A Brief Review of
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
There is one popular category of books from which I have yet to review any books – the leadership book. Who knows how many books on leadership have been published in the last year… certainly hundreds, maybe thousands? I know I’ve received at least a dozen review copies of new leadership books in the last six months, all unsolicited and all ended up unreviewed and were donated or recycled. But when I saw that Shane Claiborne – a noted young writer, activist and founding partner of The Simple Way Community in Philadelphia – and John Perkins – an esteemed African-American Christian who was active in the civil rights movement and later founded the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) – had written a book together on leadership (and following), my interest was piqued and I knew that I would have to read and review it. Both master storytellers, Shane and John collaborate together in Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following as An Ordinary Radical, to paint a balanced picture of leadership as a necessary part of the life of the church community. Before I go any further, I must warn you that Follow Me to Freedom is not a typical book; it is a collection of conversations between John and Shane (edited down from one or more larger conversations), and it has a wonderfully refreshing conversational feel to it. The wisdom that the authors share here is down-to-earth, recognizing many dangers that come along with leadership. John and Shane cover many qualities of leadership that we see manifested throughout scripture: e.g., vision, justice, prayer, etc. However, there are some parts that might come as a surprise to some evangelical readers, like a chapter on civil disobedience (which really isn’t all that surprising given the activism in which both authors are involved). I was particularly struck by Shane and John’s emphasis on the practice of stability (the commitment to being rooted in a place) as one of the highest virtues of leadership. John says:
We need the stability that comes from putting down roots. We get so many of these volunteers. We get so many people who are coming really just to look at you, to prepare to go look somewhere else. They’re looking for God … this has taken them from place to place and eventually to us. Many of them give their lives for a few years and then move somewhere else. I don’t blame them for moving on, but the fact of the matter is that it creates instability for us and the community – especially the children (161-162).
The authors are also not afraid to tackle the tricky dimensions of race in leadership. Shane observes:
I think a lot of white guys get to be leaders because they’re white guys, not because they’re leaders. A lot of books sell, not because they’re good, but because they’re marketed well and have money behind them. That’s not the way Jesus did things. … We – especially we men and we white folks from backgrounds of “so-called privilege”… – need to take creative risks to make room for other leaders and voices. It’s certainly not that women or people of color are not good leaders or dynamic communicators, … [it’s] that we haven’t been careful enough, and humble enough, and creative enough to make sure every voice is at the table (76-77).
Yes, Follow Me to Freedom is not your typical leadership book, and as a result if we will take its message seriously, we might just be formed a little bit more into the image of Christ, the sacrificial servant leader, who came to lead us out of the bondage of sin and into the freedom of God’s shalom, for which we were created!
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com