«Servants of the Servant: A biblical theology of leadership» is a 2003 book by Don N. Howell, Jr. that tries to evaluate the titular concept from an unusual perspective. The trait is seen as essential for any manager and is useful for a variety of other professions, and therefore, many people are interested in its development. As such, a large volume of scholarly research exists on both the qualities that constitute leadership and the best methods of their cultivation in a person. The book’s author decides to approach the topic from a religious perspective and discuss how the leader of a Christian community should operate to make its members more devout and attract new ones. This essay is a critique of the book that will review its contents and offer the author’s opinion of its various aspects.
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The author’s thesis is both clearly stated and described in considerable detail. Howell (2003) claims that biblical leadership, defined as an active effort aimed at increasing the prominence of the Christian faith in people’s beliefs, relies on the leader’s character, motives, and agenda rather than his or her methods. As such, through the analysis of Biblical leaders, their successes, and their faults, it should be possible to determine traits that are central to a Christian leader. The thesis is proven adequately in the context of the author’s assumptions, as he can establish a characteristic profile that explains Biblical characters’ successes while avoiding their failings.
Howell investigates both the Old and the New Testament, with the former containing more leaders than the latter. His analysis of the Old Testament begins with the case of Joseph, a man who rose to prominence despite humble beginnings and betrayal. He moves on to Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Gideon, and Samson, with the first and the last serving as examples of fallibility and fatal flaws. From there, the Kingdom of Israel is established with Samuel’s help but quickly deteriorates under Saul’s rule. David overthrows Saul and passes the reign to Solomon, who proceeds to destroy the nation through sin. As such, Persians take over, and Daniel and then Nehemiah maintain the faith under their rule.
The New Testament analysis is centered on two figures: Jesus and Paul. The former is the most crucial figure in Christian lore and the ideal image of a spiritual leader, and so his prominence is natural. However, after his death, the task of spreading Christianity fell to his disciples, who turned the religion into a massive phenomenon that affected the history of entire humanity. Paul is credited as the apostle whose practicality led Christians to survive and eventually thrive. Some other leaders, such as Peter, John, and Timothy, are also covered for the sake of the investigation. To conclude the book, Howell amalgamates the information to create the profile of a servant leader for the community.
The author’s goal is to examine the various stories of prominent Christian leaders and draw conclusions about their personal qualities based on their behavior in various situations. He succeeds at the task, most likely because the majority of biblical stories are arranged in a fashion that emphasizes the specific quality that is related to God and helped the character overcome the trial or fail to do so. Notably, Howell (2003) does not overemphasize religion, citing Joseph’s loyalty to Potiphar as equal to, or more important than, his devotion to God in his resistance to the temptation by the man’s wife. As such, the connections are clear and logical, and it is easy to agree with most of them without significant considerations to the contrary.
The author aims to establish a profile of a Christian leader, and so the conclusion of the book summarizes his findings and puts them into the context of his experience. Howell (2003) claims that he has spent a long time working with religious communities and observed successful as well as destructive leadership practices. He gathers the various lessons scattered throughout the book and uses them to form a profile of a successful Christian shepherd. The trajectories of character, agenda, and motive from the thesis return to establish his or her central characteristics. Overall, the procession appears to be consistent and effective at supporting the author’s points, with a sound central idea that is prevalent throughout the book.
Howell makes the fundamental assumption the Bible is an accurate record that exists to teach people about proper Christian behaviors, and so its lessons about leadership are still relevant nowadays. Some people may take a different approach to the texts and believe the Holy Scripture to be a solely spiritual guide, viewing its stories as fables. However, the dismissal of the author’s assumption would undermine the entirety of the book and make its writing impossible. As such, while the assertion is necessary, it undermines the book’s applicability and makes it suitable for a narrow audience. With that said, it is possible to partially reconcile the two views by claiming that while Biblical events may not necessarily be real, the Scripture’s lessons include advice for future leaders.
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The book is separated into chapters that discuss the stories of the respective character based on the various Biblical anecdotes that involve them. Each episode is used to derive a trait that helped or harmed the person and can be linked to Christian morality. In the larger, more essential chapters, such as those about Jesus and Paul, Howell (2003) summarizes the information using tables so that it can be easier to understand it. While this approach enables high clarity and ease of reading, it makes summarization of the knowledge within challenging for the reader. As such, the book could likely be improved if the chapters were arranged by leadership traits rather than character, as it would make it easier for the reader to identify the central characteristics.
Opinion and Conclusion
Overall, the book is reasonably interesting, though its title is somewhat misleading. The idea of leadership is generally viewed in a practical, utilitarian manner that focuses on actions. As such, the reader expects to see the field viewed from a religious perspective but receives an overview of an ideal Christian leader’s personality. Nevertheless, there are useful practical implications in the book, though it is necessary to read through hundreds of pages of Biblical retellings that do not require an in-depth analysis to reveal the meaning found by Howell to reach them. As such, the book currently appeals more to people who are interested in the various aspects of the Bible’s teachings than to people who intend to lead Christian communities. However, it could be adapted for more practical purposes if necessary, preferably through a reorganization rather than content removal.
Howell, D.N. Jr. (2003). Servants of the Servant: A biblical theology of leadership. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.