In today's circles of American Churchianity, leadership is all the rage. There are seminars, Twitter pages, books galore, and so much more teaching us how to be the leaders we ought to be in the world and in the church. Walk into a Christian book store and I'm certain you will find an entire section of shelving dedicated entirely to books about leadership. It is really quite a sight to behold.
Into the fray of those who claim to know what leadership is and how we ought to do it jumps mega-mega church leader Perry Noble and his latest tome, The Most Excellent Way to Lead, a book about, you guessed it, leadership. The entire book is based on his novel idea that when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13 he had in mind leadership. Thus: "Paul is continuing his discussion about leadership here, and when he says he's going to show you the most excellent way, I believe he's saying, 'I will show you the most excellent way to lead.'" (6) This is most convenient for the outline of the book (but I seriously doubt that is what Paul was writing about in 1 Corinthians 12-14 or that Paul had any inkling towards American mega-church leadership styles).
Each chapter then explores leadership from the perspective of love. That is, if love is patient, so is leadership. If love is kind, so is leadership. And so on and so forth all the way through to 'Love never fails.' This is a novel approach to leadership and along the way Mr Noble explores leadership as love through the lenses of his own experience of success and failure. He is rather transparent in the book and some of his stories are nice and others are funny and a couple I simply did not believe were true at all. I can take or leave his anecdotes. There were too many illustrations about himself (for example, the number of times he reminded his readers that his church has 400 staff members and a $50 million dollar budget; I didn't care the first time and I didn't care the last time and to be sure, nothing about either of those statistics necessarily means he is an expert on anything.)
The end of each chapter features a page with several 'summary statements' about the material found in the preceding chapter. This will make excellent Tweets if the reader happens to be on Twitter and I suspect that is exactly what they are there for. There are also a series of questions for the reader as well: questions to ask yourself (about your own leadership) and questions to 'ask your team.'
Along the way he pieces together some leadership ideas from the story of David and Saul found in 1 Samuel. This is fine; although, again, I seriously doubt that it was leadership in particular that the author of those stories had in mind. I have a hard time with books that use Scripture in this way–as if it were written to satisfy a set of principles or ideas that we have about how to do things in a culture thousands of years removed from theirs. I am not sure that this is why Scripture is or was written and preserved for us so many years later and I am going to deduct points in every review I write that treats the Bible as a mere handbook of principles for whatever the cause du jour happens to be.
In some ways, this book felt like insulation for Mr Noble. Mr Noble is a preacher, excuse me, leader, at a very large church in South Carolina–over 400 staff and a $50 million budget!–and that means he is exposed a lot. We have seen in the recent years that a lot of mega-church preachers have fallen into disrepute and scandal and have brought great shame upon themselves and their churches. So, in some ways, exposing, in book form, the inner workings of how he does things at the place he leads kind of serves as insulation for the decisions he makes along the way. That's how a lot of this came off to me while I was reading. In other words, it's awfully difficult to criticize the guy who has written a book about how to do the very things he is doing.
The bottom line is this, there's nothing inherently wrong with the book–my complaint about his 'use' of Scripture notwithstanding. There are a lot of helpful principles, thoughts, and ideas that people in leadership positions can use to help their organization be a much better place. And how can a person complain about a book where love is somewhat the focus? It's true. That is a difficult thing to do. Nevertheless, I didn't find that book all that appealing or interesting–and mostly because I did have such a hard time with the way he used the Bible to formulate his outline. If you are one of those folks who sucks up leadership books by John Maxwell or whoever, you will enjoy this book. If you are not, you won't. The book has a limited audience, in my opinion.
This is a one-off review of a book written by someone whose sermons I have never listened to, whose church I have never attended, and whose other books I have never read. I'm sure in a lot of places Mr Noble is well respected and loved and admired and among his peers, these thoughts will resonate. Perhaps justly so. Jesus said that if we want to lead, we should follow; that the first will be last; that we should take up our cross and deny ourselves. Jesus said the servant is not greater than the Master who washes feet. Jesus said, simply, love one another. None of this, to be sure, Noble will deny. But at the end of the day, that is not how he comes off in this book.
Noble tells his readers that "if I'm going to receive criticism from someone, they need to meet the following requirements: 1) they must love Jesus, 2) they must love the church, 3) they must love me." (122) What he doesn't tell us is if he himself has to meet the same standards. It might be implied, but it's not explicitly stated.
He tells us over and over and over, from the first page to the last, that he is a leader. That tells us what we need to know about the content. What we must ask ourselves is this: does Noble's vision of leadership correspond with what Jesus told us about being a disciple. Really. That's where it breaks down for me.
Leadership is overrated.
Important Book & Author Things
- Where to purchase The Most Excellent Way to Lead (Amazon, $9.89)
- Author: Perry Noble
- On the Web:
- On Twitter:
- Academic Webpage:
- Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
- Pages: 288
- Year: 2016
- Reading Level: High School
- Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book via the Tyndale blogger review program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.