Lead like Joshua: a book review


Of the writing of books on leadership, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, it seems there is no end. That goes for Christian books as well as anything else.

A recent addition to the genre is Derek Tidball’s Lead like Joshua. In the course of 23 chapters, the book moves systematically through the story of Joshua and does a great job of combining careful attention to the biblical text with the author’s ability to draw on his wide experience of leadership as well as various contemporary authors. It’s not as though the world needs another leadership book, but the author believes that too few of them ‘hit the spot’ from a Christian perspective. Too many of them draw freely on secular ideas but fail to deal seriously with the Bible. Too many of them are too complex for the average church leader to gain from them.

Contra those who might wish to argue against the concept of leadership (at least business-style leadership) in the church, Derek Tidball affirms the significance of leadership in Scripture, though he is keen to point out that Joshua ‘was not written as a textbook on leadership for later generations’!

Be careful not to go away from studying Joshua having learned leadership lessons, but having learned nothing about the sovereign Lord who keeps his word and saves his people.

I’d like to say that that is one of the most important sentences in the book, and one which ought to sound a note of caution for anyone who wants to write a book or teach a seminar on leadership from a particular biblical text. I fear it is too easy to fall into the trap of losing sight of the reason particular texts have been given to us!

Lead like Joshua begins with a reflection on what it means for a leader to ‘assume responsibility’ and thereafter the chapters have similar, pithy titles: ‘build foundations’; ‘make decisions’; ‘recall history’; ‘trust God’; ‘demonstrate perseverance’.

By the end of the book, a careful reader could have assembled a 23-point checklist of good leadership practice: a checklist against which to assess his or her leadership.

But the book is more than a checklist! There is careful engagement with the biblical text, along with reflections of Derek Tidball’s considerable experience as an evangelical leader in the UK, and an ability to draw on various key voices on leadership themes. You’ll find church leader Bill Hybels, author and speaker Gordon MacDonald, leadership writers James Kouzes and Barry Posner: you will even find Sir Alex Ferguson!

Personally I was particularly chuffed to see a chapter devoted to leadership ‘crucibles’ the theme of my recent doctoral research.

Although I was sent a complimentary copy of the book, I am not on commission to suggest that as a new term gets underway, church leadership teams could do worse than set aside time in their regular meetings to work through this book (there are questions at the end of each chapter) in their own context.

Here is the list of chapters:

  1. Assume responsibility
  2. Build foundations
  3. Make decisions
  4. Gather intelligence
  5. Prepare thoroughly
  6. Take risks
  7. Recall history
  8. Gain respect
  9. Surrender status
  10. Trust God
  11. Face failure
  12. Confront sin
  13. Re-energize people
  14. Renew vision
  15. Correct mistakes
  16. Fight battles
  17. Demonstrate perseverance
  18. Manage administration
  19. Honour others
  20. Display compassion
  21. Guard unity
  22. Mentor others
  23. Keep focus



Leadership learnings: Chris Thompson


Chris Thompson is Ministry Support and Development Co-Ordinator with Youth For Christ, Northern Ireland. Previously he has worked for Waringstown Presbyterian Church and Prison Fellowship.

He told me about his most significant leadership lesson:

My most significant leadership lesson is that people matter and that leadership is about people.

He saw this modelled by his boss at Prison Fellowship.

He said … to me when I first arrived that this is a people ministry. And so how it was structured was that there was an office and there was a drop-in facility, at least people would have dropped in who would have been in urgent need in some ways. And so he would have said, you stop what you’re doing if there’s a people need – you stop what you’re doing and respond to it, no matter how important your tasks are. And he modelled it in the sense that he would have stopped what he was doing and have stopped stuff for days if needs be to respond to a need. So I learned then that the priority of leadership is people and to invest in people.

Leadership learnings: Lee Russell

Lee Russell Exec Director

Lee Russell is the Executive Director of the Christian Police Association,  a Charity that encourages and supports Christians in the Police Service.  Prior to taking up this role  he served in the Police for 30 years.  Lee holds a Masters Degree from Canterbury Christ Church University.

Here is how he describes his most significant leadership lesson:

The most significant leadership lesson I have learned is not to underestimate someone.  This cuts both ways,  either their ability to do harm or their ability to enhance/develop and support your work/project/plans.  For the purpose of this short viewpoint from me I will concentrate on the positive aspects you can gain if you remember not to underestimate someone. 

I spent my formative working years in a very hierarchical organisation.  However,  what I learned at an early stage is that the level you are in any organisation does not necessarily mean you have the best ideas/abilities/knowledge to progress a given task.  I discovered that you could find people at all levels in your organisation who just “knew” what the answer was and knew the route that needed to be taken to be successful in a given situation.  A good leader will remember this,  will look for those people, and will take risks in pushing a person beyond their colleagues/line managers and their own personal perceptions of their ability.

There are many examples throughout the Bible where our Lord took people who were underestimated by others and by themselves.  Perhaps, Moses is the most obvious example.  However,  I also like the story of the feeding the 5,000 (John 6 1-14). Who would have thought that a small boy bringing his packed lunch of five small loaves and two small fish could have helped Jesus perform a miracle?  Jesus didn’t underestimate anyone!

Leadership Learnings: Sam Balmer


Sam Balmer, from Enniskillen, is one of three elders in Fermanagh Christian Fellowship. Along with his wife, Louise, he is involved additionally in the work of Bible Educational Services and Sow2Reap Trust.

He shares what he has been learning about leadership: it’s very honest and very personal.

As a direct result of burnout, following a very busy and prolonged period of leadership ministry both in church life and in the charitable sector I learned a number of hard lessons. On occasions these still raise their ugly heads!

I discovered that the success of church and ministries do not depend on me – I realised my acceptance by God was not dependent on my work for God – I learned that identity should be grounded in Christ not in my ministry for Christ – I had to learn to say NO, to rest, to simplify life and not feel guilty about this.

My pride and ego took a hit! Gods work continued and expanded while I was off thus confirming all of the above lessons. Reminding myself of these is necessary from time to time.  Through all this experience God remained faithful and His steadfast love ever bountiful.
He also describes the value and significance of  the ‘amazing’ support of a good wife, family and faithful friends.
Music (via a couple of apps) helped during what he describes as long nights and troublesome days. The Holy Spirit spoke to him as he read the book of Jude, both encouraging him and showing him that God will be victorious.
  • In my need for mercy, peace and love my God is sufficient is supplying these in abundance (v2).
  • In my battle contending for the faith not just publicly but privately as the enemy battles with my mind my God is victorious (vv3,4)
  • v20,21 In my worship as I build myself up, pray, bask in Gods love and wait for His mercy my God is glorified (vv20,21)
  • in my inability to keep myself from stumbling and ultimately present myself before His presence my God is able (v24)
And as a concluding word:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Leadership Learnings: Alan Wilson

Alan Wilson* worked as a pastor for just over 20 years: first with Westlake Church in Switzerland, where he spent 17 years, and then with Portstewart Baptist Church on the north coast of Northern Ireland. More recently he has been working on his doctorate, exploring ‘crucible’ experiences in the development of Christian leaders.


Here are two things he has learned about leadership over the years:

1 – This goes for leadership in any sphere. When you are making decisions as a leader, or a leadership team, be sure to consult with the people who are going to be most affected by the decision. Not to do this is poor leadership and easily leads to hurt, resentment and anger. I have observed it (and been guilty!).

2 – More specifically for Christian leaders, remember that it is not ‘by might, or by power, but by God’s Spirit’ that the work gets done. The lesson is dependence. It hit me several years ago when I was a young leader and our church was struggling. I discovered Paul’s reflection that his (far more intense and serious) experience of difficulty was designed so that he would learn not to rely on himself but on God (see 2 Corinthians 1:9). The verse became part of a season for me – and the other leaders of our church – of intentionally stilling ourselves to listen to God (and finding his blessing on our church).

*Apologies for writing about myself in the 3rd person!

Leadership Learnings: Philip Emerson

Philip Emerson is one of the lead pastors at Emmanuel Church in Lurgan, a church that was birthed in his living room, just over 20 years ago.


I asked him about his most significant leadership lesson and how he had learned it.

I’ve always loved team. You only have to go 3 or 4 words into the Bible and you find team (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). So I think my most significant lesson has been that if you have to not give glory to God for anything – and I don’t think that should happen – it should always go to a team. And I think I’ve always got cautious when I’ve heard people say ‘I’ or ‘my’ idea. And on the back of that, I think, raising another generation of leaders. I think we need to always be looking, fathering. That’s my biggest leadership lesson.

How he learned this?

I think by realising that all of us are smarter than one of us and all of us are smarter than some of us, and the more people I can get round the table talking about an idea, the better the idea becomes. So my ideas actually pale into insignificance and I think that’s been the big learning curve for me in leadership is actually the more people involved in the conversation the better it usually becomes.

Leadership learnings: Eddie Arthur

Eddie Arthur describes himself as an agitator and mission thinker, He has been involved with mission for several decades, notably with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

eddie_arthur_2aI asked Eddie to tell me the most important thing he had learned about leadership and how he learned it.

Here is his answer:

Just talking about things doesn’t mean they will happen. You have to take action and, above all, empower your team to move forward and take the flak for them when they do.

I learned this the hard way; by seeing that my good ideas didn’t get put into practice just because I told people about them and we passed motions in meetings. I had to do some work; not just think great thoughts.

Eddie went on to add this second lesson:

Leadership reveals the strengths and weaknesses of your character – but people will take more notice of the weaknesses! You have to learn to use your strengths and develop your areas of weakness. I learned this by seeing my own character flaws exposed to others and to myself. Thankfully God is merciful and so are most of my colleagues!

If you are a leader, how would you answer the question? What has been your most significant leadership learning?