Journal of Christian Ministry | 2024: Rooted Leadership: Seeking God’s Answers to the Eleven Core Questions Every Leader Faces – Book Review

2024: Rooted Leadership: Seeking God’s Answers to the Eleven Core Questions Every Leader Faces – Book Review

2024: Rooted Leadership: Seeking God’s Answers to the Eleven Core Questions Every Leader Faces – Book Review

Rooted Leadership: Seeking God’s Answers
to the Eleven Core Questions
Every Leader Faces
John E. Johnson
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2022. 254 pages, $29.99
Reviewed by Jeremy Langley
Brister Baptist Church, Emerson, AR

What makes a good leader? One could likely read ten books on the topic and find as many (or more) distinctive answers. We are drawn to books that promise quick, easy-to-digest solutions to our leadership problems. This phenomenon includes John Maxwell’s The Influence Formula: 4 Steps to Help You Lead Anyone Well or Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder’s Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead. While the principles taught in those books are valid, John Johnson makes the case that the proper solution to any leadership woe is found only in theology.

In Rooted Leadership: Seeking God’s Answers to the Eleven Core Questions Every Leader Faces, Johnson writes from the perspective of a pastor, seminary professor, and leadership coach. He “takes three hundred pages to make one point – that a leader’s theology is the most important thing about him or her,” according to Mark Buchanan, who penned the book’s forward (xi). Placing theology front and center in leadership training is not an attempt to add to the current debate. Instead, Johnson writes, he wants to “overturn what is culturally accepted and rebuild.”

As the subtitle explains, the book explores eleven aspects of leadership posed as questions in the title of each chapter. The first chapter lays the groundwork, presenting the theological framework through which leadership should be approached. The foundation of modern-day leadership methodologies is “crooked,” Johnson argues, going as far as calling it “narcissistic and incompetent” (1). The remaining chapters explore his proposed solution, inviting the reader to understand leadership from Scripture’s viewpoint. In the end, “Leaders do not lead for themselves; they lead to bring glory and honor to God,” Johnson contends (14).

The questions presented in the eleven chapters seek to discover a logical framework for leadership, a definition of leadership, the necessity of leaders, how one becomes a leader, the importance of character, the essential nature of wisdom in leadership, the skills necessary to lead, the required tasks of a leader, the power dynamics of leadership, the quandary of suffering for leaders, and the future of leadership. Each chapter follows a similar format. The author begins with a quote from a theologian or leadership expert and then tells a short story to illustrate the leadership principle at hand. Some stories are from personal experiences, and others originate in history. In every case, he leverages the story’s drama to keep the reader engaged and segue into the secular response to the topic.

Johnson’s analysis of the secular leadership viewpoint is not opinion. Instead, it reflects the highest level of scholarly investigation, citing leadership experts from Stanley McChrystal to Patrick Lencioni. This same level of scholarship carries through as he examines the theological nature of each question. In addition, he quotes extensively from Scripture, the source and destination of all truth (xviii). “Ultimately, all human beings turn to some theory to guide their lives and turn to models to follow. It is in God’s authoritative Word and in the biblical models, however, that we find some of our best leadership material,” he writes (249).

A strength of Rooted Leadership is found in the real-world examples provided by the author. While the opening stories in each chapter demonstrate how the secular world answers the question, chapters 2 through 11 end with an example of that principle at work in the life of a biblical character. “The intent is to provide a visual for the theological truths the chapter unpacks,” Johnson explains (xviii). In doing so, he takes the reader beyond theory to practical application.

Several topics addressed in the book overlap with other works on leadership. However, Johnson significantly contributes to the field by addressing an aspect that many overlook: how leadership ends. “Endings are inevitable for leaders. Or so it seems,” he writes (235). Political leaders fall out of power. Business leaders retire. Pastors eventually come to the end of their tenure. Even if one does not retire, resign, or become otherwise unemployed, the temporal nature of human life on earth underscores the fact that leadership transitions are inevitable. However, there is more to the story. “Scripture reveals that although earthly leadership has a terminus, leadership continues on the other side,” he writes (241). “The promise that we will rule in heaven should impact how we lead in the present” (245).

Having explored the theological implications of eleven leadership themes, Johnson arrives at the answer to a question he asked earlier in the book: What is the definition of leadership? “Leadership is the ability to use the authority and power of God to serve the purposes of God. That’s it. Every leadership theme is built on this,” he writes (250). To phrase it another way, proper leadership is rooted in God.

Rooted Leadership is intended “for those who are training for leadership, as well as for leaders who are in the thick of it,” according to Johnson (xviii-xix). Both audiences would find great benefit from his work. While the book is theological in nature, the truths he explains go beyond the scope of ministry leadership and would also make significant impacts on leaders in any secular field. The book would be an excellent addition to the reading list of any DMin program.