Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft: A Review (D. Loggans)

Longevity in pastoral ministry is at an all-time low. It has been recorded that 50% of ministers starting out will not last 5 years, while only 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.[1] Most pastors say the ministry is completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry. These facts reveal the disheartening trend in pastoral ministry: that pastors do not last. Some pastors attribute their lack of “finishing power” to the negative affects the ministry on their family life. Others attribute it to their congregation’s unwillingness to go the same direction or to hold the same goals they have for the future direction of the church. Nevertheless the question still remains, why don’t leaders finish well?

Providing powerful insights from his own experience throughout 40 years of full-time ministry and insisting that the reader question the very core of one’s resolve, Dave Kraft takes this question head-on in his book, Leaders Who Last, as he offers the simple premise that “you can learn how to be a good leader and finish your particular race well” (p. 19).

Kraft begins in the introduction with some very foundational truths, definitions, and observations of leadership in today’s church. One specific observation that he makes is the contrast between how leaders have lead in the past and how they will need to lead in the future. He notes this of past leadership: organizational, operate in committees, command and control, degreed and elected, linear and pyramidal, share propositional truth, people of the written page, tightly structured, and emphasize position. While future leadership will be characterized by: relational, operate in teams, permission giving, gifted and called, overlapping circles, tell stories, people of the screen, highly flexible, and emphasize empowerment (p. 23). While agreeing with Kraft’s overall observation of the past and future leadership characteristics, the reviewer would note that both lists contain significant elements that should be present in leaders both today and in the future, and would not limit future leadership to only the characteristics Kraft lists.

Kraft proceeds with a definition of leadership that is all encompassing and additionally provides the reader with several crucial components for the leadership task. He writes, “A Christian leader is a humble, God-dependent, team-playing servant of God who is called by God to shepherd, develop, equip, and empower a specific group of believers to accomplish an agreed-upon vision from God” (p. 25). This definition does not just sit here in the introduction though to become stale and useless. Kraft astutely progresses forward with this definition firmly in hand to drive both aspiring leaders and those currently in leadership positions toward the finish line.

In part 1, Kraft demonstrates the Foundation of leadership through the center hub and four spokes of a wheel. The basic statement he builds on is, “because leading is a reflection of who you are, you lead from the inside out.” Kraft uses chapter 1 to expound the hub of the wheel – The Leaders Power – his identity in Christ. Kraft writes, “Leadership begins and ends with a clear understanding of the gospel and being rooted in the grace of Jesus Christ as a free gift.” This might seem too simplistic to be the groundwork of leadership. However, to truly understand the power by which anyone can biblically lead one must understand that the entirety of the Christian walk is based on this defining truth: that it is by grace and grace alone that one is a Christian and a leader. One does not earn nor deserve this identity found in Christ. This is essential to leadership. As Kraft writes, “As I lead, I lead out of the reality of being saved by Jesus, and Jesus alone, and empowered by the Holy Spirit for the leadership role and responsibilities to which he calls me. It is too easy for the work and the ministry to be the center instead of Jesus himself” (p. 29).

Getting energized from this power source is the subject of the remainder of chapter 1, specifically the use of the spiritual disciplines such as the study of Scripture, prayer, personal worship, and extended periods of solitude, meditation, and fasting. Kraft notes, “These disciplines create a state of mind that is receptive to the grace of God that keeps us fresh in our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.” (p. 31)

One especially practical insight Kraft provides is his practice of the “Four R’s” in his Bible reading: 1) Reading: reading and marking the words and verses that speak to me. 2) Reflect: thinking about what I have marked. 3) Respond: focusing on truths I marked to pray about and obey. 4) Record: capturing what God has said in writing (a journal) (p. 33). But for all the practicality in this list, Kraft’s caution in leaning heavily away from the trap of legalism in the practice of the spiritual disciplines. Kraft writes, “Because I tend to be very disciplined and structured, I need to be careful that these regular holy habits don’t degenerate into an empty pharisaical system of earning favor. Author Dallas Willard observed that ‘grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning’ ” (p. 34).

Chapter 2 tackles the component of The Leaders Purpose. As Kraft moves out from the hub of the wheel, he explains how the power of the leader directly influences the purpose. He writes, “Having a biblically based purpose is like holding a magnet. It motivates, directs, and pulls you around detours and through distractions. If your activities flow out of a God-given purpose and are anchored in a Christ-centered power, you will have a reliable road map for life” (p. 44). Conversely, one critique of this chapter is that the balance seems to lean more towards sounding like a “self-help book” than anything else. It is the reviewer’s opinion that Kraft could have focused less on one’s own “finding their purpose” and further on the purpose one has been given in Christ and through His Word.

The final two chapters (4 and 5) in part 1 are definitely the most valuable. Here Kraft addresses The Leader’s Priorities and The Leader’s Pacing. Speaking to the leader’s priorities he shares a story that has motivated him to prioritize from Ivy Lee, an extraordinary management consultant. In this story, Kraft recounts, Lee instructing Charles Schwab to write down the most important things you had to do the next day. Then asking him to number them in order of their true importance. Finally Lee instructs Schwab to start working on number 1 until it is completed and then move on to number 2, and 3, and so on (p. 61). The fascinating part about this advice is its simplicity, yet only a few actually implement this practice into their daily lives. Kraft notes this to be difference between those who lead and those who follow behind. Kraft then provides a list by which he has enhanced his priorities:

1) Purpose – what I am called to accomplish in life. 2) Passion – a sense of enthusiasm about my purpose and direction. 3) Goals – where I want to go. 4) Plans – what I am going to do to get there. 5) Priorities – how I will arrange my plans to get there. 6) Schedule – when I will actually do it. 7) Execution – just do it. 8) Evaluation – assessment of what happened, and how I can improve the process (p. 63). 

These components, however, will prove to be just words on a page without prayer and intentionality.

The final spoke in the wheel is the substance of chapter 5 – The Leader’s Pacing. Desirous to help leaders finish well, Kraft explains how “leaders need to determine what size their capacity is and how long they can remain in a stretched situation before they need a pause – whether emotional or physical” (p. 70). His advice for doing so comes from his practice: 1) Take a full day off each week and limit my work hours. 2) Plan a full day alone for a spiritual retreat on a monthly basis. 3) Make sure I have some fun each week doing things that make me laugh. 4) Limit the number of evenings I am not at home (p. 71).

Kraft’s practicality is clear throughout part 1, and he retains this component in part 2 and enhances it with a significant theological basis as he moves to the Formation of leadership. Opening his discussion in chapter 6, Kraft adopts an internal-focus approach to The Leader’s Calling. He writes, “a clear, deep, intuitive sense emerges that God has laid his hand on you for a specific and predetermined task. A call from God can come at any time in relationship to the clear awareness of one’s purpose” (p. 78). While agreeing with the majority of Kraft’s rationalization of the call, this reviewer wonders about the absence of any argument for the context of the call – the local church. This reviewer would also question the relatively short explanation of the evaluation of ones call, seeing the need for more outside assessment than what Kraft calls for.

The remaining chapters in part 2 cover the areas of the gifting, character, and growth of a leader. One particularly interesting position that Kraft takes is in the area of the gifting of a leader that lasts. He writes, “it seems the gifts of a leader tend more toward speaking than serving…This is not to say that they don’t serve…But I am saying that leaders serve best by leading through word gifts to move people along from point A to point B. They encourage, exhort, develop, equip, and inspire through language or words” (p. 89). Kraft supports this position by quoting 1 Peter 4:11 as well as listing several leaders who seemed to spend a lot of time communicating and using words, such as Nehemiah, David, Paul, and Peter. This is definitely a thoughtful position on the gifting of leaders and one the reviewer was encouraged to further study.

In chapter 9, Kraft provides one of the most valuable sections in regard to his premise – to help leaders finish well. Kraft shares a list provided by Bobby Clinton, a professor at Fuller Seminary, of five characteristics that enabled leaders to finish well:

1) They maintained a vibrant, personal relationship with God right up to the end.

2) They maintained a learning posture and learned from various sources.

3) They lived by identifiable goals and were characterized by a good degree of self-control in their mind, will, and emotion.

4) They saw the need for meaningful, supportive personal relationships. They devoted time to developing a network of such intentional relationships, starting with their marriage and family.

5) They had a clear vision, strong biblical convictions, a great sense of perspective, and a lifelong commitment to pleasing and honoring the Lord through a daily, deliberate surrender to the lordship of Christ in all things (p. 105-106).

This list provides a vast challenge for both young aspiring leaders and those currently holding leadership position to be intentional in each aspect of life.

The final part in Leaders Who Last addresses the Fruitfulness of leaders, or in other words the impact leaders will have. In this section chapter 11 – The Leader’s Influence – stands out among the rest as tremendously practical and thought provoking. In speaking to the effectiveness of leaders, Kraft writes,

The fact is that many in leadership roles gravitate toward hurting, draining, time-consuming people because they have a need to be needed. They want to help people, to be there for people. If a leader has strong mercy gifts, leading becomes more difficult. Simply put, if you need people, you can't lead people. There is an inability or lack of desire to make the tough calls, speak the truth, or do hard things. Motivated by a fear of disappointing people, this inability will seriously hamper and work against your ability to lead (p. 132).

While this statement may at first seem to be cold or unloving to some, what one must predominately notice is that Kraft is addressing the temptation that arises in leadership – to need people. This may manifest itself in numerous counseling sessions to the point where the leaders family wonders when they will ever have fun again as a family, or it might become visible in the leader’s response to criticism as he crumbles in self-pity. These, however, are only the fruit of an inner craving for self-exaltation. The temptation that leaders face is ultimately idolatry, self-idolatry. Feeling or believing that they have the answers their followers need, rather than understanding that they are only a small conduit for the grace provided by God in Christ.

Leaders Who Last provides the reader with very practical advice for finishing well and strong, just as Kraft set out to accomplish. It also challenges the reader’s perspective on the foundation, formation, and fruitfulness of leaders. While small in size, it provides a powerful “punch” for any man seeking to grow as a faithful leader.

Dan Loggans, Student
Reformed Baptist Seminary 

[1] Don't Make Your Pastor a Statistic? by Thabiti Anyabwile written on 5.25.2011 http://www.9marks.org/blog/dont-make-your-pastor-statistic