Practicing Greatness – Reggie McNeal
Practicing Greatness by Reggie McNeal is a call for leaders to be great. The Church is moving in to a new age that brings with it different hopes and challenges. Now, more than ever, is it crucial that the Church have great leaders. McNeal writes, “Jesus’ idea of greatness revolves around humility and service – a far cry from our typical associations with this concept (3).” This is the basic premise that lies behind his book; great leaders look different from good leaders. Good leaders of the world are those who have power, position and privilege (3) while great spiritual leaders humbly practice the disciplines laid in his book. A book like Practicing Greatness is necessary in the world today. Throughout the history of the Church it has needed leaders who “are passionate about God and about helping other propel experience eth life God intended for them to enjoy (8)” and that is certainly the case in the world today. McNeal’s book is organized by different disciplines that great leaders practice; Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Self-Development, Mission, Decision Making, Belonging, and Aloneness. It is a logical outline that serves his purpose well. His primary audience is church leaders or potential church leaders. The fact that the book is not overly academic but biblically based is refreshing.
The content of McNeal’s book is helpful. In chapter one he writes, “The single most important piece of information a leader possesses is self-awareness (10).” I whole-heartedly agree with this idea. If a leader does not know oneself then it is much harder to know others. To lead one must understand the way that they have been shaped to do so by the many varying influences in life. He believes that self-awareness is foundational because it is at work in all other disciplines. Understanding oneself is the only way to know boundaries, agendas, strengths and weaknesses.
The next discipline that had the most impact on me was the discipline of self-development. This is something that I am passionate about and have grown to appreciate more through McNeal’s book. I believe the key to self-development is what the author touches on in page 65; intentionality. Great leaders are intentional about what they are learning and the fact that they need to continue. This may not necessarily mean formal education but always being aware that education is an opportunity for growth regardless of the venue. One thing that McNeal writes about I may not agree with is his attitude on strengths and weaknesses (68-80). Essentially, he suggests that we need to focus on our strengths, understand and develop them, and no worry about being “balanced”. I agree that all should focus on strengths and the gifts that God has given his but we should not neglect our weaknesses. A great leader should take the time to understand their weakness so that they can find those in a team based setting that can support them and partner with them through their difficulties.
The final discipline that stuck me was the discipline of aloneness. God practiced Sabbath after creation and his creation should as well. Time away gives a leader increased self-awareness, missional clarity. “The loss of Sabbath is one of the major failings of contemporary church life in North America (149).” I believe this statement has great relevance now but I wonder what will become of it after the shift out of the modern world. The age of post-modernity may be much more receptive to getting back to the Sabbath time of rest and aloneness. As modernity has shunned it, those churches stuck in this model have only built toward burnout busy work without moving toward clarity and real results. The main enemy of aloneness is time; “every leader battles the issue of time management (153).” This goes back to the previous discipline of self-management. A leader who can manage themself properly is one that can be disciplined in aloneness. As I read Practicing Greatness I was enlighten to the connections that McNeal makes between the different disciplines. Each discipline is a separate concept and practice that a leader must work hard at to become disciplined in. With that being said each discipline builds up each other one; be a better self-manager and you will have more valuable alone time, understand your mission better and you will become more effective at disciple building. Each discipline is equally as important in part or as a whole. To be a great leader, one must grow across each of these disciplines.
I find Practicing Greatness applicable to my life and ministry. It has many principles and practices that I hope will contribute to my growing in leadership through service. All of the disciplines that stuck me are already at work in my life. I have been applying those for some time although I did not realize it or understand it as fully until I read McNeal’s work. With that being said, the most important discipline I need to apply in my ministry context is the discipline of belonging. Honestly, I neglect this discipline because I a terrible at it. My personality is one that is not wired to seek out belonging even if I am longing for it. This is especially true in the area of belonging to friends. Possibly the most important statement I need to apply in his book states “Friendships will not develop without the expenditure of time, priorities, even ministry efforts. Friendships are reserved for those who count the cost, then pay it (132). I know that I need to reflect and apply this discipline not only to be a great leader but to grow closer to God. Christian leadership is not a one man show and neither is the Christian journey.
I would recommend McNeal’s Practicing Greatness to anyone who may find themselves in a leadership position. This is not just for preachers and leaders of local congregation but any believer could find formative practices in his book that could help them better understand how to lead for God regardless of their setting.