Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church

Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church, by Paul David Tripp. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020, 231 pages, $22.99, hardcover.

I love how-to books that offer practical advice on church leadership. Most pastors benefit from step-by-step instruction about organizational management, church finances, crisis response, leadership recruitment and training, and other areas of church administration. Comparatively few seminary students come from backgrounds where they have received extensive training in these areas – and when they arrive at their first church, they need guidance. Right out of the starting gate, ministries can be crippled when godly men are ill-equipped to tend to the quotidian details and processes essential to effective leadership. The pastor who minimizes the importance of practical know-how is foolish.

So you may be surprised that I am enthusiastic about Paul Tripp’s Lead, a leadership book that has little or nothing to say about any of that. The author’s burden is for the “community of leaders” within a church or Christian organization. His crisis counseling experience with individuals and groups is extensive. Frequently, these troubled times have been precipitated by a senior leader’s immaturity or moral failure. The crises don’t rise suddenly – they are a long time in the making. The leadership community gives insufficient attention to their leader’s character and the quality of his relationships, and they have failed to establish a framework that provides nurture and accountability. This is a tragic misstep for both the leader and the institution he serves. Establishing such a framework is a matter of pastoral care. Stated succinctly, “every leader needs to be led and every pastor needs to be pastored” (25). And “every leader needs the ministry of other leaders in order to grow to the kind of maturity that will allow him to lead well over the long term and end well” (194).

At the outset, the author states his desire to demonstrate that “the model for the community that is the church, and most importantly its leadership, is the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (22) In the twelve chapters that follow, Tripp offers twelve principles essential to sustaining this model, principles that summon leadership communities to conduct their work within a framework in which:

  • A leader’s character development is prized more than his achieving organizational goals. Long-term fruitfulness requires the giving and receiving of candid assessments among leaders.
  • A leader’s attitudes and behaviors are those of a servant. His ministry is lived out in the conscious presence of his gracious Savior. An organization occupies dangerous ground when its leader prizes the exercise of power above service.
  • A leader understands his limits: limits of time, energy, and maturity. Every leader has obligations and duties distinct from the organization he serves; those include his callings as a husband and father. Without proper balance, leaders fail. At the same time, the leader must find his fundamental identity in Christ and not in his various callings.

A community of leaders must keep these principles before each other in both group and individual conversations. Designing a framework where honest and timely counsel can be sought and offered is imperative.

The book has many striking sentences. For example, “your leadership community is in trouble if your leaders are more excited about a strategic planning meeting than a prayer meeting” (48), and “the most controlling people I have counseled or worked with have always proven to be the most fearful” (172).

There are probing questions as well, suitably fit for group discussion: “Is there anyone in our leadership community whom we have quit holding accountable because of his ministry effectiveness?” (105). Because this is a book for leadership communities, it will be best read and discussed in that context. I have enjoyed reading my students’ responses to this book and look forward to reading it with my church’s pastoral staff.

Charles Malcom Wingard
Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson