This review first appeared on The Gospel Coalition’s excellent new book review site, tgcreviews.com. Thanks to Mike Pohlman and John Starke for the great job they are doing there.
Leaders Who Last. Crossway/RE:LIT, 2010. 155 pages.
Not another book on leadership! Yes and no. Yes, it is another book on leadership; but no, not just another book on leadership. This is an exceptional book on leadership, especially on pastoral leadership, and easily finds a place in my top three leadership books.
What stands out is Dave Kraft’s experience. The book exudes the maturity of Kraft’s 70 years of life, 50 years of following Christ, and 40 years of Christian leadership. It is a book written from the realistic trenches of long Christian service, and bears the unmistakable stamp of a humble Christian man who longs to leave a valuable legacy of leadership wisdom to the Church of Christ. As a taster, how about this for his definition of a leader:
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.
Kraft begins by identifying a major problem: only 30% of leaders last, or finish well. But instead of mistakenly concluding, “See, the church should not have leaders,” Kraft’s biblical premise is, “that you can learn how to be a good leader and finish your particular leadership race well.”
Kraft distances his approach to leadership from the business and marketing model. But he also “warns” that his book is not a “Successful Leaders in the Bible” survey. Rather it is “a personal and extremely practical account of essential leadership principles I have learned and used…a simple, down-to-earth guide to Christian leadership.” However, it is not just a nostalgic meander of inspirational personal anecdotes. It is a tightly and clearly structured book in three sections.
The first covers the leader’s foundations. Kraft uses a memorable hub illustration to show how Jesus Christ is the foundation of the leader’s power, purpose, passion, priorities, and pacing. In the chapter dealing with the leader’s purpose, Kraft relates how, in the office of his daughter’s high school counselor, he read a motto that was to change his life: “Some people come into our lives and quietly go. Others stay awhile, and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.” That produced a prayer in Kraft’s heart, “Lord, make me a person who leaves footprints in people’s lives. I don’t want to be a person who comes and goes with no lasting impact. Because of contact with me, may people never be the same again. May I be a person who intentionally and lastingly influences others.” And that prayer birthed Kraft’s purpose statement: “To leave footprints in the hearts of God-hungry leaders who multiply.”
The second main section is the leader’s formation. Here Kraft deals with calling, gifts, character, and growth. These chapters demonstrate Kraft’s ability to combine the inspirational with the practical. Some books are inspiring, but you walk away thinking, “That’s amazing….eh, what do I do now?” Other books are so full of step-by-step formulas that you slump defeated and powerless before you even take step one. Kraft is both inspirational and practical. He motivates and empowers, but also leads you through the steps required to turn aspiration into reality.
The third is the leader’s fruitfulness, and this is where Kraft demonstrates the immeasurably huge potential of godly leadership to impact and influence the rising generations. So often leaders can get bogged down in day-to-day administration and crisis management, but Kraft calls us to look much further than the horizon of today, this week, or even this year. He challenges leaders to pour their lives into future leaders: exhort the eager beginner, empower the struggling learner, encourage the cautious contributor, entrust to the independent learner.
The only danger here is that some might focus so much on developing future leaders that they neglect the sheep who will never be shepherds, and ignore the cries of the lost sheep in the wilderness. I know this is not Kraft’s intention, but I have seen this happen when men begin to focus exclusively on their leadership legacy.
With that caveat, I will certainly be adding this book to the required reading in my Leadership course at Puritan Reformed Seminary. In fact, I can see myself re-writing my course and using this as my textbook!
But this book is for far more than seminary students. Kraft would like to see the book in the hands of Sunday school teachers, small-group leaders, volunteer leaders and pastors at all levels of leadership. And even teenagers can profit from this book. How do I know? Well, a couple of Sundays ago I tried an experiment. When we come home from church on Sunday morning, I usually read a Christian biography with my two sons (age 12 and 14). Like all Christian fathers I long to see my sons not only come to faith in Christ and follow Him, but also to become strong pillars in Christ’s Church. So, instead of reading them a biography, I read Leaders who Last to see how they would respond. And they were captivated. We got up to page 47 before their concentration began to wander. They had great questions and conversation continued through Sunday lunch. We will finish it in the coming weeks.
It’s been a long time since I have read such a well-written and well-edited book. With hardly a wasted word, a lifetime of profound leadership wisdom has been packed into 150 pages. You can probably read it in a few hours, but you will read it again…and again. It has the potential to change the rest of your life. And, hopefully, through you many other lives will be changed too – both for time and eternity.
I’ve never met Dave Kraft, and probably never will this side of eternity. But he is one of those rare authors who, after reading, you feel that you not only know them, you love them too!