Making Room For Leadership, Book Review

Having read MaryKate Morse’s Making Room For Leadership I recommend this book as an adult Sunday school curriculum with reservation.

There is much to praise about this book. Clearly, leadership is important. We have roles which require leaders, and if our leaders are ineffective we are ineffective. If our leaders are immoral, their ethical problems poison the whole organization. MaryKate explains how leaders communicate, and talks about how leadership can be used for either good or for evil. Our Religious Education must include a discussion about how we approach leadership.

In terms of religious education, this book seems designed for the purpose. There are 12 chapters, along with an introduction and a conclusion — there are 13 weeks in a quarter year, thus the book fits fairly neatly in a class which tackles one chapter per week, then has an open sharing time in the final week. In addition, this book is written with a Christian audience in mind, with Church based case studies including a few minor ones in a Friend’s context. Because of the intended audience, the application is somewhat more obvious than a secular book would be. A very attractive feature is that every chapter concludes with discussion questions making this suitable for a reading group where all are learning together.

While I want to complain that the principles in this book are in essence secular, this complaint is mitigated by the fact that leadership is a life-skill vital to the religious community. Though the methods are secular, Christians have ethical considerations which are implied by the belief that humanity was created in the image of God. MaryKate addresses these issues, and spoke of ways to avoid abuse and to use the power of leadership to protect the powerless. She also touched on the skill of loaning power so the voiceless can be given a voice. Her examples of Christ’s leadership and protection were very moving.

Reading the various chapters, I saw the leadership roles of elders, and clerks, and pastoral care givers, and teachers, and committee members. I saw the practical advice to people in various roles, who had to both assert power and to share power. I imagine that it can be very healing to spend time prayerfully considering how we can become healthy leaders.

A far larger difficulty I have with this book is that it is missing an aspect which is just as vital as effective leadership which I will call effective followership. MaryKate gives some negative examples of followership, but fails to teach us to be healthy followers. Leaders without followers are not leaders at all, and MaryKate fails to address our social bias which fails to value faithful service. This problem is compounded by the fact while not everyone is called into leadership, everyone is a follower. If someone holds authority, without being under authority, abuse and ethical violations are unavoidable. Scripture calls even those of us in positions of authority to submit to one another, and we need to find ways of developing and valuing this.

My reservation would be fully addressed by having a two part course, the half on followership considered as a prerequisite to the half on leadership. My bias that Theology and Biblical Studies are more important than applying Christian Ethical principles to life skills is a personal issue. At the end of the day James was right when he wrote:

For if someone merely listens to the message but does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in the mirror. For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was.(NET)

We not only need to learn to effectively live our lives, but we need to learn to do so while living according to the message. We cannot do so if we only discuss the contents of the message and ignore what is in our daily lives — so, I recommend this book, along with another (unnamed) book on becoming a healthy follower.

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2 comments on “Making Room For Leadership, Book Review

  1. MaryKate Morse says:

    Michael, thank you for reviewing my book. I appreciate the thoughtful way you presented it. I agree that followership is a huge issue in relationship to leadership, and in my leadership courses I always take time to unpack the essence of true followership. I found Robert Kelley’s book on The Power of Followership to be helpful though it is not written for a Christian audience. Being limited by page restrictions and being focused on leadership and influence, I didn’t unpack it directly in this book. Blessings on your work, MaryKate

    • Thank you for your recommendation, I will have to read Kelley’s book when I have an opportunity. I did not know there was a word followership until I wrote this review (and then I feared I was the first to use it.) I am very glad to see that people are giving thought to this.

      Thank you also for your book — often when I read books telling how to be an assertive leader, I understood the advice in a negative light. You addressed ethical use of power, and redeemed the topic for me.

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