David Runcorn, Fear and Trust: God-centred Leadership (SPCK 2011, ISBN 978-0-281-06389-5)
reviewed by Colin Patterson
|This is an outstanding book, which combines thought-provoking study of Scripture with wise exploration of the challenges inherent in leadership.
I confess that it is a long time since I gave sustained attention to 1 and 2 Samuel. But after reading Runcorn’s observations I see a lot of familiar stories in a new light and now recognise the importance of some of the less famous incidents. The books of Samuel begin with the grief of a powerless woman, Hannah, before there are any kings in Israel, and ends with the grief of a powerful man, King David, full of regrets near the end of his reign. Both people are portrayed throwing themselves on the mercy of God. In between, as Runcorn shows nicely, the world of power politics, dominated by men, is one where leaders often fail to listen, either to God or to other human beings. Interestingly, in a number of incidents it is women who offer a different perspective; and the most commendable men, such as Jonathan, are the ones who forgo the playing of power politics. Runcorn ends by noting a pattern that has been evident through the whole narrative of 1 and 2 Samuel: “the significant turning points, the redeeming initiatives, the interpreting of meanings, and the breaking of deadlocks have not been found at the centres of power. … Time and again, we have traced the true presence of Yahweh to the words, actions or faithful presence of people on the edge of the ‘main’ script.”
The main lesson drawn out for Christian leaders is that they are called to “honest, disciplined attentiveness”. Runcorn draws on his own experience of offering training, spiritual direction and work consultancy to clergy, and puts his finger accurately on reasons why they may find themselves driven by anxiety, and so unable to be genuinely present to others. In doing so, he acts as a helpful interpreter of Edwin Friedman’s writing on the importance of “differentiation” in leaders. According to Runcorn, one sign that leaders are struggling to differentiate is that “other people or situations (or God) keep getting in the way of the story we want to be telling. A differentiated leader will have the ability to tell the story without blaming anyone else.” This is particularly important in a society that is suffering a crisis of community – what Runcorn calls “a collective abdication from shared responsibility, and a tendency to regress into ‘victim’ mentality in conflict.”
This book is not about technique. It helped me personally to face up to what I am afraid of. That’s the sort of book I think Christian leaders need to read.