BOOK REVIEW: Learning Leadership from Nehemiah by Dave Kraft. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 84 pages. 2015
I’ve previously enjoyed Dave Kraft’s books Leaders Who Last and Mistakes Leaders Make, and was looking forward to reading his latest book based on the Old Testament character Nehemiah.
Kraft writes that in Nehemiah’s story we see every facet of leadership lived out. He writes that Nehemiah receives a vision from God and then he casts the vision, recruits the vision and works tirelessly to insure the vision happens. In this short book, Kraft focuses on twelve leadership principles he sees in Nehemiah’s life. He includes helpful “Questions to Ponder” at the end of each chapter to stimulate your thinking as you consider your leadership role in light of these principles.
Kraft writes that leadership always begins with God. True spiritual leadership is getting on our heart what God has on His. The first task of leadership is to hear from God and let him form a vision. Kraft writes that if you don’t set the vision, you’re not the leader. Whoever is establishing the vision and goals in your church or team is the real leader. For the Christian leader, God must be the beginning, middle, and end of the vision.
Kraft writes that when a vision is clear, you have a way of measuring progress. When a company, group, team, or church is casting vision, it needs to be as specific as possible.
Kraft states that a leader is a person who is dissatisfied with the ways things are. He has a burden, a vision, and a call to see something different. He wants to see something change, to build a new future. He then begins to communicate what he thinks, and where he wants to go.
He lays out three aspects to leading:
- Who the leader is: Identity
- Where the leader is headed: Inspiration
- How the leader brings others along: Investment
He tells us that anyone who has had a leadership role for any length of time knows that being judged, condemned, or having one’s motives questioned goes with the territory. Unfortunately, in many cases it comes from some of your key people and that’s especially hard to take. But, Kraft states, if everybody likes everything you’re doing, you are probably not doing anything of significant value. Leaders don’t lead and make decisions in order to be popular or appreciated.
Kraft writes that the wise leader confronts people and issues head-on by considering various solutions and then acting prayerfully and decisively. However, many leaders are cowards when it comes to confronting people, especially other leaders. He writes that he has known and worked with leaders who would rather quit and move on rather than confront people.
Kraft writes that it is powerful for leadership to often review what has been happening, both the victories and accomplishments as well as the difficulties. One of the things good leaders do is make a big deal out of victories regardless of the size. People are starving for encouragement and affirmation. Followers are hungry for leaders to express appreciation and affirmation, but seldom hear it.
He also states that leaders are at their best when they are calling followers to their best, not letting them get away with sloppy standards and sloppy living.
A leader should not be afraid to remind people what the organization or group values are and then hold followers accountable for those values.
Kraft states that Nehemiah exemplifies all the best in leadership. He is bold, courageous, confrontational (when it’s called for), and persistent in sticking with what he feels led to do. In his estimation, the book of Nehemiah is the best book of the Bible to study and learn exemplary leadership.
He concludes the book with some suggestions on how to apply what we have learned from these leadership principles seen in the life of Nehemiah. I appreciated this short, but helpful look at leadership principles in the life of Nehemiah.
Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft. Crossway. 2012 128 pages.
Dave Kraft brings over forty-three years of pastoral ministry experience to the table. I had previously read his book Leaders Who Last and was excited to read his latest.
In his new book directed to leaders in Christian ministry, Kraft writes that the focus is on what not to do. He looks at mistakes that almost ensure that we finish poorly or not at all, mistakes that “disqualify” us.
Throughout this book Kraft refers to the experience of Covenant Community Church (CCC). CCC is not a real church but a composite of churches he has worked with in his years of ministry. Although the church is fictitious, the mistakes are not. By revealing the mistakes in this manner, through a fable such as Patrick Lencioni does, it makes the book more interesting. The ten mistakes are:
Mistake 1: Allowing Ministry to Replace Jesus. The first and greatest mistake, which in essence gives birth to all the other mistakes, is not allowing Jesus to have his rightful place in our life and ministry.
Mistake 2: Allowing Comparing to Replace Contentment. In the leadership realm, Kraft writes that comparing yourself or your ministry to others is a huge issue. Be content with who you are, where you are, what you are doing, and what God is doing through you.
Mistake 3: Allowing Pride to Replace Humility. Kraft writes that pride is a difficult issue for leaders to recognize in themselves and even more difficult to deal with. It often hides under the cloak of confidence and conviction. It is the root cause for the undoing and fall of most leaders.
Mistake 4: Allowing Pleasing People to Replace Pleasing God. Kraft writes that you cannot serve God and money, or God and anything else that battles for first place in your time and affections. There is room for only one person when it comes to whom you really serve.
He writes that we need a culture where there is freedom to disagree with others, particularly leaders, to have various points of few, and to be able to express them without fear of reprisal and retribution.
Mistake 5: Allowing busyness to replace Visioning. Kraft writes that true leadership is always forward thinking and forward moving. Leadership is all about taking people from where they are to where they could be, following a desirable God-given vision for the future.
Kraft states that he spends a lot of time coaching leaders around the country. The biggest concern he hears from those on a pastoral team who are not the lead pastor is that their church has no vision for the future, and people are drifting away and loosing heart and motivation. It is not enough for leaders to focus only on the present. They must also plan, think, and dream about what is not yet at hand but what could be—with the grace of God.
Mistake 6: Allowing Financial Frugality to Replace Fearless Faith. Kraft writes that when financial decisions are made, what one person views as faith, by taking somewhat of a risk, someone else views as an act of stupidity or carelessness. He believes that it is the role of the top leadership in a church or organization to cast vision in such a way that the people are excited to step in and step up financially to make it happen. He has come to believe that people give to vision more than to programs or buildings. Where there is visionary leadership there also needs to be good vision casting and fundraising.
He states that what churches generally do when they are in financial trouble or want to do something on a large scale is to hire an organization to work with them over several months on how to raise capital funds. If churches and Christian organizations would adhere to a few simple principles, perhaps they wouldn’t get themselves in dire straits that mandate paying thousands of dollars to hire an outside consultant.
Kraft offers a few basic principles that can help churches avoid unhealthy financial frugality and be in a position to act on biblically based, fearless faith.
Mistake 7: Allowing Artificial Harmony to Replace a Difficult Conflict. Kraft states that constructive conflict is difficult but essential for healthy teams and organizations. Kraft states that what is often lacking is courageous leadership—the willingness to make the tough decisions; the courage to do the right thing, which may not always be the popular thing; and the courage not to plan around the person or the issue. Not knowing how and/or being unwilling to deal with conflict is a major issue that is undermining organizations today.
He offers a few things that help him cope with conflict.
1. Make a commitment before the Lord to face and deal honestly, lovingly, sensitively, and decisively with conflict.
2. Be prepared to confess and ask for forgiveness for your part in causing the conflict.
3. Get all the facts.
4. Do it privately.
We must be aware that replacing difficult conflict with artificial harmony is a serious sin/mistake that can cause real problems within our organizations.
Mistake 8: Allowing Perennially Hurting People to Replace Potential Hungry Leaders. The primary role of a leader is to develop leaders.
Kraft cites John Maxwell’s observation that people with very strong mercy gifts don’t function well in visionary leadership. They don’t want to hurt anybody or make decisions that offend or cause conflict.
Kraft cautions leaders against picking key players on the basis of friendship, business success, or popularity, but rather making choices based on the person’s innate, God-given ability to do what needs to be done coupled with appropriate people skills so as to be a positive and contributing team member.
Kraft refers to Jim Collins’s book Good to Great, in which Collins that we “get the right people on the bus and in the right seats.” Building a good leadership team can be looked at in two stages: (1) Inviting the right people to get on the team bus based on character and chemistry; and (2) Getting the right people in the right seats on the team bus based on competency and capacity.
Mistake 9: Allowing Information to Replace Transformation. Replacing transformation with information is a mistake that some leaders make, and it filters down to the people in the pews.
Kraft states that a good formula to remember is: Information + meditation + repentance + application=transformation.
Mistake 10: Allowing Control to Replace Trust. When trust is missing, it is the beginning of the end of any relationship.
In Leaders Who Last, Kraft wrote about four key responsibilities of a leader – to shepherd, develop, equip, and empower. The more freedom you give people to do their jobs the way they’d like to do them, the more satisfaction they’ll get from their work.
Kraft includes a helpful “Food for Thought” section at the end of the each chapter detailing a mistake helping the reader to go deeper on the material that was just covered.
When preparing to write this book, Kraft compiled a secondary list of mistakes that could be addressed:
• Allowing selfish ambition to replace godly ambition
• Allowing reactive to replace proactive
• Allowing discouragement to replace dreaming
• Allowing teaching to replace training
• Allowing tactical to replace strategic
• Allowing politics to replace principles
• Allowing talking to replace listening
• Allowing careless firing to replace careful hiring
• Allow competence to replace character
• Allowing pornography to replace purity.
He closes by sharing some final thoughts:
1. The more that leaders have their identity and worth in Jesus—who he is and what he did through his cross and resurrection—the less chance there will be to fall into any fatal mistakes.
2. I pray over 1 Chronicles 4:10 most every day for anointing, opportunities, and protection. I ask for protection from lust by praying for purity; pride by praying for humility; greed by praying for contentment; and anger by praying for patience. If I fall into big trouble, it will probably be in one of these four areas.
Although the book is about mistakes leaders make, Kraft states that the book is meant to be a book of hope, not despair. He indicates that God is bigger than our mistakes and will work his plan and purpose in spite of them.
Kraft includes a helpful “Food for Thought” section at the end of the each chapter detailing a mistake.
Leaders who Last by Dave Kraft. Crossway. 2010. 160 pages. Audiobook read by Raymond Todd.
I’m always looking for good resources on leadership. This one is targeted to leaders in ministry who want to finish well. Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll writes the “Forward”. Driscoll knows Kraft well, as Kraft leads leadership development for the Resurgence organization at Mars Hill.
Kraft writes at the beginning: “This book is about finishing your leadership race. It is a marathon, not a hundred meter dash. You will encounter many obstacles and setbacks. But as a leader, your goal is to finish well.”
Kraft brings credibility to the subject. At 70 years old, he has been a Christian for 50 years and has 40 years of leadership experience. He aims to bring the reader “a personal and extremely practical account of essential leadership principles I have learned and used…a simple, down-to-earth guide to Christian leadership”. He quickly states the problem – only 30% of leaders last, or finish well.
He describes a Christian leader as follows: “A Christian leader is a humble, God-dependent, team-playing servant of God who is called by God to shepherd, develop, equip, and empower a specific group of believers to accomplish an agreed-upon vision from God”.
The book is broken into three main sections – the leader’s foundations, formation and fruitfulness. He uses a hub illustration to show how Christ is the foundation of the leader’s power, purpose, passion, priorities, and pacing. In the section on the leader’s formation he deals with calling, gifts, character, and growth. In the section on the leader’s fruitfulness he demonstrates the potential of godly leadership to impact and influence future leaders.
This is a small book with short chapters that include helpful illustrations and quotes from a variety of leaders. One of my favorites and one that I had read before was from former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who said: “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are”.
This book would be good for all types of Christian leaders – pastors, elders, deacons, youth leaders, teachers, small group leaders, etc.