4.0 out of 5 stars
Book review with summary and critical eval
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on September 26, 2017
Summary of Contents
The thesis that McNeal makes in A Work of Heart is that spiritual leadership is a work of God in the hearts of his children, which takes place through six subplots culture, call, community, communion, conflict, and the commonplace (Loc 84). To defend his claim he examines the life of Moses, David, Paul, and Jesus. He illustrates how each of these leaders hearts were cultivated by God through the culture of their time, the call God placed on their lives, the community of other believers, their communion with God, the conflict they endured, and the commonplace of everyday life.
A Work of Heart is also McNeal’s attempt to answer the question: why does God create leaders anyway? “With all of the options available to him, why has he chosen to work through leaders in spiritual enterprises (Loc 111)?” McNeal posits that God creates leaders in order to share his heart with his people (loc112). Expounding on the life of Moses, David, Paul, and Jesus, McNeal elucidates for the reader how God shares his heart by allowing others to lead.
Moses had his heart shaped by God through rescuing the Hebrews from the oppression of Pharaoh, and he became known for having a “crusader, liberator heart” (loc 215). Moses heart was carefully shepherded by Yahweh, so that Moses was uniquely qualified for the assignments God would give him in shepherding his people (loc 283). From communing with God at the burning bush all the way to wandering in the wilderness with a host of complainers, Moses experienced God’s heart-shaping process through all that he encountered, as would king David.
McNeal references the life of David to show how God works in the hearts of leaders by making them men after God’s own heart. David was known for communing closely with God and keeping his heart transparent before God as he “reflected on commonplace experiences of his boyhood shepherding to create new insights into God's heart…David saw God everywhere he looked” (loc 551). God used David to lead the nation of Israel into a golden era despite the opposition from a wicked king, impossible odds, and physical torment.
In a Transition from Old Testament spiritual leaders to New Testament spiritual leaders, McNeal examines the life of Paul and Jesus to further prove that spiritual leadership is an act of God revealing his own heart to individuals and shaping them through the furnace of culture, call, community, communion, conflict, and the commonplace.
McNeal uses the life of Paul to show that the hearts of leaders are, “bound to God by a special contract that the Almighty has on their lives” (loc 702). Paul, a once persecutor of the church, turned out to be one of the greatest evangelists of the early Christian church. Paul’s heart was changed on the road to Damascus where he received his vison from the Lord. McNeal emphasizes the point that Paul’s heart was cultivated by the community and call of God. Although the being the most unlikely candidate McNeal points out that God often uses special people to cultivate the heart of God, “Ananiases often see something in the leader that others do not. They are able to open up the leader to new understandings of God on the basis of their affirmation” (loc 684). Paul’s heart was not only influenced by God, but those who chose to believe in him and encourage him.
The Final life McNeal writes about in defending his thesis is Jesus Christ. The significant point this chapter makes about God’s work in the hearts of leaders is that Jesus took time to grow in his relationship with the Father. McNeal emphasizes being a leader is not an easy task and requires one to remain rooted to the source (loc 903). The leader neglecting this area of life will ultimately fail to Shepard God’s people. It is important as a leader to not prematurely place oneself in a position to lead others, if he cannot lead himself (loc 908). Would be spiritual leaders ought to model themselves after Christ and allow God to work out His divine timetable. Developing a heart discipline to obedience like Christ makes one particularly effective as spiritual leader under God’s own leadership in their life (loc 912).
Reggie McNeal wrote A Work of Heart for leaders. The author has two primary goals which he desires to inform the reader about. One, to address those who find themselves, “caught up in helping other people maintain their hearts, [while] they frequently ignore or neglect their own… and suffer for that oversight" (loc 40). Two, “to get you acquainted with the most important information you will need as a leader: self-understanding” These goals as well as the veracity of McNeal’s thesis comprise the content for this evaluation.
First, McNeal is drawing attention to a significant issue: burn out. This symptom is not an uncommon problem for leaders today especially, Christian leaders, to whom this book was primarily written to address. Ministers today have noble aspirations in desiring to serve those God has entrusted to them. However, McNeal is draws attention to a grave dilemma. On any given day leaders face a host of temptations, trials, and tests. Ultimately if the leader is neglecting his own heart and not communing with God, burn out, will lead to question one’s calling. Using Moses, David, and Paul as an example McNeal says,
The temptations, trials, and testing that spiritual leaders face always challenge their call. Moses faced obscurity and anger; David confronted abusive power in Saul and in himself; Paul wrestled with pride. They did not always win, but they passed the test often enough to gain their place of leadership in biblical history (loc 927).
Here McNeal offers a timely word of admonition. Leaders who succumb to burn out from temptations, trials, and testing, inevitably question their calling. However, leaders can avoid this by communing with the God, which will in turn reinforce their call.
Religious jargon has obscured the definition of biblical calling. McNeal’s A Work of Heart, identifies three primary points that define biblical calling. One, it is “a call to spiritual formation” (20). Leaders need to maintain a healthy spiritual life by cultivating intimacy with God through the Word and prayer. Two, a call is “the leader's personal conviction of having received drudge some life assignment or mission that must be completed” (loc 89). This is an inner sense of destiny one has towards a specific goal. Three, “Christian leaders captured by the call of God cannot separate their relationship with God from this unique aspect of their life” (loc 701). Call and communion are both vital to Christian leaders. God ignites the call and sustains it through fellowship.
The first goal that McNeal wanted to make in a Work of Heart, was to warn leaders of the danger of neglecting their own heart. He succeeds in warning the leaders of what happens to the leader who neglects his own heart. While leading others the leader can fail to lead himself. He neglects his own trials, temptations, and tests, which result in burn out or worse abandonment of the call God on their lives. In dispersing common religious jargon surrounding the definition of biblical calling, McNeal provides an encouraging reminder that the call of God and communion with God should remain at the center of any spiritual leader’s life. In other words, call and communion are the bread and butter for Christian leadership. McNeal also makes other astute comments about the centrality of the call of God in leaders lives that are helpful, but to comment on all of them is beyond the scope of this evaluation (see loc 1426).
The second goal McNeal attempts to accomplish is to provide the reader with self-understanding. To do this he examines six subplots that shape the leaders life culture, call, community, communion, conflict, and the commonplace. The significance of call and communion have been covered. Remaining are culture, community, conflict, and the commonplace. For brevity this goal is assessed in light of his chapter on culture and conflict. McNeal rightly points out that the culture in which a leader is reared provides the backdrop for the rest of the individual’s story line (loc 84).
McNeal points out that the culture shapes the way individuals think. Each culture adheres to certain regulations and thought processes. The values of culture also vary. In agreement with McNeal, spiritual leaders need to exegete their own culture and understand the biases it has placed on them. The way culture can shape leaders is both subtle and blatant. Leaders need to assess culture in light of Christ and His redemptive work in their lives. Like culture conflict plays a primary role in how the leader understands himself. McNeal says, “Spiritual heroes [leaders] learn that pain and conflict are part of the package. It just goes with the territory” (loc 323). So often leaders make the mistake of avoiding conflict or pain in an attempt to save themselves from heart ache. A Work of Heart reminds the reader that conflict and pain are unavoidable for leaders, nor should it be avoided. Conflict and pain have a way of refining the character of any leader and as such should be embraced as an agent of transformation. The chapters on culture and conflict succeed in providing the reader with an understanding of how leaders are formed by the people around them and the conflict they endure.
Much more could be said about Reggie McNeal’s A Work of Heart. Out of McNeal’s own life experience he provides a manual for Christian leaders that shows the foundation of Christian leadership is marked by a heart that has been transformed by God. The subplots that shape our life are a refining process to mold each heart. God is a master worker who is raising up a godly generation of leaders to equip and serve the church. A Work of Heart is a call for Christian leaders to not give up on the call God has placed in their lives, but to pursue it with confidence knowing that God who gave the call is the God who will sustain you to keep the call. Nothing is beyond God’s power and he has determined to use this generation of leaders just like he used Moses, David, Paul, and Jesus. Leaders today have the privilege to serve in the shadows of giants whose hearts were fixated and tethered to the God who shaped them.
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