Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church

Written by Paul David Tripp Reviewed By Jeremy M. Kimble

Perhaps it is due to the ubiquitous nature of media in our current culture, but the number of ministers who are disqualified from ministry for one reason or another seems to have proliferated in recent days. As leaders in the church it seems this is a needful time to step back, reflect, and assess with our leadership teams the effectiveness of our “ministry success rubric.” Whether we are hiring new pastoral staff for our local church or simply striving for the health of our current church ministry team, there must be a unified, biblical path laid out for long-term spiritual maturity and ministry effectiveness.

Paul Tripp is a well-known author, pastor, and counselor who has written on myriad topics. His latest book Lead—which serves in many ways as a sequel to his earlier book Dangerous Calling (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012)could serve as a tremendous tool for pastors and churches alike, if we are willing to sit and listen, and apply what is being said. And this needs to happen because we need to see health and growth in our church leadership communities, not disfunction and disrepair.

Early in the book Tripp says, “I want to turn your thinking toward the foundational character and lifestyle of a healthy church leadership community” (p. 18). Additionally, he states, “The focus of this book is the specific call of the gospel on the way we think about leadership” (p. 29). Tripp shares some of his own stories of failure, as well as the many ways he has seen God’s providence in ministry settings. He also writes about situations where he has been called upon for counsel. Many will find these stories chilling to read, either because the scenarios he describes strike too close to home, or because the dangerous patterns he lays out could even now be seen in your church leadership community.

While not always needful in a review of this nature, it seems worthwhile to list out Tripp’s chapter headings, which consist of a key term regarding church leadership and then a succinct principle. This takes the leader to the heart of the book.

Chapter 1: Achievement—A ministry community whose time is controlled by doing the business of the church tends to be unhealthy.

Chapter 2: Gospel—If your leaders are going to be tools of God’s grace, they need to be committed to nurturing that grace in one another’s lives.

Chapter 3: Limits—Recognizing God-ordained limits of gift, time, energy, and maturity is essential to leading a ministry community well.

Chapter 4: Balance—Teaching your leaders to recognize and balance the various callings in their life is a vital contribution to their success.

Chapter 5: Character—A spiritually healthy leadership community acknowledges that character is more important than structure or strategies.

Chapter 6: War—It is essential to understand that leadership in any gospel ministry is spiritual warfare.

Chapter 7: Servants—A call to leadership in the church is a call to a life of willing sacrifice and service.

Chapter 8: Candor—A spiritually healthy leadership community is characterized by the humility of approachability and the courage of loving honesty.

Chapter 9: Identity—Where your leaders look for identity always determines how they lead.

Chapter 10: Restoration—If a leadership community is formed by the gospel, it will always be committed to a lifestyle of fresh starts and new beginnings.

Chapter 11: Longevity—For church leaders, ministry longevity is always the result of gospel community.

Chapter 12: Presence—You will only handle the inevitable weakness, failure, and sin of your leaders when you view them through the lens of the presence, power, promises, and grace of Jesus.

Tripp rightly points to such things as theological acumen, biblical knowledge, ministry achievement, or social popularity and rightly asserts that these are not necessarily indications of spiritual maturity. We need to hear this, as many leadership communities in local churches prize these and other such items but never really get to the heart of one another’s spiritual health.

Another great strength of the book is the relentless onslaught of diagnostic questions contained throughout. Assertions are frequently made, but the author puts his counseling prowess to work and asks heart-level penetrating questions meant to cause the read to pause and reflect. This is also a great reason why this book should be read and discussed in community.

In these kinds of ways Tripp puts the gospel to work in the life of a leader in ways that may be new or seldom used. For example, in addressing the issue of longevity, Tripp speaks of four key principles: consideration, confession, commitment, and change (pp. 204–5). In other words, the gospel will always work to remind us of who we are in Christ and transform us into the likeness of our Savior, all in community. Our functional theology at times does not match up with our confessional theology, and we need to remind ourselves of the grace of God and how it impacts our identity and output. Knowing who we are and whose we are steers us away from typical ministry idols toward the arms of a loving God who works through us in the lives of others while he continues to work in us.

These gospel principles for leadership in the church provide clear areas of focus for the ministry leader. One area that I would love to see more detail about—and we apparently will, as Tripp says he is writing a book in this area (p. 190)—is that of restoration. Tripp walked a careful line of encouraging leadership communities to not simply discard fallen pastoral leaders, while not simply brushing aside their sinful patterns. However, this leaves a great degree of margin in the middle that could receive further specification. Can ministers be restored to full-time positions every time? Some of the time? How does one decide? When does a church know they need to part ways with a ministry leader? The intensity of such questions will only grow as cases of a disqualifying nature will always be with us. As such, I look forward to seeing what Tripp offers readers in his forthcoming work on this topic.

There is a great degree of wisdom packed into the 231 pages of Lead. Readers will be helped in numerous ways to reconsider the kind of business that is covered within leadership meetings. There is no doubt that church leaders must speak to matters of care, counseling, strategy, vision, and decisions of various kinds, but all of this must be couched in a community that is actually, demonstrably and effectively seeking one another’s spiritual good.

Jeremy M. Kimble

Jeremy Kimble is associate professor of theology at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.

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