I DON’T usually pick up books with the word “leader” or “leadership” in their title, as they tend to bore me. Worse, they generally make me feel totally inadequate about my own simple view that at the heart of the leadership entrusted to me is the priority of prayer, reading the scriptures, and offering pastoral care. I made an exception in buying Eve Poole’s excellent and playful Leadersmithing, and I was glad to see that she has contributed a cameo reflection, among others, to Jude Padfield’s Hopeful Influence. What Padfield offers us, I am thankful to say, is not another how-to book, but one that asks the “why” questions.
Padfield, a church-planter in Liverpool, wants to enable others to have healthy and effective leadership in their spheres of influence. He has seen where leadership has previously gone wrong, having experience in business, the charity sector, and local politics. He is a theologically articulate guide.
Padfield’s central thesis is that their faith should influence and form the character and behaviour of Christians, wherever they exercise their leadership. God should affect all that they are and do, enabling them to influence others through a hopeful movement towards the Kingdom of God. It is a leadership model inspired by an eschatological vision, always informed by hope, and resting on God’s promises. He writes about how to be bearers of hopeful influence in enabling others to see, participate, and experience the Kingdom. For Padfield, leaders have a mandate to dream what life could be like and speak from the realm of imagination. They have, within this, the task of providing clarity and coherence.
Critical of a particular type of positional or hierarchical leader which has been fashionable in some quarters — as he also is of the unprecise term “Christian leadership” — Padfield offers his model grounded in scripture and a selection of theological writers: Steven Croft, Jürgen Moltmann, Lesslie Newbigin, Henri Nouwen, Graham Tomlin, and Tom Wright, among others. Sometimes, I longed for a broader set of interlocutors. Miroslav Volf’s “hope is love stretching itself into the future,” for example, would have added a dimension.
Many secular leadership books, of the type that might be flicked through in an airport bookshop, often take 200 pages to say something that could be said in a couple of sentences. At 242 pages, Padfield writes at length, and, to begin with, I feared that the genre would be much the same; but he dives deep into his topics, mining and exploring them from different angles, before offering reflections about how Hopeful Influence can be used by those whose task is to steer the Church, politics, business, charities, and emerging new leaders.
That steering is now to be done in what are called “challenging times”. As with other books published before the pandemic, last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, and the IICSA report on the Anglican Church, omissions that would be unthinkable in books published since are easy to spot; but we need Padfield’s hope-filled message more than ever. I warmed to a core sentence: “Leadership isn’t about us; it’s principally about Jesus and about the good we can offer to others.” That should be our present and our future, whatever our vocation.
The Rt Revd Graham Usher is the Bishop of Norwich.
Hopeful Influence: A theology of Christian leadership
SCM Press £17.99
Church Times Bookshop £16.20