The American church has awoken to the need to invest in its leaders. Christian leadership development has become its own cottage industry with accompanying books, conferences, and celebrities. I drank deeply from this movement. I bought the books, took furious notes as I listened to speakers tell me the 3 (or 5 or 7) key principles for my success as a leader. But as I matured and stepped into a pastoral vocation, I began to sense that it wasn’t enough. I needed more than principles or strategies to walk alongside my people in the way of Christ.
Chuck DeGroat’s Toughest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead, and Love the Difficult People in Your Life is a different kind of leadership book. At its core, DeGroat is wrestling with how to follow the greatest commandments – love God and love neighbor – when it isn’t easy, which is most of the time. Toughest People to Love dances between psychology, spiritual theology, and soulful leadership in its attempt to show a way to be a Christian in a position of leadership. Theologically, DeGroat’s vision is rooted in Creation and Redemption as a restoration of Creation. We are all created in the image of God, meant for intimate relationship with God and each other. Sin has shattered (but not obliterated) this image. Both by birth and choice, we continue to live into these fragmented and false versions of ourselves, which God is working to restore in Christ.
The book is divided into two major sections – dealing with difficult people and dealing with ourselves. Chuck offers practical wisdom for walking with people with addictions, personality disorders, and the generally foolish people we live, work, and worship with. However, the heart of the book lies in how we deal with ourselves – engaging our darkness and living toward wholeness.
Through his engagement with theologians and mystics, DeGroat manages to provide a vision for leadership that engages the soul without being self-centered. He is able to maintain this balance because of larger theology. We were created for wholeness and intimacy. Avoiding our own dark places as leaders not only cuts off the healing we need for our own mission, but can seriously damage our ability to lead others into this life. He encourages the Christian leader to look intently in the mirror and invite God to work deeply in our lives.
Does Toughest People to Love say everything I want it to? Not exactly. There are times I wanted more systematic clarity on points of theology, but it is not that kind of book. Instead of a theological treatise, it is a spiritual invitation to loving our God with our whole heart and our neighbors as ourselves. And it is an invitation well worth reading.