more leaders (loc 1518, Kindle). Why is this? Timmis intimates that it could be that we have adopted the cultural view of leadership on the one hand and failed to recognize, develop, and encourage biblically qualified leaders on the other hand. I tend to agree. But what are we going to do about it? Toward the end of his book, Timmis offers more practical counsel, including developing a gospel culture, being intentional in ministry design, and encouraging pathways for growth and development in unofficial and organic ways.
Do I believe this book is for all church leaders? Absolutely. However, I want to make a caveat here. Timmis writes from an organic view of ecclesiology where gospel communities are the organizing principle of the local church (i.e., house church). Those with alternative ecclesiological structures may find some of the practical application of a gospel-centered approach to leadership difficult to implement. However, I would not consider this necessarily a limitation to the book as every leader to whatever degree in whatever environment will operate on a set of principles and philosophy. For Christian leaders, it should be God’s Word and God’s Gospel. Timmis makes that point consistently and persuasively. How the implications of a gospel-centered approach to leadership are worked out in your context may look differently than others (and different from Timmis’ context). The good news is that the truths of the gospel, the identities that define the Christian leader, and the posture we take as a result of the gospel transcends models, structures, and contexts. For this, we should all pursue gospel-centered leadership, and thanks to Timmis’ contribution, we are well served for this purpose.
NOTE: The Good Book Co. has graciously agreed to give FREE copies of this book away to everyone who registers for the upcoming PLNTD Nashville Conference on Gospel-Driven Leadership. Join us and get this helpful book!