Originally Posted in October 2017 by Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ)
—Reviewed by Benjamin Espinoza, PhD student, Michigan State University.
Story has become a topic of interest for many scholars, pastors, and missionaries. As Christians, we are called to be participants in the greatest story of all time, the gospel. Rick Sessoms estimates that eighty percent of the world’s people are “story-centric learners,” meaning they learn through storytelling (drama, art, music, etc.). This provides a unique opportunity for us to ponder how we can take the gospel to the ends of the earth using story-based methods and leadership approaches. Sessoms has written an insightful volume on story-centric, Christ-centered leadership which will equip a new generation of Christian leaders to share the greatest story of all time.
In Part 1, Sessoms explores the prominence of storycentric learning in today’s society. Story possesses the power to change the minds and hearts of people in ways more powerful than one can imagine. Unfortunately, modern educational approaches remain apprehensive about story, despite the fact that story can change people’s behaviors and enhances one’s literacy. A story-based approach is a biblical one, not only because we are caught up in the story of the gospel, but also because Jesus and the Apostle Paul embraced story-based teaching methods.
In Part 2, Sessoms explores leadership development in Christian perspective, detailing the history of Christian leadership development and positing a process for effective leadership development. Developing Christian leaders should be an urgent priority for the Church, but a lack of good role models, methods, and an absence of commitment hinder the realization of this vision.
Sessoms posits four overlapping spheres of Christian leadership development: (1) character formation, (2) biblical literacy, (3) contextually relevant skills, and (4) ministry development. Together, these spheres serve as a powerful seedbed for effective Christian leadership development. He posits that feedback, challenge, and support are all necessary components in leadership development. These three facets are then complemented by a combination of training, experiential learning, mentoring, and on-the-job assignments.
Part 3 establishes a Christo-centric approach to leadership, arguing for an overhaul of Christian leadership theory and practice. Unfortunately, as Sessoms highlights, Christian leaders often prioritize their success at the expense of the gospel. This is contrary to the model of Christ, who exhibited selfless humility and served others unconditionally. Moreover, Christ remained a contextually relevant leader whose message is timeless. Sessoms encourages leaders to undergo a process of character development in preparation for leadership, modeled by the life and ministry of Jesus and those who emulated his example.
The last section of the book discusses The Garden Project, a leadership development initiative that exemplifies Sessom’s approach. The book is a worthwhile investment for any person seeking to cultivate his or her skills as a leader and developer of leaders. Sessom blends personal insight with a firm grasp on leadership theory and biblical theology. I highly recommend this book to Christian leaders who desire a Christo-centric and culturally relevant approach to leadership.