The above quote is the premise for the entire book Work of Heart by Reggie McNeal. This book is an incredible book which looks at the need for leaders to take care of their hearts and to allow the Lord to work on them as well as the people in their congregations or under their leadership.
Reggie’s passion for healthy pastors leaks through every page of this book and encourages spiritual leaders to really focus on their own spiritual health and to stop neglecting their own health for the sake of helping others. Reggie splits this work into two parts: Part One- How God Shaped Moses, David, Paul and Jesus for Leadership and Part Two- Recognizing God’s Shaping Work in Our Own Lives.
In Part One, Reggie exegetes the lives of Moses, David, Paul and Jesus and shares with the reader how God worked on their hearts within 6 sub-plots to the narrative of their lives. Those 6 sub-plots Reggie says are: culture, call, community, communion, conflict and commonplace. Defining out these sub-plots is key for the reader to grasp the entire book, so Reggie defines them out early in his introduction. Here is how Reggie defines each sub-plot: “…Culture will be broadly defined to include all the environmental influences that shape the leaders life and ministry context” (McNeal 2000, p. xii). “The Call is the leader’s personal conviction of having received some life assignment or mission that must be completed” (McNeal, p. xiii). “They emerge within a Community that plays a vital role in shaping them. Actually, we should speak of multiple communities …the family of origin, or initial life community…the leader’s friendships and faith-ministry communities” (McNeal, p. xiii). “Communion. This aspect of heart-shaping reflects the leaders conscious cultivation of a relationship with God” (McNeal, p. xiii). “These Conflicts, whether personal, interrelation, demonic, or organizational, are not tangential developments (McNeal, p. xiii). “The Commonplace. A lot of heart-shaping activity goes on in the everyday run-of-the-mill, when-nobody’s-looking activity of the leader” (McNeal, p. xiii).
Moses, David, Paul and Jesus each then get a chapter dedicated to exposing God’s work in their life story through these 6 sub-plots. Reggie does a good job of pinpointing moments in each leader’s life where God was clearly at work on the hearts of these men. Although Moses’ story was the longest, it was also the most familiar to me, so not too much was gleaned that I would consider new.
I think one of the most powerful portions of this book came in the story of David, and the description of God’s shaping him within the call sub-plot. David received a secret anointing from Samuel and this was the beginning of God’s call on the young shepherd. “The anointing is the God-part of the leadership equation. It accounts for the leader’s effectiveness that reaches far beyond what the leader alone brings to the table…The experience of the anointing is truly humbling to the leader, who knows that unless God shows up, the crowd goes away hungry” (McNeal, p. 24). I love those words by Reggie, because it bestows the truth about Spiritual leadership, without God it can’t be done! If God has not called you to do a certain work and you attempt to do that work on your own, it’s folly! Reggie also says this about call: “Christian leaders certain of their call allow it to become the center of gravity for their life experiences” (McNeal p. 25).
Although I would love to expound on the rest of the cast of characters that Reggie brings forth, alas, brevity wins out. Suffice it to say that part one of this book is extremely deep and profound, making the reader see many of the same types of heart-shaping in their own narrative.
Part two of A Work of Heart seeks to highlight how the 6 sub-plots of our narrative are shaping us as well. This is where Reggie takes the topic of the book and points all the fingers at the reader. After taking a tour of these 6 sub-plots in the lives of Biblical characters, he effortlessly shifts the focus to the reader. To best “report” part two, I will place meaningful quotes from each of the remaining chapters and explain that chapter helped shape me.
Culture. “Leaders who cooperate with this divine work to look for ways in which God is at work in the culture and figure out how to belong to and transcend culture. Knowing where you stand demands that you become a student of culture” (McNeal, p. 78, emphasis mine). This chapter challenged me to really think about my current culture and how I can be in it so that I can transcend it. I can’t be so focused on things to the detriment of being culturally savvy. It’s sad, but true that many churches are slipping into irrelevance because they have failed to become students of culture. This is an essential part of heart-shaping.
Call. “God shapes the heart of the leader through the call. This call is a divinely orchestrated setting a part of the leader for some special task” (McNeal, p. 95). Heart-shaping through the call of God gives a person the laser-focus their life needs and gives them the ability to shoo things out of their lives that don’t fit. Most of the gleaning I got from “call” came from the chapter on David as well.
Community. “Not until spiritual leaders are willing to move past the Lone Ranger, heroic-leader model of leadership will they foster genuine community and release its power for transforming lives. No one suffers more from the lack of community than spiritual leaders themselves” (McNeal, p. 115). I think this quote epitomizes what I gained from this chapter. To be a heart-healthy leader, we need to serve in community, not alone.
Communion. “Great spiritual leaders are great spiritual leaders because they enjoy exceptional communion with God” (McNeal, p. 150). It seems simple enough: pastors should be with God, but the sad reality it most don’t. I would’ve loved Reggie to show the stats of pastors not in their Bible and not in prayer because they are astounding, but he didn’t. Even though he didn’t do this, he definitely challenges the reader to commune with God and to not neglect the power of that time with Him.
Conflict. “Too many times, leaders switch advisers until they hear what they want to hear. This results in leaders unprepared for battle” (McNeal, p. 161). I think too many pastors are afraid to have conflict, and because of this they don’t grow. In the lives of many Biblical characters, like Hosea for example, we see conflict upon conflict. It’s in those conflicts we can better see the Lord and we can better understand ourselves.
Commonplace. “The leader who accepts pain as the work of God in the commonplace grows from it rather than being diminished by it” (McNeal, p. 179). Where we are in our everyday life can be used by God. We need to allow God to take over more of our common places!
This is an excellent book, because it hits on the key issue of Spiritual Leaders and their health. I think this topic has been missed by many leaders and by many books written to leaders. I wish there was a chapter on Confession but there was no such chapter. Confession is definitely a work-of-heart because many leaders feel as if they have nothing to confess, or are too embarrassed to admit they have faults. However, this book fills a need in the category of Spiritual Leadership. I have learned much from the wisdom brought forth in this book and will attach many of the lessons learned to my life directly.