Review: A Leader After God’s Own Heart

41JuXHsiG9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_George, Jim. A Leader after God’s Own Heart: 15 Ways to Lead with Strength. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2012. 240 pp. $9.43.

It’s personal confession time. I didn’t start this book on the right foot. In fact, I was whining after the first chapter, which, at first glance, reads like a cheerleading rally. I’m not convinced that “every man is to see himself as a leader” (12, italics original), at least not within the context of church or corporate leadership. (And, what about women?) Maybe this applies to the home or marriage, but Jim George doesn’t directly say so. On another note, I don’t care for a series of blanket statements that should be but are not all that obvious: “Paul tells you how”… “You can’t miss it”… “God’s message is loud and clear”… “The answer is simple” … “And so it goes!” (14-15). I have to admit that my attitude flows from style preference rather than lack of substance. The first chapter does rally the reader to grab the proverbial hat and hang on for the ride, and the ride is well worth the effort of pondering and applying chapters 2-16. I am so grateful for its biblical wisdom and practical insight about godly leadership that I highly recommend this book. Jim George shows his love for God and passion for leadership, and this message is worth sharing with our men (and women), who will be better leaders for reading, discussing, and applying its message.

After a chapter or two, I started to look forward to becoming the fly on the wall when each chapter opens with an imaginative insider conversation or first-person musing from Nehemiah. The reader experiences Nehemiah’s mental battles regarding the political and practical hurdles of the task of rebuilding Jerusalem (83-84), or a conversation between Nehemiah and a Persian foreman (117). Although we have no biblical record of these thoughts and exchanges, Nehemiah the man takes on flesh, and George takes advantage of these scenarios by weaving culture, customs, and practical application. For example, “Nehemiah knew exactly how long” it had been since he had seen his brother, Hanani: “13 long years” (22). In fact, we read this span in years, months, and weeks. We also listen to his calculations that anticipate a positive report about Zerubbabel’s return to the land with 50,000 people “some 90 years ago,” followed by “Ezra’s return with more than 7000 people 13 years ago….” (ibid.). These musings and true-to-life settings are a refreshing shift away from dry historical narrative, and they play an effective role in setting the stage for the lessons that follow.

The chapters themselves reveal realistic, biblical, and well-researched cultural background information. Although I was familiar with the ten gates of the city, I had not consulted maps of Jerusalem to “see that Nehemiah set up 42 crews to work around the entire city.” (101). George demonstrates a strong grasp of Nehemiah’s leadership challenge when he overviews “six different means of attempting to stop the work on the wall” (131). While there is a place for scholarly research and debate, my weekly target audience is well served by the practical, pastoral resources. A heart-driven, biblical passion for leadership flows from such writers as Cyril J. Barber, Donald K. Campbell, Hans Finzel, J. Oswald Sanders, Richard H. Seume, and Charles R. Swindoll. These men have been my mentors over the years, both personally and in print.

Challenges to apply leadership principles fit within the narrative rather than the closing paragraph. However, each chapter’s summary section, “Nehemiah on Leadership,” reflects rather than restates the principles, and George asks the reader key personal questions, like, “How are you at balancing your passion while waiting on God’s sovereign timing?” (80); or, “Who needs a word or an act of encouragement from you today?” (115). These practices and applications lead the reader toward the heart of God when dealing with areas like vision, influence, and challenges.

I appreciate the subtle, and frequently not so subtle, invitations to pause and personalize an insight on leadership or observation from Scripture. Sometimes it comes from simple statements: “The proud can’t pray. The self-reliant won’t pray. But the humble of heart must pray” (78). If I want my planning to partner with God, I must not only pray, but my prayer must flow from a humble heart. Sometimes the catalyst for self-reflection appears in a principle, like “basic steps for developing good problem-solving skills. View each problem as an opportunity” (125, italics original). I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this idea before, but George brings the reader into his discussion. It’s not about how Nehemiah faced his problems; we need this skill to solve our problems. Sometimes an insight flows across a chapter because it addresses my current ministry situation. I understand that “A vision must be shared,” but the next sentence exposes my passion: “A vision, if left unacted upon, is only a dream” (145). I don’t want to be a dreamer; I want action, change, and renewal. The “vision” chapter concludes with a necessary perspective. “Put your dreams on paper. …Then pray for God to affirm whether your dreams are His will” (150). I’m back to prayer, which calls me to humility while offering practical grace. For perspective’s sake, four other steps reach beyond the vision’s paper trail: “Take time to think about the future. …Set goals…. Enlist the support of others. …Keep moving forward” (ibid.).

A Leader After God’s Own Heart tops my list for a small group Bible study on leadership development. While I think every leader should read J. Oswald Sander’s classic, Spiritual Leadership, it’s a meaty challenge to digest and perhaps to discuss. Jim George’s work, on the other hand, presents plenty of depth without the need for scuba gear due to its practical application and contemporary context. The Study Guide in the back highlights central themes in each chapter, invites the reader to correlate his or her life situations with the chapter’s principles, and offers discussion opportunities to refine information and solicit support from one another. It assumes comprehension and values personal interaction, which make it a valuable resource.

David Kelly is the pastor at First Baptist Church in Wellston, Ohio. He is a graduate of Lock Haven State in Pennsylvania (BS) and Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM).

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