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Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Facing Leviathan" (Mark Sayers)

TITLE: Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm
AUTHOR: Mark Sayers
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (240 pages).

Mark Sayers is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. His "The Road Trip That Changed the World," has become my go-to book for cultural engagement and analysis. Now, this latest book will be my goto book for leadership in our rapidly volatile cultural climate. Using the biblical sea monster described in the Old Testament book of Job, Sayers crafts this leadership guide that shines light on the cultural changes of this age, but penetrates deep into the forces that make or break a leader. Readers will slowly but surely be forced at some point to deal with their own "Leviathans."

Using the French Revolution and Paris as a metaphor, Sayers shows us how a society of power and glamour in 19th Century Paris that looks good on the outside can spawn the rise of a cruel and wicked person like Adolf Hitler. He points out the two popular forms of leadership: Mechanical (Enlightenment values) and Organic (Romanticism values). The former is based on power, task-driven, traditional, conventional, etc, while the latter is based on creativity, radical, relational, spiritual, imaginative, etc. Sayers admits that for the most part of his life, he has tried to evolve from the mechanical to the organic form of leadership.Gradually, he gets swamped by "surprising fruitlessness," "cultural splits," as well as his own bipolar condition, making him even more determined to find out the root cause of it all. He begins by meeting the Leviathan and the dangers of the sea. He observes with much fascination how poets like Jules Verne live out the Mechanical style of leadership while Rimbaud represents the organic form. Both had one thing in common: Both abandoned their Christian faith. Both the cultures of Enlightenment and Romanticism grow out of a "society of the spectacle" where leaders become celebrities; activists become spectators; creators become consumers; focus gives way to distractions; etc. This calls for urgent encounters with the Word of God. The concern is that the worries and distractions of the world can tempt leaders to abandon God's calling and embrace the cultural deceptions of comfort, entertainment, distractions, sensuality, and rising disobedience. Leaders soon forget that obedience to God often means disobedience to self.

Sayers brings in the biblical character of Jonah to expand on the nature of man to flee. After being forced to turn back to Nineveh, Jonah was soon forced to deal with his inward objections even as he demonstrates outward obedience to God. Sayers shows us that to be a leader also means to die to self in public. It means learning to take a critical distance away from the world so that the leader can discern the "myths and illusions of the culture." It means learning not to be anxious but to cultivate a "non-anxious presence" to make critical decisions. It means leading from one's pain. Most importantly, it means recognizing the presence of God in the midst of fighting the cultural storm. Slowly and surely, readers see the journey beyond Mechanical and Organic, toward the humble and crucified Christ, where power is made perfect in weakness. At this point, one can begin the reconstruction of what it means to live a life that is totally devoted to Christ, and totally dependent on God to work within.

This is indeed one of the most insightful books on connecting culture, history, biblical lessons, Christian leadership, and creativity. We are reminded once again of Paul's letter to the Ephesians that we battle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, and the forces of darkness that often seek to overwhelm us, discourage us, and drown us. Most importantly, this book teaches me three things with regards to leadership. First, leadership is learning to exercise self-restraint. Contrary to what many may think, leadership begins not by planning big strategies, not by engaging high profile people, and definitely not by pushing loud agendas. It begins by reining in the passions of pride, arrogance, and selfishness. The story of how Henry Morton Stanley disintegrate from a fact-finding mission to a personal quest for pride and glory is one example of how one's action can lead to fatalities and exploitative acts. Second, being a leader means not being easily swayed by the cultural distractions and fads. It requires the "non-anxious presence" as exemplified by the late Margaret Thatcher's grand-daughter's reading of Ephesians 6:1-18 at the funeral of the Iron Lady. Showing steely resolve and conviction in the Word of God, leaders will do well to anchor themselves on the strong Word of God and trust fully in the Promises of God. Lest we become prey to a culture that can easily pick one apart with its arsenal of worry, fear, stress, and damaging emotions. Thirdly, Christ-centered leadership means total surrender. It is less about leading people but more about living in God, noticing how one can be used to lead others toward Christ. It means learning to stand up against the wiles of evil and at the same time recognizing our weakness so much that we are only strong when in Christ. It means not becoming easily disturbed when things do not go our way. It means being glad simply to know that God is in control, and that we can be willing to be used or not to be used for any particular ministry moment. It is easy for us to offer lip service with regards to focus on Christ for all things. Christians often tend to be believing theists but behavioural deists. Perhaps, this book can help us practice more of what we preach. Most definitely, it shows us that behind any practice, leadership that is Christian is first and always in Christ.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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