You Must Read This . . . Recognizing Leadership Potential

By Mandy Smith

The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership
Stephen B. Sample

San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003

It seems the church is ready for some contrary thinking on leadership, not for the sake of being contrary, but to challenge assumptions that may not be scriptural or right for our era. Consider several examples:

• Rex Miller explains that for the past 60 years, organizations have rewarded “skills like persuasion, a high-profile image, innovation, risk taking . . . leaps up the success ladder, interpersonal skills, the ability to think on one’s feet, and so forth. . . . But congregants in the emerging culture are hungry for leaders who are approachable, transparent, and real. They want to connect with someone who is unscripted, unrehearsed, and not ‘on.’”1

• Adam S. McHugh shares his own story: “I subconsciously believed that ministers and other Christian leaders needed a certain set of personality traits in order to thrive in ministry. . . . My struggles to be an introverted pastor are representative of the struggles many introverts face when navigating the waters of Christian community, which can be unintentionally, or intentionally, biased toward extroversion.”2

• Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson call for churches to invite more female, or right-brained, ways of thinking into their leadership, concluding by saying that “movements need ‘masculine’ technique and structure, certainly, but they also require us to be more fluid, responsive, and intuitive in order to develop—especially when we need creative solutions in order to thrive/survive.”3

And here’s why I love The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership by Stephen B. Sample and why I think Christians should read it. It opens our eyes to alternative ways to lead and so opens leadership to a multitude of passionate people who may not otherwise recognize their leadership potential. While it’s not published as a church leadership title, its relevance for the church is obvious (which is why Willow Creek invited Sample to speak at its Leadership Summit soon after the book was released).

Without maligning traditional ways of leading, it empowers leaders who naturally see the world differently, who are a little more creative or philosophical or slower to make decisions than the leadership types we usually see. As such, it will be a great tool for artists, introverts, women, intellectuals, or anyone who questions his or her ability to lead because he or she doesn’t fit the usual model; it can help that person see that he or she brings something unique to the organization.

The point is not simply to let everyone have a turn for the sake of equality—not everyone is called to be a leader—but to make the most of the riches within the kingdom. After all, with the vital mission of our church, we can’t afford to overlook or discourage any leader God has gifted for his work.


1M. Rex Miller, The Millennium Matrix: Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 154, 155.

2Adam S. McHugh, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009), 12.

3Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: A Journey into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 94, 95.


Mandy Smith is an artist and author who serves as a pastor at University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the creator of The Collect, a citywide trash-to-art project. Her latest book, Making a Mess and Meeting God: Unruly Ideas and Everyday Experiments for Worship is available at and her weekly musings can be found at


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