by Vanessa Herrick
from Signs of the Times No. 66 - Jul 2017

This is a deeply refreshing book from an author who knows both the joys and pains of being a leader and who is not afraid to write about them.

After a decade or more of the publication of books on Christian leadership which have often seemed to emphasize the strengths of secular leadership models for the Christian calling, this short book emerges as a gem of biblical wisdom and humanity.

Shaped around the stories of a number of Old Testament characters, Croft draws us perceptively into the biblical narrative, reflects upon it, and applies its insights, illustrating each varied chapter with helpful examples from his own and others’ experience. It is a book explicitly written for ‘any Christian who is called to have influence’ and for ordained and lay leaders ‘in every walk of life’. It also does not shy away from admitting that leadership is demanding and difficult, and the honesty and integrity with which Croft writes of his own experience as a leader only serves to deepen its impact.

The ten short chapters cover a range of themes: Beginning, Tending, Hope, Pain, Team, Gentleness, Chaos, Covenant, Change and Vision; and we are introduced to leaders such as Rehoboam, Ezekiel, Elijah, Moses, Ruth, Samuel, Caleb and Joshua. We are also invited to consider what it means to be a shepherd who is shepherded by God; what it means to lead with gentleness; and what it means to ‘brood’ over the chaos of complex and demanding situations.

We are encouraged to keep, develop and interpret the vision, to work collaboratively and to be faithful to the God who calls us to impossible tasks. At the end of the book Croft writes:

‘I came to realize that, in reality, every other leadership role I have ever been asked to fulfil was also impossible from a human point of view, and only realizable through grace. And that, I have found, is a very good place to live as a leader: constantly to nourish impossible visions of God’s grace and seek to see them fulfilled and realized, not in my own strength but through God at work in many different ways and people.’

Indeed, there is an attractive humility about this book which will, I suspect, mean that it will be one to which leaders of all sorts will return again and again.

There are some wonderful ‘sound-bites’ about leadership. For example:

‘Every organization needs its equivalent of green pastures and still waters’,
‘Christian hope should be the wellspring of our leadership’,
‘The most important thing for a bishop to learn is how to increase his [sic] gentleness.’

For me, the chapter on Pain is outstanding: honestly and sympathetically written, it acknowledges the deep pain and stress of leadership in a way which so many other books do not, and leads us on to the practical wisdom and importance of immersing ourselves in sustaining prayer each day.

My only criticism (and it is a small one) is that I think the chapter on Covenant should follow on from the chapter on Team, rather than coming several chapters later. Apart from this small anomaly, this is a fine book and one which I would warmly recommend to ordained and lay alike as an excellent aid to biblical reflection and a fine example of applied theology.

The Revd Canon Vanessa Herrick is Rector of Wimborne Minster & the Northern Villages and Archdeacon-designate of Harlow in the Diocese of Chelmsford.