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A Feature Review of
Foundations of Leadership from a
Brian Jensen and Keith Martel
Paperback: Falls City Press, 2015.
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Reviewed by Stephen Milliken
Storied Leadership is a persuasive and multi-layered re-telling of the Christian story through the lens of leadership. Jensen and Martel have an exceptional ability to weave many lessons and themes throughout their narrative tapestry without leaving the reader behind. Uniquely, the telling of the Christian story through the frame of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration echoes in the background of this refection on Christian leadership. The simplicity and depth of their writing establishes Storied Leadership not only as one of the best resources for college students today, but also as an asset in the larger Christian leadership conversation that brings together various Christian themes into a coherent whole.
Storied Leadership not only begins to imagine what leadership might look like when it is shaped – start to finish – by narrative, but it also endeavors to deliver a substantive narrative foundation from which all of Christian leadership emerges. Drawing on diverse resources such as Good Will Hunting, Steven Garber, Suzanne Collins, and Simone Weil to tell their story, what Jensen and Martel suggest is simple: We cannot get Christian leadership right without getting the Christian story right.
Jensen and Martel’s eye for deep thinking as well as practical action in the world are reflected in how they structure the book. The main section of the book focuses on establishing foundational concepts about the Christian story such as our role as cultivators and restorers, experiencing life as gift, and embodying faithfulness, and our role as stewards. In the midst of these narrative themes are themes of leadership such as collaboration and vision.
Cross-stitching the threads of the Christian story with leadership dynamics enables each theme to be strengthened, creating a whole new fabric that is, for Jensen and Martel, epitomized by Walter Brueggemann’s theme of Prophetic Leadership. Attempting a third way between cynicism and naïve optimism, Storied Leadership takes Brueggemann’s prophetic leadership concept and reimagines it within the larger framework of the Christian story and the role of the storied leader: The storied leader helps the community to 1) Remember the Biblical narrative of God’s promise to and providence with His people and 2) Helps to imagine a different future that casts a vision of hope in light of the whole story from creation to eschaton. For Jensen and Martel, Steven Garber’s concept of “making peace with the proximate” sits at the core of the prophetic leaders’ influence. “Making peace with the proximate” means embracing the broken and the imperfection of daily life. As opposed to being shocked by every imperfection or apathetic to any brokenness, proximate leadership is the heart of the third way of the storied leader.
Part two of the book, “Practicing the Story,” provides practical ideas for what Storied Leadership might begin to look like in the flesh. Taking leadership concepts such as vision, networking, expectation, honesty, conflict, and rest, Jensen and Martel begin to give hue and form to these concepts. The simplicity of these practices hints at their fundamental nature as well as keeps them accessible to the reader. The authors’ wealth of practical wisdom begins to tell its own story of the many years of leadership training and development from which this book emerged.
All in all, Storied Leadership makes a compelling case for taking the time to establish a proper foundation and understanding of the Christian story – insight which anyone, college student or not, will find difficult and instructive.
If asked to categorize Storied Leadership, given its depth and serious account of the Christian story, it would fit better on the “Practical Theology” shelf than it would the “Leadership” shelf. Yet, perhaps because of this starting point, that is why it is such a welcomed and necessary perspective on Christian leadership; Storied Leadership helps bring rich theology into conversation with principles of leadership. Specifically within Christian higher education, Storied Leadership is a book that ought to be included somewhere in every Christian curriculum and is an excellent complement to Don Opitz and Derek Melleby’s Learning for the Love of God.
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