Published by Eerdmans on June 13, 2023
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Leadership
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How to cultivate a thriving Christian community in a disconnected culture
What does it mean to be a Christian community? And what does it mean to lead one? How does a pastor address today’s challenges, from lack of faith in institutions, to conflict in the church, to the tension between tradition and innovation?
C. Kavin Rowe addresses these topics and a multitude of others in this collection of keen essays. Bite-size and conversational, yet deeply rooted in Scripture and recent pastoral theology, the essays in Leading Christian Communities reflect on the shaping of Christian leaders for the flourishing of their communities. Pastors and seminarians, as well as all those involved in church ministry, will find inspiration and insight in these pages.
As I read through Leading Christian Communities, the thought I kept coming back to was that the content seemed better placed in a magazine or blog. After finishing the book, I did some research and, sure enough, that was exactly the case. The content of Leading Christian Communities originated in the Faith and Leadership blog from Leadership Education at Duke Divinity where Dr. Rowe serves as vice dean for faculty and professor of New Testament. Of the 28 essays that appear in the book, all 28 are printed verbatim on the Faith and Leadership blog. Whenever material like this gets adapted from one source to another, the questions I ask are “To what purpose?” and “How is the adaptation unique?” The answer to the former is that Eerdmans is publishing three volumes of Rowe’s essays, of which this is the first. But the answer of uniqueness is something different. Rowe does not add to or reflect upon his writing in any way. Leading Christian Communities is simply a physical printing of something previously only available digitally (and for free, I might add!).
I offer that critique to both make folks aware that they can sample Rowe’s writing on the Faith and Leadership blog before deciding if they enjoy it so much as to purchase it, but also because the origin of these essays explains its structure, format, and tone. Leading Christian Communities is a book that feels academic, but really isn’t. It’s written by a professor at Duke and academic in tone, but the brevity of the essays and the general lack of sources (even when sources are used, Rowe doesn’t always cite them) belie its casual nature.
As the series didn’t originate from the idea that Rowe would write a book on Christian leadership, Leading Christian Communities also suffers from a lack of cohesion. While the content is able to be structured under four main parts—(1) The Acts of the Apostles and Thriving Communities, (2) Christian Leadership, (3) Traditioned Innovation, (4) Christmas and Easter—the groupings definitely feel manufactured rather than organic.
However, my criticism of this book is solely in its existence as a book in the form in which it’s been published. In terms of content—knowing Rowe’s original genre for publication—Leading Christian Communities offers some solid insights. The brevity of each essay (fewer than 1,000 words per essay, I would guess) prevents Rowe from diving into any one topic deeply but does allow him to spur the reader’s mind toward thinking about the topic. I wish that there had been some effort to build upon or expand the essays—to add discussion questions or practical exercises—or even just to utilize materials that cohered in a better way. In the end, unless you really don’t like reading on screens (in which case, I doubt you’d be reading this review), just go read it on the website.