Let me begin by defining "good." It does not necessarily mean "enjoyable," because Robert Clinton is not enjoyable reading. The book is peppered with technical terms entirely of Clinton's design. In other words, in order to describe what he has discovered in his research on leadership, he almost develops a new language to explain what he has found - things like "process items," "boundary events," "gift-mix," ad infinitum! But once you get past the terminology (either by ignoring it, or checking it in the glossary), the book is full of nuggets of insights on Christian leadership.
The Making of a Leader is a "good" book for me because it is an affirmation of what I have always suspected. But because nobody told me, and because nobody has written about it, I could not understand my own struggles, and therefore for many years I remained miserable as I stoically prodded on in Christian ministry and leadership. Now that I am almost "semi-retired," it is at least a vindication of my suspicions that my problems are the most common heritage of all leaders! For younger leaders navigating the treacherous waters of Christian leadership, take heart! A life-buoy is coming your way!
What were some of the problems I faced then in Christian ministry, that I see Clinton's book now addressing? Well, for a start, I looked like a religious job-hopper! In the 15 years of my professional life as a minister, I have served in five churches across three denominations! I have often asked myself, why can't I have a stable career, perhaps like John Stott's - peacefully pastoring one church in his entire life-time and writing fabulous books?! In all those 15 years, I had my share of conflicts. I made mistakes (many of them); I upset people (still do!); often I felt "stuck"; I don't always like those in authority over me, and often have felt betrayed by those whose support I counted on. Sounds familiar?
Clinton's book addresses all of these issues, and more. But it is not essentially a problem-solving text. Despite the title, The Making of a Leader is not a story about any leader. It is a book about how God shapes leaders. And it is a book whose concepts are helpful for those struggling to understand what Christian leadership is about.
For example, there is the idea of a "time-line." God works according to a psycho-spiritual clock if you like, pretty much like how we think of a "biological clock." At certain moments in your life when God decides you are ready, you are launched into a certain "phase" that propels you in a certain direction in God's development programme for you. It is not always possible to figure out God's "scheme." From hindsight, I can see that God in His sovereignty moves me across five churches in a way I would not have agreed to had I been given the choice! God works in mysterious ways.
"Time-line" is only one idea, but a pretty big idea. And there are many others. Things like "ministry conflicts" (quarrelling with co-workers: "unspiritual" you say?) and "leadership backlash" (when your supporters betray you) can be part and parcel of God's training programme for you. So is "isolation": when nobody cares about you!
Gruesome? Not really. There are tips in the book on things like "gift-discovery": how to identify your spiritual gift, based on the "like attracts like" principle. How does it work? Well, read the book for yourself! (What do you expect a book review to do - give you all the answers?!)
And to conclude, there are enticing bits in there that are slightly provocative and controversial, like: "being right is sometimes less important than maintaining a positive relationship"! Did he say that? Yes, and it's on page 106! And there are also tips on how to "finish well," which is something not many Christian leaders do (including book reviewers!). Well, what are you waiting for? Get started!
(Review by Ng Seng Chuan)