“A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders” by Reggie McNeal

Posted: December 6, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, Pastoral Ministry
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This book only has two sources that are cited.  And, one of those sources is Reggie citing himself.  By the author’s own admission, this book is not strictly academic or exegetical.  There are plenty of moments when I wish that McNeal used sources to firm up his argument and be more theologically concise.

The book starts by tracing the lives of four biblical leaders: Moses, David, Paul, and Jesus.  By outlining their story, McNeal attempts to highlight the factors of influence that God used to shape each leader spiritually.  He concludes that there are six elements that shape spiritual leaders: culture, call, community, communion, conflict, and the commonplace.

Culture is the environmental factors that have shaped a person: socio-economics, time in history, geography, language.  These inevitably shape the earliest and most fundamental parts of each person.  Culture can have both positive and negative elements.  Regardless, culture has a profound impact that shapes people.  In order to “transcend” one’s culture so that it does not become a hindrance, the leader must understand where they come from, where they stand, and where they are going while taking others along with them.

The call ignites within the person a sense that God has something special planned for them.  It is both a matter of being and doing.  According to McNeal, this goes beyond the general calling that is issued to every believer.  Rather, it is a life of service to God for the Body of Christ, which is the Church.  But, how this is played out can be multi-faceted, ever-changing, and unconventional.  Most importantly, our calling should always be directed back to God, not toward ourselves or others.

Community suggests that we are not created or matured in a vacuum.  We are created as communal creatures and we are shaped as communal creatures.  No pastor is an island unto themselves.  This recent generation has recognized its need of community, despite the fact that they are often over-extended and isolated.  There is a drive to work in teams and in community, which is actually healthier and theologically grounded.  Pastors more than ever need genuine community.

Communion deals with our relationship with God.  As one of my pastors used to tell me, without the Spirit’s presence we are dry, dusty bones.  There may seem to be life on the outside, but on the inside it’s a different story.  Eventually, that lack of communion with God becomes evident.  Not only is this true in the life of the leader but in the community that is being shepherded by the leader.  God initiates, guides, sustains, and accomplishes the work of ministry, we are simply called to respond to God’s leading.  To be a minister is to be called to be a vessel of God’s grace.  That is our primary responsibility.  Without the Spirit’s anointing, ministry quickly becomes joyless and a burden.  Ministry turns into program rather than progress.

Conflict attends every leader.  Sometimes it is the result of poor decisions and sometimes it is simply because we work in the midst of broken people.  Good leadership learns to weather these situations with God’s empowering.  McNeal suggests 8 strategies for dealing with conflict: get over it, choose your pain, examine your critics, look in the mirror, get good advice, be kind and honest, forgive, and make a decision.  Conflict can be used by God to shape us into the leaders He desires.  We are called simply to respond in faithful obedience.

Commonplace refers to the ordinary routines of life.  That is the crucible of life, not merely the extraordinary moments.  The daily decisions we make shape our character for those defining moments of trial and difficulty.  McNeal suggests four habits that help shape our character daily: look for God, keep learning, say yes to God, and stay grateful.  By doing each of these things in ordinary moments, we are trained to do them in extraordinary moments.

Overalll, I thought this book was insightful and helpful.  It made me wrestle again with my calling where I am at now.  Not being in too big of a hurry, but allowing God to shape me in the daily routine of life was a helpful reminder.  This book was not full of novel concepts, but highlighted things that we need to be constantly reminded of in our ministry.  In some ways, McNeal seemed to stretch the Biblical story in ways that it isn’t necessarily intended, overall he was faithful to the heart of Scripture and provided some good basis for his argument.  I would recommend this to other pastors to be reminded that leadership isn’t simply about learning the latest trends in ministry, but it really is a “work of heart.”

  1. Leonie Cooksley says:

    What a timing for any subject on hearts of leaders – we all need this. So many of us are just concentrating on leadership as our “job” not our spiritual, caring calling as Jesus did. Many titles today given leaders are taken by them as their assignments but they forget they are dealing with eopl, God’s people and Jesus’ lambs. God Bless. Let’s hear more – Leonie

    • levicjones says:

      Thanks for your comment, Leonie. A pastor is more than a job, it is a calling. It is always a good reminder for us that we are first and foremost called to love God with all that we are. If we are not connected to the Vine, we lose the life-giving vitality of the Spirit in our lives and ministry.

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