The following blog is a critique of Steven B. Sample’s “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership.”
What is the author’s main purpose in writing this book?
The author’s main “purpose of this book is to get [one] to think about leaders and leadership from a fresh and original point of view – from what [he] likes to call a contrarian perspective . . . just as [one] cannot become an effective leader by trying to mimic a famous leader from the past, so [one] cannot develop [one’s] full leadership potential, or even fully appreciate the art of leadership, by slavishly adhering to conventional wisdom (Sample, 3). He goes on to propose that leadership is incredibly relative and dependent upon the time and place of that surrounds it. The debate continues as to “whether leaders are the architects of history, or history is the architect of leaders” (191). The Scriptures state, “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:42-45, ESV).
What insight from the material will be the most helpful to you in ministry? Why?
The author’s description of between a good leader and an effective leader was the most helpful information to apply to a ministry context. Sample counsels, “Know which hill you’re willing to die on, and realize that your choice may at some point require you to retreat from all the surrounding hills” (190). Often, leaders invest all of their time to articulating “clear and compelling vision; inspiring trust, commitment and self-sacrifice among [their] followers, choosing capable lieutenants; keeping [their] eye on the goal; and pushing themselves and others relentlessly” (107). Yet, goodness is not as easy attribute to distinguish. There was one aspect of his argument that might be called into question. He states, “Once [a leader] knows which hill [they’re] really willing to die on, keep it to [oneself]. If [they] as a leader reveal to everyone the areas of moral behavior on which [they] are absolutely unwilling to compromise under any circumstances, [their] adversaries will almost surely use this knowledge to ensnare or undermine [them]” (112). This is the ongoing tension between the attempt to be transparent before one’s followers and the necessity to protect oneself from adversaries.
That being said, leaders could and should learn from those who surround them – namely those who hold differing experiences and ideas. The author suggests, “From time to time it is necessary for a leader to forthrightly condemn a colleague’s or a follower’s beliefs as being morally repugnant and just plain wrong. But almost as frequently, the contrarian leader will find that one’s own beliefs are being reshaped in part by the differing moral views of those around them” (118). This is why it is crucial for churches to have a solid leadership pipeline beginning with new converts. Often it is the new believers who have a fresh perspective and fervent passion for the mission of God.
What idea(s) in the material do you struggle with? Why?
One of the most difficult ideas to apply that arose from this material was when Sample proposes, “Listen first, talk later; and when you listen, do so artfully” (189). This skill demands that the listener looks for ways to pull out supplementary particulars, precious content, and shows ongoing discernment. Sample suggests, “Active listening, with relevant and probing questions, can help the leader find out if the speaker is being slipshod or meticulous in his reporting, and can create an atmosphere of accountability in which the speaker realizes he is expected to offer defensible information rather than mere pontification” (28). Along with, a leader must “know when to stop listening. At some point the leader must either make a decision himself or delegate it to someone else, and then move on” (31). One might either error on the side of acting too quickly or in the other extreme of not acting quickly enough. One might indeed wait far too long to act – being caught up in the endless cycle of processing, planning and preparing.
Along with, leaders must foster a climate of collaboration while simultaneously maintaining a clear leadership structure. In other words, under this rubric, everyone in the organization is free to communicate directly with everyone else in the organization, with the explicit caveat that any and all commitments, allocations, and decisions will be made strictly through the hierarchy” (32). The point leader needs to be willing to listen to the creativity and convictions of those on their team – but they must also carefully and continually guard the vision of the organization. To balance between the two takes a considerable amount of trust and humility on behalf of all who make up the team.
What results do you believe would occur following the implementation of this philosophy in the typical Pentecostal/charismatic church? Why?
One quotation from the book that was particularly important was when Steven B. Sample states, “Experts can be helpful, but they’re no substitute for your own critical thinking and discernment” (189). Church leaders have to continually wrestle with the tension of building a bridge between biblical truth and cultural relevancy. They can often get caught up in the trap of being recent – where they watch all of the right movies, read all of the right books, and go to all of the right places – and yet they fail to bring any discernment or transformation into the process. Sample writes, “It isn’t just the text of a news story that can mislead us; it’s also the choice of which stories get covered at all, and by whom, and where they’re placed in the paper, and whether or not a particular story is accompanied by photographs, and if so, by how many and which ones” (62). Each leader has to decide what portion of their calendar they will dedicate to study and what type of literature they will indeed read during that time (67). He goes on to suggest, “But failing to make conscious choices about to read is one of the worst things a leader can do. It’s far better for him to make than it is to permit bestseller lists, editors, or literary critics to make his choices for him” (70).
Along with, communicators of the gospel are largely responsible for the task of equipping and engaging their congregation in the spiritual discipline of discernment. They should find ways to share with the people ways that they wade through the changes and challenges of the surrounding culture. This also will play into what is shared and what is not shared form the Scriptures, whether the series are largely topical or textual, felt-need or unfelt-need, and how the series are branded or not branded.