Essay / Theology

Scott Bessenecker on Leadership

I just finished reading Scott Bessenecker’s new book How to Inherit the Earth: Submitting Ourselves to a Servant Savior (InterVarsity Press, 2009). Overall it was a good book, easy to read and understand. According to Bessenecker, most leaders in today’s church have bought into the “MONOPOLY” mindset of leadership. Simply put that means most leaders work from a perspective that “imprisons the poor, broken and needy while rewarding the greedy and corrupt” (p. 151). Think those are harsh words, welcome to Bessenecker’s tendency towards overstatement, which I will address before mentioning some positive elements of the book.

When reading the book I basically felt that Bessenecker oversimplifies terribly complicated realities in the lives of most Christians. Bessenecker, more or less, suggests that the most authentic Christians and the most servant-focused leaders spend the bulk of their lives either living among the world’s poorest of the poor or ministering to the weakest of the weak. Let me explain. Repeatedly the author holds up for emulation and exaltation those who have been called to live in deplorable and/or difficult locations. For example, the couple called to live in a slum in an unnamed Middle Eastern country are repeatedly held up as examples of Christians who are truly meek and will, therefore, inherit the earth.

As well, Bessenecker tells us of Pia, a young woman living among the poorest and most needy inhabitants of Cambodia. Pia’s example is clearly admirable and she is certainly making a huge sacrifice. But is everyone called to live in this manner? Do the Scriptures ever tell us that these are the only ways to be meek in order to inherit the earth? For this reviewer, it seems that Bessenecker has failed to consider that a mega-church pastor or even a Christian CEO of a well-to-do company could also be meek. They might not be called to live in slums or among the most poor but does that disqualify them from being meek? For me this is the book’s main flaw: the author overstates the example of others and understates that meekness is as much an attitude as it is a particular observable lifestyle choice. Of course what this young couple in the Middle East and Pia in Cambodia are doing is exceptional and worthy of serving as a model. However, those living in southern California (like myself) who are also living into God’s calling on their life may also be worthy of emulation. All obedience is worthy of emulation and imitation, right?

This distraction aside, I mostly enjoyed the book. Once Bessenecker moved beyond these overstatements and really settled into detailing his thoughts on leadership, the book proved enjoyable though it was not particularly revolutionary. The author summarizes his own thesis in the conclusion when he says that leaders should cultivate lives where meekness, submission, repentance, following, slavery and obedience are present. In one sense it is hard to disagree with Bessenecker, especially someone like myself who has give the bulk of his adult life over to studying the history of monasticism. In one sense Bessenecker isn’t saying anything that has not already been said by Benedict of Nursia in his Rule. However, whereas most evangelical Christians will not or do not read the Rule, they may read this book, thus making this it a welcome addition. Since I am no expert on Christian leadership literature (or non-Christian leadership for that matter), I am not sure where the book fits in the larger discussion on leadership. However, I would not hesitate to give it to my college students who, I think, could certainly benefit from some wise words on leadership.

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