Review of ‘Lead So Others Can Follow’ by James T. Bradford

Lead_So_Others_350James T. Bradford, Lead So Others Can Follow: 12 Practices and Principles for Ministry (Springfield, MO: Salubris Resources, 2015).

In the course of my ministry, Jim Bradford has been my boss, mentor, colleague, and friend. So, you will understand what I mean when I say I cannot be “objective” about his most recent book. I am not objective about him. He’s the real deal—a God-centered, Jesus-focused, Spirit-filled leader.

Unsurprisingly, then, I think Lead So Others Can Follow is a great primer on Christian leadership. While my endorsement of the book is colored by my respect for the author, that respect itself grows out of 25 years of observing Bradford’s leadership personally. Montaigne said, “No man is a hero to his own valet,” indicating that some leaders are impressive at a distance but not up close. Bradford is one of a handful of people I know who is impressive at both.

Bradford is an aerospace engineer by training. (One of his congregations printed a T-shirt with the motto, “My pastor is a rocket scientist.”) His analytical skills are evident through the book. He divides the books twelve chapters into four sections titled, respectively, “Spirituality and Servanthood,” “Systems and Strategies,” “Skills and Strengths,” and “Stamina and Stability.” (As the alliteration shows, Bradford is also a memorable preacher.)

There are hosts of books about what might be called the “externals” of leadership, what leaders do. Bradford examines these in the second and third sections of the book. Too little attention is paid to the “internals” of leadership, however—who leaders are. The internals are the focus of the first and final sections. As I look at these sections, I see an emphasis on the health of the leader, his (or her) spiritual, relational, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

Christian leaders—like all leaders—have power, which Bradford defines as “the influence we have and how we use it.” He distinguishes three kinds of power:

  • Positional Power—We have this power by virtue of the title on our office doors and the authority that our roles or positions give us.
  • Possessional Power—We have this power because of something we have that others do not.
  • Personal Power—This power flows out of the trust and respect others have for us. It is influence that is rooted in who we are, based on inner character and proven integrity rather than external position or personal possessions.

Christian leaders might influence their congregations in the short term through the exercise of positional or possessional power. Over time, however, appeals to these kinds of authority fall increasingly on deaf ears. They “push” people into following the leader. Only personal power—a leader’s spiritual authenticity, integrity, and strength of character—“pull” people into a leader’s sphere of influence. The battle for healthy leadership and healthy churches is won or lost by the leader’s cultivation of spiritual, relational, physical, and emotional health.

Bradford has great advice for the “externals” of leadership—oversight roles, strategic processes, staffing criteria, team building, public speaking, change management, etc. In my opinion, though, Bradford’s greatest contribution to the topic of Christian leadership lies in his opening and closing sections on leadership’s “internals.”

I close this review with the closing anecdote of Bradford’s book:

At the 2010 Lausanne III conference in South Africa, a Pentecostal pastor from Kenya told the story of the East African revival of over fifty years ago. During that time, people would walk well-worn pathways to prayer huts and places of intercession in the forest. When Christians slipped away from prayer, their friends would notice by the condition of their paths, and gently encourage each other: “Brother, the grass grows on your path.”

As leaders of God’s people, engaged in spiritual battle and committed to prevailing, our challenge is to never let the grass grow on our pathway to prayer.

Amen to that! And read this book.

P.S. This review originally appeared at

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Review of ‘Inside Out’ by Rich and Robyn Wilkerson

Inside-OutRich and Robyn Wilkerson, Inside Out: How Everyday People Become Extraordinary Leaders (Springfield, MO: Salubris Resources, 2015).

What qualities characterize extraordinary leaders, ones who make a decisive impact on the lives of their followers? Often, we turn to the rich, powerful, and famous to answer these questions, under the assumption that leadership requires prominence of that sort. But as Rich and Robyn Wilkerson point out in their new book, everyday people often make the most extraordinary leaders.

The Wilkersons copastor Trinity Church, a multicultural, Assemblies of God megachurch in Miami, Florida. They also cofounded the Peacemakers Family Center, an innovative, award-winning social service organization ministering to the urban poor. Inside Out is a book about “the why and how of servant leadership,” whose stories and principles are largely drawn from their work in pastoral ministry and social service.

In the book, the Wilkersons identity fifteen traits of servant leaders:

  • Vision
  • Values
  • Faithfulness
  • Acceptance
  • Loyalty
  • Humility
  • Integrity
  • Compassion
  • Encouragement
  • Generosity
  • Respect
  • Mentoring
  • Flexibility
  • Resilience
  • Selflessness

The Wilkersons devote a chapter to each trait. The chapters include examples from the Wilkersons’ personal lives, testimonials from Trinity or Peacemakers members, a biblical reflection, and questions for discussion. Leaders can benefit from reading this book individually, of course, but I also think it can be used profitably with small groups and volunteer teams. A church imbued with these traits will no doubt have a thriving presence in its community.

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Review of ’40 Days of Decrease’ by Alicia Britt Chole

40-days-of-decreaseAlice Britt Chole, 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger, A Different Kind of Fast (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016).

Sometimes, it takes a crisis to force us to think deeply about life, what matters most, what deserves our best efforts.

Alicia Britt Chole (pronounced SHOW-lee) opens her new book with a personal health scare. “A high fever, a few scans, multiple masses, possibly a lethal abcess…the specialists convened, conferred, counseled me to cancel all engagements and began cutting.” Doctors released her from the hospital eight days after surgery. One specialist said, point blank, “At this point, I give you a fifty-fifty chance that the organs will come back online.”

For a woman in the prime of life, with a thriving ministry, a loving husband, and a young family, this crisis wasn’t good news. Looking back, however, Chole wouldn’t trade it for the world. “Little did I know,” she writes, “that the pain was under assignment: it was making room in my life for another operation well beyond the reach of any surgeon’s scalpel.” The Divine Surgeon was operating on her soul.

Christians are rightly concerned with the state of their souls. “We all guard against sins of commission and we are vigilant toward sins of omission,” Chole writes. “But achievements—even in small doses—can make us vulnerable to sins of addition: adding niceties and luxuries to our list of basic needs, adding imaginations onto the strong back of vision, adding self-satisfaction to the purity of peace.”

40 Days of Decrease was written to help us fast such sins of addition in order to see the way of Jesus Christ more clearly. It is an exercise in decluttering the soul. Rather than fasting physical necessities or material luxuries, however, it leads readers in a fast of spiritual and emotional add-ons, such as stinginess, spectatorship, accumulation, revisionism, and escapism.

After a brief Prologue and Introduction, Chole devotes a brief chapter to each of the forty days of the fast. Each chapter contains a devotional based on Jesus’ life, a reflection question, a suggested fast for the day, a sidebar about Lent, a Scripture reading, and a blank page for journaling your thoughts. Chole recommends using the book with a group for better outcomes.

40 Days of Decrease was designed to be used during Lent, the traditional forty days of fasting leading up to Easter observed by Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant churches. As a Pentecostal, I don’t think Lent is obligatory. (Chole also is Pentecostal, and like me, an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God.) I do think, however, that concentrated periods of prayer and fasting are a good idea with ample biblical precedent. Jesus Christ himself observed a forty-day fast at the outset of His ministry (Luke 4:1–2), after all, and we are not better than Him.

Whether you use 40 Days of Decrease at Lent or some other time of year, it is nonetheless a book worth reading and an exercise in fasting worth making.


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Review of ‘When Words Hurt’ by Warren D. Bullock

When_Words_Hurt_350_coverWarren D. Bullock, When Words Hurt: Helping Godly Leaders Respond Wisely to Criticism (Springfield, MO: Salubris Resources, 2016).

Ministers receive more than their fair share of unwarranted affirmation. When was the last time, for example, you launched a stinker from the pulpit but still got a “Good sermon, Pastor!” from one of your congregants on their way out the front door? We get praise we haven’t deserved.

By the same token, we get blame we haven’t deserved too. When was the last time a deacon chewed you out for an expenditure in the church budget, conveniently forgetting that they had voted in favor of it? Or a first-time visitor harrumphed at you because you didn’t immediately indicate agreement with their laundry list of “helpful suggestions” for improving the ministry of your church?

And then, of course, there are the times we received criticism the old fashioned way—by earning it. The neglected pastoral visit at a crucial time in a family’s life. The angry response when a soft word would’ve worked better. You get the idea.

Whether deserved or undeserved, criticism hurts. “Sticks and stones may break my bones,” the old saw goes, but we all know that the second half—“words will never hurt me”—is a lie. Words hurt. Sometimes, they hurt so much they leave permanent scars on our lives and our ministries.

We can’t avoid criticism, but we can choose to respond to it wisely. In his new book, When Words Hurt, Warren D. Bullock helps pastors figure out the right way to respond to criticism, whether it’s wholly undeserved or contains a kernel of truth. Drawing on decades of biblical reflection and pastoral ministry, he shows why grace must lie at the center of our response:

When we are criticized, the person who least deserves grace is the critic. And that is precisely the point. We offer what they don’t deserve in the same way God offers it to us. As grace has liberated us, so responses filled with grace will bring freedom and release to both the criticized and the criticizer.

A good insight from a grace-filled book!


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Review of ‘Love Kindness’ by Barry H. Corey

lovekindness350Barry H. Corey, Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2016).

Few things set off heated arguments on my Facebook timeline like posts about politics. Never in my lifetime have disagreements among friends—well, Facebook “friends”—been so sharp, so heated, so personal, and so deep. Even the language used is extreme: People aren’t just upset, they’re outraged. They don’t just disagree with someone else’s beliefs, they destroy her arguments. They don’t think she’s a nice person in the other political party, they think she’s a fool who belongs to an evil organization. And the vast majority of my friends are Christians!

In Love Kindness, Barry H. Corey writes that Christians’ political aggressiveness is counterproductive. “Our increasingly shrill sounds in the public square are not strengthening our witness but weakening it.” He contrasts aggression (“firm center, hard edges”) with niceness (“squishy center, soft edges”), and concludes that neither should be our objective. Rather, with Micah 6:8 in mind, he urges us to “love kindness,” to combine “firm centers” and “soft edges.” We need, if I could paraphrase his point, both conviction and civility, both good principles and good manners.

Kindness is much more than manners, of course. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). And it keeps company with other virtues, such as humility, hospitality, and authenticity. Christians who want to change the world might keep in mind that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). If we haven’t changed people’s minds, perhaps it’s because we haven’t followed God’s example. Through poignant storytelling, self-deprecating humor, and insightful biblical analysis, Corey points the way to a lifestyle of kindness.

In the final chapter, Corey outlines what loving kindness means in seven statements. He writes, “A firm center and soft edges means…”

  1. …we become more involved in the culturally unfamiliar.
  2. …we are creators of goodness and beauty.
  3. …we approach the growing opposition in our day by leading with humility.
  4. …we fear not when our grace is met with humility.
  5. …we remain even more deeply rooted in biblical faithfulness.
  6. …evangelism is at the heart of why we live this way.
  7. …we need to remember that Christ-centeredness means we will never be marginalized.

If you’re tired of reading (or writing) heated Facebook posts that don’t seem to change anyone’s minds, I encourage you to read Love Kindness. And then to do it.

P.P.S. This review originally appeared at

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