the shape of leadership

Values Matter More Than Success

Review of ‘Lead Like It Matters to God’ by Richard Stearns

George P Wood on March 31, 2021


Good leaders can change the world in remarkable ways — just as bad leaders can do serious harm,” writes Richard Stearns in Lead Like It Matters to God. While many define good leadership in terms of results, however, God defines it in terms of values: “God is far more concerned about how a leader leads than he is about the success that leader delivers.”

Stearns knows what he’s talking about. From 1998–2019, he led World Vision, a global Christian relief and development organization. Prior to that, he held leadership positions at Gillette, Parker Brothers, The Franklin Mint, and Lenox, where he was president and CEO. His book is the fruit of deep spiritual formation and real-world experience.

Why do values matter more? Because Jesus Christ came into the world to establish the kingdom of God. Stearns defines the Kingdom as “a new way of living, a new dream for human society that would turn the values of the world inside out as people chose to live under God’s rule and according to his values.” Christians are ambassadors of that Kingdom, “transformed disciples transforming the world.” Among other things, our mission requires “repudiating the values of the world … and modeling the values of God’s kingdom.”

“God is far more concerned about how a leader leads than he is about the success that leader delivers.” –Richard Stearns

Stearns identifies 17 values Christian leaders should embody. According to him, “The starting point of Christian leadership is total surrender.” We cannot practice Kingdom values unless, together with Christ, we say to God, “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42, KJV). The other values grow out of a surrendered will and include such countercultural characteristics as sacrifice, humility, greedlessness, forgiveness and listening, as well as the more traditional leadership values of excellence, integrity, vision and courage.

The intended reader for Lead Like It Matters to God is the average Christian. Stearns wrote it to help Christ followers “take your faith to work.” Given our society’s growing distrust of leaders and institutions — which is often an earned distrust — the book’s message is sorely needed. Social trust requires trustworthy institutions, and those can only be led by trustworthy leaders. “We are to be the tangible demonstration of the love, character, and truth of Christ as we live out our faith in a very public way,” writes Stearns.

I also recommend this book to pastors for two reasons: They lead local churches, and they guide the spiritual formation of their church members. In both roles, pastors must know what ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom act like and model that lifestyle personally.


Book Reviewed
Richard Stearns, Lead Like It Matters to God: Values-Driven Leadership in a Success-Driven World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021).


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