The Gift (Book Review)

We’ve just been through birthday and anniversary season and I admit it, I like presents. When people get all sniffy about the wrapping and trimmings of Christmas and the importance of getting back to basics I have to admit that I enjoy all that stuff. And to be clear, it’s not just that I like receiving free things (though being from Yorkshire I never complain), I enjoy giving, the process of hunting out something special that will be just what the receiver needs and wants (and despite my usual aversion to shopping I don’t think online ordering quite hits the spot). I like seeing people receive and open their presents it’s great to see the joy on their faces and sometimes amusing to watch the polite hiding of disappointment or confusion too.

Chris Green’s latest book is a gift to the church. It’s a gift about a particular gift, the gift of leadership. Chris is well qualified to write on this subject not just as an experienced pastor but a trainer of pastors and leaders too.  In the book Chris references his Advanced Christian Leadership course as one of the most enjoyable aspects of his time at Oak Hill. I can confirm that it was as enjoyable for the students as it was for the teacher -and of course informative and helpful too.

The Gift is divided into two parts. In the first half, Chris asks “Who needs leaders?” It’s an important question to ask, our cultures are increasingly egalitarian and in that this encourages equality and mutuality that’s a good thing but suspicion of hierarchy can also lead to a rejection of authority. That’s not surprising given the horrific track record of prominent leaders, secular and Christian in recent years with reports of emotional, spiritual, sexual and physical abuse being far too common.  Our politicians and cultural leaders have failed us, so too our church leaders it seems.

Chris’s starting point is to show that Tyranny and anarchy are not opposites but twins united in their rejection of God’s rightful order.[1]  Scripture tells the story of how God brings order instead of chaos – this goes back to the foundations of creation in Genesis. There are of course men who rise up in sinful pride to lead but there are also those chosen after God’s heart, we have Saul but we also have David.  The temptation to tyranny can be seen in Rehoboam choosing the foolish advice of his peers over the godly wisdom of Solomon’s advisers but tyranny’s twin shows up in Jeroboam’s anarchical rebellion.

So in church life we see both the problem of an anarchical church (think the problems that Titus encounters on Crete)  and “peacock” pastors who love themselves and money. Titus is offered a simple corrective to both of these. The church needs teachable leaders who are godly in the home but not tyrannical lording it over their family and church.

Chris goes on to point us to Jesus as unique King “The Messiah without a messiah complex” Jesus is both unique in his rule over us and an example of how to lead.  First of all because he offers an example or model, we are asked whether we will lead like the Gentiles or serve like him?[2]  Secondly because he is unique we are reminded that Jesus as the actual current living leader who rules his church through his word and through his Spirit.  This has implications for how we handle Scripture. It’s not just a source book to raid but the means by which our leader talks with us. As Chris says:

“You’ll have been expecting a lot about the Bible in a book like this, and that is appropriate. But I cannot emphasize enough that we’re not referencing the Bible just as a checklist or as source material, or for a decent phrase or quote. The Bible we’ve been exploring together is the sharp, double-edged sword of Jesus.”[3]

Jesus not only leads through his Word and his Spirit but further:

“Jesus leads all of his church, through the Word-based ministry of some of his gifted, Spirit-filled servants”[4]

Each of us is “a minister of the Holy Spirit”

“But with that guardrail in place, we can identify a narrower truth, that God identifies, equips and uses some people for a particular role. ‘Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:11–12). Some specific gifts exist to enable all the gifts to flourish” [5]p58

This sets us up for part two as Chris focuses in on what the gift of leadership is in the church.  First we see that there are two linked or overlapping gifts required for elders.[6] Some people are able to lead well through management gifts, to be able to organise, plan, structure, inspire others are able to handle God’s Word well in teaching but for those in pastoral leadership these gifts overlap.  An elder is one who leads well through the effective teaching of God’s Word.

This links into something else that is important too.  We are invited to look at 2 Timothy 3 and see how Paul compares himself to his opponents. It is not just that the message is different as they bring a false gospel but also his methods are different too.  Message and method both matter as people look at the content of our lives to see if it aligns with the content of what we are saying. I think this point is particularly challenging to our time. Conservative Evangelicals have often focused heavily on the importance of orthodoxy but how have we done at encouraging orthopraxy?  We are quick to write books and blogs about what this or that Christian has got wrong and to denounce them as heretics but has our methodology in exposing the error been fitting for those who claim to speak for Christ?

Often the problem is not that we get the message wrong but as we see in 3 John we become motivated by competition.  So Chris reminds us that true wisdom true wisdom and wise leadership through the way of the cross.

As you would expect from Chris, the book is full of helpful practical wisdom.  He also won’t allow you to sit passively, there’s summary points and discussion questions at the end of each chapter.  There’s even a fill in the boxes Bible study at one point! 

The sections are punctuated by a short story which one suspects is loosely based on Chris’s days at Oak Hill. The story of a group of former students battling with their struggles in ministry and returning for a study day is introduced at the beginning, middle and end.  And this is where my two very minor criticisms come in. First I’m not sure that the story hooks so well into the rest of the book. Perhaps it would have been better to interweave it in more closely with each chapter. 

Secondly, the narrative focuses on professional clergy, pastors, vicars and youth workers.  This might give the impression that the book will be pitched at them. Certainly there is a need for healthy leadership teaching for pastors and the book will provide part refresher for those who benefited from the kind of teaching and training Chris used to deliver at Oak Hill as well as introducing things that others wished they were taught at seminary. However, the pitch of the book seems to be much more at the level of what some might call the lay leadership of churches.  That’s a good thing by the way, elders, deacons, lay readers and church wardens need equipping for their works of service too.  So, if you pick up the book and glance at the introductory story, please don’t put it back down again thinking its just for vicars, it really is a gift for you too.

This is the kind of book that I would encourage leadership teams to get hold of and work through together. It’s also something worth putting into the hands of younger church members both to help them see the place of the leadership gift in the life of the church and also to prayerfully consider what God might be calling them to.

This book is definitely a gift for the church and one that I’m sure will keep on giving. It is available from the 19th August priced £12.74.

[1] Chris Green, The Gift, 22.

[2] Chris Green, The Gift, 52.

[3] Chris Green, The Gift, 56.

[4] Chris Green, The Gift,58.

[5] Chris Green, The Gift, 58.

[6] See  1 Timothy 3 and Titus.

NB. I received a free pre-publication pdf copy of the book for review purposes.

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