Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church

Title of Work:

Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church

Author of Work:

Paul David Tripp


Pastor Evan Chartrand

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Crisis alert! Pastors across denominations are leaving the ministry at an alarming rate. The WELS, though we have substantially slowed the rate of pastoral resignations (especially among our youngest pastors), is not exempt from this trend. So why are pastors leaving the ministry? Reasons for this pastoral exodus include moral failure, burnout, or “for the good of the ministry,” but Paul David Tripp hypothesizes that something else is going on. “We don’t just have a pastoral crisis; I am convinced…that we have a leadership crisis” (17). Tripp is often called to triage a church after a pastor leaves, and his slew of experiences leads him to believe that a big reason for pastors leaving the ministry is poor church leadership. Leadership communities have lost sight of how a biblical, gospel-focused leadership team should function, so Tripp’s goal in Lead is to solve this leadership crisis and propose a positive character model for local church or ministry leadership (18).  

Tripp’s model for a church leadership team is, quite simply, the gospel of Jesus Christ (22). While that might seem vague or obvious, Tripp unpacks his model and gets more specific throughout this book. He begins by highlighting the gospel values in Ephesians 4:1-3 as a strong starting point for a gospel-focused leadership team. When the gospel shapes the way believers relate to one another, then our interactions will be infused with humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity, and peace. This is true of all believers, but is especially important for church leaders.   

Tripp posits that every pastor or ministry leader needs that kind of gospel-rich leadership community in order to be spiritually healthy and enjoy ministry longevity (30). He lays out twelve gospel principles which help form such a leadership community. Tripp’s twelve principles are ACHIEVEMENT, GOSPEL, LIMITS, BALANCE, CHARACTER, WAR, SERVANTS, CANDOR, IDENTITY, RESTORATION, LONGEVITY, and PRESENCE. Rather than summarizing each principle individually, let me sum them up collectively: church leadership communities need one thing – more gospel!  

While that might seem like a “well, duh!” statement, Tripp points out that many church leadership communities think they are focused on the gospel, but really aren’t. In reality, they are focused more on the gospel work they are accomplishing. Church leadership teams work with the gospel, but is the gospel actually affecting them on a personal level? When pastors leave the ministry, Tripp sees that as a warning sign that the leadership is focused more on the work of the church rather than using the gospel on themselves. Tripp put it memorably when he wrote, “It is quite possible to be committed to leading robust gospel ministries and yet be denying the same gospel in your leadership community” (152). 

To counter the hyper focus on achievement, Tripp offers the antidote of gospel. Pastors and spiritual leaders need to be fed with the gospel. Pastors must be pastored. Spiritual leaders must first be spiritual feeders, feasting on gospel truths every single day. Tripp wants this focus on spiritually feeding our church leaders to be on the same level as missional strategies (53). Failing to prioritize your church leaders’ need for the gospel, Tripp warns, can easily lead to a church with “functional gospel amnesia” (58). In other words, leaders become tools of the gospel who remained untouched by the gospel. 

(Note: Tripp’s principles are capitalized in this paragraph.) The other ten principles flow from shifting a church leadership’s focus from ACHIEVEMENT to GOSPEL. A singular focus on the gospel at work in each church leader leads to a realistic view of God-ordained LIMITS and BALANCE in each church leader’s life. More gospel in a spiritual leader’s life leads to a more Christ-like CHARACTER, a more Christ-like attitude of a SERVANT, an IDENTITY founded in Christ, forgiveness and RESTORATION when dealing with sin, and greater ministry LONGEVITY. More gospel makes church leaders prepared for spiritual WAR and leads to helpful CANDOR among leaders. Above all, Tripp says, more gospel focuses you on the PRESENCE, power, and promises of Jesus. 

So does Tripp accomplish his two goals of a) solving the leadership crisis in churches and b) proposing a positive character model for ministry leadership? He definitely accomplishes the second. His model for ministry leadership, focused as it is on “more gospel,” will have a positive impact on church leadership. That’s because his solution of “more gospel” is the most powerful medicine for any illness in the church.  

Does Tripp accomplish his first goal of solving the leadership crisis in churches? This remains to be seen. For one thing, Tripp doesn’t actually prove there really is a leadership crisis in the church. He examines his own experience with hundreds of pastors and church leaders and draws the conclusion that there is a leadership crisis. But Tripp never actually shows that the issue of pastors leaving ministry is a result of non-Gospel-focused leadership. His conclusion, however, appears to be a safe one and is certainly part of the problem with pastors leaving the ministry. No man is an island, pastors included. I found myself nodding along when I read Tripp’s statement that “every leader’s ministry is a community project” (194), knowing that a wise pastor will surround himself with talented, Gospel-focused leaders.  

In Lead, Tripp does what he wishes ministry leaders would do for each other. He writes as a pastor for pastors, as a spiritual leader for spiritual leaders. In every chapter he exposes my sinfulness and my failure to lead as God wants me to lead. But he builds me up with the gospel, ignites a gospel-driven desire to be better, and provides a roadmap to more effective and biblical spiritual leadership. He uses God’s tools of law and gospel to lay low and build up, to encourage and equip, to mentor and motivate. Though Tripp’s Calvinist theology is evident throughout the book, he writes not just for pastors who share his theological leanings, but for all pastors.  

Lead is worth the time to read it. Read it on your own and you’ll benefit from some of Tripp’s “food for thought” gems, such as “no leadership community should do its work with a comfortable peacetime mentality” (121), “the primary tool the enemy uses to attack, disable, defeat, and set aside ministry leaders is ministry” (125), or his distinction between confessional theology and functional theology (185), which is what we say we believe compared to our actions, which are often a clearer indicator of our beliefs. 

Read it with your church leadership. Read and discuss the twelve principles over twelve months. Tripp asks plenty of reflection questions to get your leadership talking. If you have associate pastors, read it with them to refocus yourselves on pastoring not just your people, but also your fellow pastors.  

One word of caution: if you are looking for a book on improving a ministry leadership team’s strategic work, streamlining church council meetings, or maximizing the work of church leaders, Lead isn’t that book. Tripp admits (a little belatedly, as he writes this on the penultimate page) that “this book is not about the strategic work of the ministry leadership community but about protecting and preserving its spiritual depth so it may do its work with long-term fruitfulness” (221). Consider Lead a good step toward improving a church leadership’s gospel character, but look elsewhere for resources on how to have a church leadership function more effectively and efficiently.