The Healthy Christian Leader
Review of 'Lead So Others Can Follow' by James T. Bradford
In the course of my ministry, Jim Bradford has been my boss, mentor, colleague, and friend. So, you will understand what I mean when I say I cannot be “objective” about his most recent book. I am not objective about him. He’s the real deal—a God-centered, Jesus-focused, Spirit-filled leader.
Unsurprisingly, then, I think Lead So Others Can Follow is a great primer on Christian leadership. While my endorsement of the book is colored by my respect for the author, that respect itself grows out of 25 years of observing Bradford’s leadership personally. Montaigne said, “No man is a hero to his own valet,” indicating that some leaders are impressive at a distance but not up close. Bradford is one of a handful of people I know who is impressive at both.
Bradford is an aerospace engineer by training. (One of his congregations printed a T-shirt with the motto, “My pastor is a rocket scientist.”) His analytical skills are evident through the book. He divides the books twelve chapters into four sections titled, respectively, “Spirituality and Servanthood,” “Systems and Strategies,” “Skills and Strengths,” and “Stamina and Stability.” (As the alliteration shows, Bradford is also a memorable preacher.)
There are hosts of books about what might be called the “externals” of leadership, what leaders do. Bradford examines these in the second and third sections of the book. Too little attention is paid to the “internals” of leadership, however—who leaders are. The internals are the focus of the first and final sections. As I look at these sections, I see an emphasis on the health of the leader, his (or her) spiritual, relational, physical, and emotional wellbeing.
Christian leaders—like all leaders—have power, which Bradford defines as “the influence we have and how we use it.” He distinguishes three kinds of power:
- Positional Power—We have this power by virtue of the title on our office doors and the authority that our roles or positions give us.
- Possessional Power—We have this power because of something we have that others do not.
- Personal Power—This power flows out of the trust and respect others have for us. It is influence that is rooted in who we are, based on inner character and proven integrity rather than external position or personal possessions.
Christian leaders might influence their congregations in the short term through the exercise of positional or possessional power. Over time, however, appeals to these kinds of authority fall increasingly on deaf ears. They “push” people into following the leader. Only personal power—a leader’s spiritual authenticity, integrity, and strength of character—“pull” people into a leader’s sphere of influence. The battle for healthy leadership and healthy churches is won or lost by the leader’s cultivation of spiritual, relational, physical, and emotional health.
Bradford has great advice for the “externals” of leadership—oversight roles, strategic processes, staffing criteria, team building, public speaking, change management, etc. In my opinion, though, Bradford’s greatest contribution to the topic of Christian leadership lies in his opening and closing sections on leadership’s “internals.”
I close this review with the closing anecdote of Bradford’s book:
At the 2010 Lausanne III conference in South Africa, a Pentecostal pastor from Kenya told the story of the East African revival of over fifty years ago. During that time, people would walk well-worn pathways to prayer huts and places of intercession in the forest. When Christians slipped away from prayer, their friends would notice by the condition of their paths, and gently encourage each other: “Brother, the grass grows on your path.”
As leaders of God’s people, engaged in spiritual battle and committed to prevailing, our challenge is to never let the grass grow on our pathway to prayer.
Amen to that! And read this book.
P.S. Check out my Influence Podcast with Jim Bradford!