Review of the Book of Leadership
Author: John MacArthur
By Gary Takahashi
MacArthur’s purpose in writing this book was not to target church leaders alone but all believers period. He makes it clear that all believers in every kind of leadership imaginable are called to be spiritual leaders, whether he is the manager of the widget factory, the football coach, or a public school teacher (vi). He also points out that the kind of leadership that Scripture promotes is not one that is about management style or technique — the kinds that are being touted by the church growth advocates (vii). Instead, Scripture stresses that true spiritual leadership consists of character. Therefore, MacArthur sets out to examine leadership principles that are found in the life of the apostle Paul to see how we may exemplify them in our own lives. There are 26 such principles in all and they can be found throughout the chapters, highlighted in boxes. They can also be found in a numerical list in the appendix (p. 209).
The first chapter centers around Paul’s experience in Acts 27, when he was shipped from Caesarea to Rome in order to be tried in Caesar’s court. He was being kept under guard by a Roman centurion, named Julius. What is extraordinary about Luke’s narrative is the fact that Julius was so kind to Paul that he allowed him to leave the boat in order to receive medical care. If Paul would’ve used this as an opportunity to escape, Julius would’ve paid with his life. MacArthur concludes that there can only be one reason why he would permit such a thing and that was because he trusted Paul. This leads to his first principle of leadership, that a leader is trustworthy (p. 10). He makes the accompanying statement, “When people are convinced you will do everything in your power for their good and nothing for their harm, they’ll trust you…A true leader is someone who demonstrates to everyone around him that their interests are what occupy his heart” (p. 12).
The second, third and fourth chapters are also devoted to Paul’s experience in Acts 27, and how he took the initiative in leading the men aboard the ship to safety. He highlights Paul’s ability to take control of the situation aboard the ship, even though he had no authority whatsoever to do so (p. 20). He was the low man on the totem pole so to speak, and yet he had the captain, the pilot and even the centurion following his directions. MacArthur also does a good job in pointing out the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility (p. 50). This section certainly stresses the kind of leader Paul was, and how he could handle a tough situation with a calm reliance upon God.
Chapters five through nine are basically a short survey of 2 Corinthians, specifically detailing Paul’s defense of his apostleship and how he handled some of the major threats to his leadership. Through the many difficulties he had to deal with due to the influence of false teachers, we see the real heart of Paul and how he loved the Corinthians despite the defection of some. We also see something of his humility, that even when defending himself against the false accusations he is careful not to sound as if he’s boasting (see chapter 6). He himself realized that he was nothing more than a clay pot (see chapter 7). He was ordinary, expendable, but yet sturdy and useful.
Chapters ten and eleven are geared specifically towards pastors and elders. Chapter 10 is particularly sobering as it deals with the issue of ministerial disqualification. Based on Paul’s warning in I Corinthians 9:27, MacArthur concludes that a lack of self-discipline is often to blame for the moral failures of pastors/elders (pp. 145-48). That chapter is therefore dedicated to discipline and consequently how not to be disqualified in your ministry. Included in this chapter are MacArthur’s own practical suggestions that will help cultivate self-discipline, suggestions that are useful for all leaders (pp. 154-59). MacArthur stresses the fact that men of integrity are hard to find these days and it seems as though the Church has lowered the standards as a result. Though he doesn’t mention either men by name, he points to the cases of pastor David T. Moore and David Hocking for substantiation (p. 162). These were two high profile pastors who were involved in moral failure and yet both were back pastoring a short time thereafter [the latter was a good friend of MacArthur’s at the time]. But even though these two chapters are written with pastors and elders in mind that doesn’t mean they are irrelevant for laymen. After all, as MacArthur points out, “What the pastor and elders are to be is the model for all Christians. And the principles that are true of leaders in the church are also good principles for every Christian in any position of leadership to apply” (p. 161).
I found MacArthur’s book to be quite stimulating as I examined myself in light of what I was reading. Its not that what I read was new but it was fresh, and a good reminder of the character traits that I must seek to inculcate in my life. Those who read a good deal of John MacArthur books will recognize some of the material here has been repeated elsewhere, but when you put out as much material as he has over the years, some overlap is inevitable. As all of MacArthur’s books, it gives you much to think about in terms of how you are living and where you are falling short. If striving to be a godly leader is your pursuit, this book is worth your time.