Book Review: Wisdom in Leadership by Craig Hamilton

Craig Hamilton. Wisdom in Leadership: The How and Why of Leading the People You Serve. Matthias Media, 2016. 495 pp. $24.99

Do we really need another book on leadership? There is nothing new under the sun. Christian leadership books fill our Christian bookstores. The last thing we could use is another book on leadership, right? Wrong.

Wisdom in Leadership: The How and Why of Leading the People you Serve by Craig Hamilton is about leading yourself, leading others, and leading in Christian ministry. It’s not a theology of church, ministry, or even leadership (p. 18). It’s not a church growth plan or church model recommendation. It’s not a staff structure organization chart or pastoral ministry book. It’s written for “everyone who wants to get better at leading people and is willing to put in the time and effort” (p. 19).

Hamilton wrote the book “to help faithful people grow in their competence and effectiveness as they seek to love and serve the people around them to the glory of the Lord Jesus” (p. 22). He wrote the book to “help you to have conversations about things that were previously only assumed - if they were known at all. The chapters that follow will help you to train people at your church so that everyone in ministry, whether paid or unpaid, can improve and develop” (p. 19).

Six convictions drive the book: (1) theology guys need to be leadership guys who help groups of people organize and achieve things (p. 11); (2) leadership principles and strategies make things easier (pp. 12-13); (3) because of the doctrine of creation, all truth is God’s truth, common grace exists, and so does wisdom (pp. 13-14); (4) we can learn from others’ observation of reality, even atheists and leadership gurus (pp. 15-16); (5) people we serve (leaders) create and lead teams and they struggle and he wanted to help them lead (p. 17); (6) people matter to God and to him (p. 18). “All of these convictions–about how much people matter, to me and to God, and about the importance of equipping ministry leaders with good theological principles and good leadership practices (based on principles embedded within a robust doctrine of creation)–led me to write this book” (p. 18).

What makes this book different than most of the leadership books among those who treasure Bible exposition and biblical theology is that the author gets deep into the practical strategies and methods to lead. Most in reformed circles write about biblical principles, character, theology, or pastoral ministry. There’s another group of evangelical writers who write practical strategies without clear and legitimate connections to theological truths and biblical principles. I’m not aware of another book that tackles this vast array of topics with practical wisdom and sensibility (sections 2-4) while remaining explicitly rooted in the biblical truths and principles of Christian leadership (section 1).

Strengths

Hamilton succeeds in helping improve and develop competence and effectiveness in serving others as a leader. There are 4 strengths that make this leadership book standout is its functional theology, practicality, breadth and brevity.

Functional Theology

Hamilton does not merely assume biblical theology and then run wild with leadership methodology. Theology is the foundation and guide for his leadership thinking. For example, Hamilton states how he differs in worldview from other secular leadership gurus that he learned from: “The major differences I found were the explanations for why people behave in certain ways. While business books assume that people are basically good, I knew that deep inside we’re basically bad, cracked and broken by sin. And business authors almost always assume that the universe is a closed system, whereas I knew that the God who created it also actively sustains it” (p. 16).

To give another example, instead of merely saying that leaders are optimistic, he tells leaders to be “hopetimistic.” He calls leaders to face the brutal facts of your current reality, and ground your hope and positivity in the sovereignty of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then he goes on to explain how those two foundations produce hopetimism in the leader (chapter 25).

His dismantling of all the leadership gurus who misinterpret and misapply Proverbs 29:18 on vision was gold (p. 26)

Practicality

Unlike many books from the more theologically driven side of evangelicalism, this book focuses on practical how-tos. His 6 tips on meetings (chapter 63) are now my guide for my meetings with my church leaders. Shaped by a biblical worldview, almost every chapter was immediately helpful for me. Chapter 32, on protecting new ideas that are brought up to the leadership team in order to see if it can develop into a great idea, was particularly helpful. I, like many, am prone to poke holes in the new idea to say why it’s unnecessary or won’t work. Hamilton gives good reasons why you should protect all ideas and give them a chance while keeping your theological center. Hamilton clobbered me in the head with the truth that everyone already knows my weaknesses so I need to know them, own them, and lead with that self-awareness (chapter 35). I learned that “like everything else in the universe, your systems will decay, fall apart, and generally tend toward chaos” (378). Systems need maintenance, review, and improvement. Even with an emphasis on faithfulness and the health of the church, numbers still impact leadership. “Numbers also matter because different sizes function quite differently. And so you need to make sure you’re using the appropriate research and wisdom for the size of the group you’re leading” (408). In running better team meetings, hellos and goodbyes matter (chapter 72). So be there early to greet people. “Personally greet every person as they arrive, at least saying their name and perhaps shaking their hand… Similarly, at the end of the meeting, making the effort to say goodbye to each person as they leave will again communicate that you appreciate them, their time, and their contributions to the meeting” (445). The book overflows with these helpful thoughts and suggestions.

Breadth

The book covers all the major leadership topics and questions ministry leaders would have. You’ll be hard pressed to find a major leadership topic that he misses. Having the book is like having a mentor at your side to whom you can ask any practical leadership question.

A quick glance at the table of contents shows how each chapter has the leadership topics listed next to the chapter title. This makes it reference friendly. Most of the chapters end with a “see also” section referencing other chapters that cover related issues. He covers over 120 topics on leadership in 67 chapters after the first 11 chapters on biblical and theological foundations of leadership that must also inform the structures built on the foundation.

The 78 chapters break up into 4 sections moving from from biblical leadership foundations to leading oneself to leading others to leading the ministry. The first section on the foundations of leadership discusses the bible, the gospel, prayer, character, servanthood, and many of the theological and spiritual topics and principles you expect to be found in Christian leadership books written from a biblically and theogically-minded author. Section 2 focuses on the leader leading himself covering topics like family, time management, styles of leadership, faithfulness, criticism, and outlook on trials. Helping the leader lead others, the third section covers love, encouragement, training, communication, cultivating ideas, recruitment, humility, delegation, team dynamics. In the last section Hamilton gives wisdom on leading the ministry helping readers think through misssion, vision, purpose, planning, meetings, systems, structures, innovation and creativity, measuring success, and decision-making. Sections 3 and 4 both have a subsection of chapters for those who lead teams of leaders.

Brevity

Though the book clocks in at 495 pages, most chapters are short, pithy, and clear ranging between 2-5 pages. Only 4 chapters hover around 10 pages and 1 chapter is over 20 pages. After introducing the topic he dives straight in to help you think about the topic and then usually include practical pointers before his typical summary conclusion. Jump to the last paragraph if you want his summary of a chapter.

A Weakness

One small weakness is that the author can’t be an expert in everything. With 78 chapters covering every leadership topic I could think of, sometimes I’d find myself thinking of other insights I’ve read or learned on a given topic that are better than the author’s. For example, Hamilton’s chapters on “vision” (chapter 69) were helpful but missing something. He gave a good theological framework to cut through all the hyperbole associated with vision campaigning today, but he did not glean some of the most important practical insights, from someone like Andy Stanley on vision, that could help leaders lead. Many teachers of vision talk about how to make it compelling. It would’ve been helpful to read about that from Hamilton who’s always thinking theologically (unlike Stanley). It’s also too bad there isn’t a Scripture index at the back.

Conclusion

Wisdom in Leadership is more practical and comprehensive than the excellent leadership books by J. Oswald Sanders, Al Mohler, or John MacArthur. The book is more biblically integrated and explicitly theological than the business books and many Christian leadership books that are popular in your average Christian bookstore.

Wisdom in Leadership will be helpful to future leaders but even more helpful to current leaders. Hamilton helped me as a pastor laboring in a church revitalization situation providing me with clarity in many leadership areas I never considered. Therefore, I think all church and ministry leaders should read the book. Leaders in the home and marketplace will also benefit from reading it. Even if you're good at 80% of the topics he covers, you can get better at them. You can improve your meetings, delegation, focus, priorities, communication, encouragement, handling criticism, creativity, ability to listen, etc. Leaders should buy it for their leadership teams and read through various topics and discuss it together and hold each other accountable to improve.

P. J. Tibayan

Pastor-Theologian

Bethany Baptist Church, Bellflower, Southeast Los Angeles, CA