Book review: Forward
Forward: 7 Distinguishing Marks for Future Leaders, by Ronnie W. Floyd, is a cheery sketch of a gifted pastor’s judgment about the future of pastoral leadership in the context of a rapidly culture and crusty tribalism within the church and without.
Floyd, author of more than 20 books, is a prominent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, once having served as its president. He is the Senior Pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, a podcaster, the General Editor of LifeWay’s Bible Studies for Life Curriculum, and Strategist for SEND North America.
Written for those who in positions of influence and leadership in the local church, Forward sketches the seven leadership characteristics future leaders need to cultivate:
1. Forward truth: Anchored in the truth of God’s Word.
2. Cross-Generational: Connecting to all generations.
3. Futuristic thinker: Always looking ahead and preparing for what might be.
4. Culturally sensitive: Aware of how people differ by culture.
5. Growing teachability: Remaining teachable in life and in leadership.
6. Compelled by passion: See what other see, hear what others hear, and feel what other’s feel.
7. Driven by something more: Called to a higher purpose.
Several features suggest that this gentle volume is more of an attempt to mentor younger pastors rather than a scholarly attempt at prognostication. The book’s diminutive size (five-by-seven inches), length (194 pages), breezy voice, and irenic tone gave me the sense that this is a seasoned pastor, a man passionate about the future of God’s mission in a topsy turvy world, offering wisdom and guidance to a protégé. Read within that framework, it is refreshing and encouraging, salted with wisdom and guidance.
At one point the author does brush up against new ground.
A bit of backstory is needed to set the stage for this near miss. The vast literature on leadership within a church context mostly consists of “here’s what to do” books. Taken as a whole, the majority of works on Christian leadership might best be summarized as being focused on best ministry practices—they tell us what pastors and churches ought to do.
There is a paucity of work and research that focuses on “here’s how to do it.” This is an area of much greater need because every reader will face a unique set of challenges in implementing the suggestions in the “here’s what to do” literature. My colleagues and I have made a brief foray into a relatively new field of fitting these prescriptions to the unique personality profile and ministry context of each pastor. (See Pastor Unique. It is reviewed here by Brian Thorstad.)
Forward brushes up against the distinction between best ministry practices (what to do) and best leadership practices (howto do it) on pages 144-145.
As the culture, people and leadership have changed, we have also been required to change. Influential leaders who are effective over the long term have had to alter their leadership style dramatically. Sometimes, this has happened slower than needed and usually with pain.
I can assure you, this has been a journey for me. What many of us struggle with is not doing the wrong thing, but doing the right thing in the wrong way.
Indeed! The challenge most pastors face, at least those whom I have had the privilege of serving, is knowing how to do the right thing. How does a pastor who prefers a quiet, predictable work environment deal with the constant interruptions that typify a growing church? Or how does a pastor who prefers a slow, consensus building approach to leadership guide a church going through rapid transition? Understanding these challenges and creating compensatory leadership behaviors is the crying need of those pastors who lead stagnant and declining churches in America today.
Floyd has pinpointed the problem—most pastors don’t know the right way to do the right thing!
In summary, Forward breaks no new ground. It does not contribute new ideas to the growing body of leadership literature within the Christian community. However, it is a warm and loving guide to pastors starving for the wisdom and guidance of a seasoned, successful pastor. I suggest you purchase the book, go through it with a highlighter to mark the pearls of wisdom, dog-ear those pages and scan it often throughout the year.
An experienced ministry leader, writer and educator, Bud Brown is co-founder of Turnaround Pastors and co-author of the ground-breaking Pastor Unique: Becoming A Turnaround Leader. He is a change leader in many venues — small rural, upscale suburban and mega-sized churches. He brings special expertise to change leadership in the local church, mentoring pastors to become revitalization leaders, training churches how to find and recruit the best talent, and training leadership teams how to achieve their shared goals. Bud also trains pastors in conferences, workshops and coaching sessions.
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