Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Failure to …Deliver

Written by: on November 8, 2018

As I worked my way through Edwin Friedman’s book, “A Failure of Nerve,” I kept finding myself conflicted by its content; which apparently, based on some of the reviews I found, I was not the only one. On one hand, Greg Wiens found the work to be, “especially relevant today as leader after respected leader allows personal immorality to cloud professional credibility[1].” However, these views were not shared by Daniel Kleven who wrote, “For my part, I’m not impressed, and actually concerned that imbibing Friedman’s principles may cause Christians, especially those with power, to view the marginalized in our society as “reactive parasites,” rather than carefully and humbly engaging with them[2].” For my part, I thought, “Oh great…another book on leadership.” However, I found the arguments being made thought-provoking and interesting. The reality I see is in agreement with Friedman, in that, I too believe that, “there exists throughout America today a rampant sabotaging of leaders who try to stand tall amid the raging anxiety-storms of our time. It is a highly reactive atmosphere pervading all the institutions of our society—a regressive mood that contaminates the decision-making processes of government and corporations at the highest level, and, on the local level, seeps down into the deliberations of neighborhood church, synagogue, hospital, library, and school boards[3].” For this reason, I was almost hopeful regarding the potential that this book may bring…and honestly, still see some potential in it.

First, what I liked about what I read. Though I do not believe that all businesses or governmental institutions should be run like a family, I do believe that the church should be. The attitudes we possess toward one another in our family units should present as far more encouraging, uplifting, and future-building in regard to how we treat one another. When I decided long ago to be a father, I did not start teaching my children when they became teenagers what I wanted them to become, but rather as babies. I taught them morals, values, and self-discipline; but even more importantly, I taught them about their relationship with God. All of these things were done to promote the men and women that they would someday become. Sadly, I believe our leaders are more a product of peer-pressure, money, and public opinion rather than integrity and training. Friedman sought to remove some of these societal stumbling blocks in order to prevent what he referred to as “societal regression;” which “(1) perverts the natural instincts of curiosity and adventure into a dogged quest for certainty, and (2) focuses on pathology rather than on strength.”

Second, these are a few of the things I did not care for about this reading.

  1. In the beginning of this reading, I thought it was going to show promise or a “bible” view or at least a “God” view of things; that feeling was short lasting. In fact, the very comments that gave me that hope would soon be replaced by a constant reference to “evolutionary” principles. In case no one else did the count: (38) uses of the word “evolve (d) (s)”, 27 uses of the word “evolution,” and 32 uses of the word “evolutionary.” These made me re-question the intended message in one early comment, which read, “The great thing to remember is that the mind of man cannot be enlightened permanently by merely teaching him to reject some particular set of superstitions. There is an infinite supply of other superstitions always at hand; and the mind that desires such things, that is, the mind that has not trained itself to the hard discipline of reasonableness and honesty, will, as soon as its devils are cast out, proceed to fill itself with their relations[4].” Did Christianity…or even God, just become one of the superstitions he was referencing? When viewing anything that deals with Christianity…even its leaders, I am quite certain that it is not the pattern of evolution that we should be following; on the contrary, I believe we learn through imitation, not evolution.
  2. My second conflict was one shared by Alistair Roberts, who wrote, “The third key characteristic of the imaginatively gridlocked system is ‘either/or, black-or-white, all-or-nothing ways of thinking’. Friedman maintains that ‘such intense polarizations also are always symptomatic of underlying emotional processes rather than of the subject matter of the polarizing issue[5].’” I suppose I believe that when referencing something, perhaps grey-area is permittable; however, when it comes to Bible, Christianity, and ministry, I am a strong believer in the “black-or-white” method of things. Friedman persist in referring to this methodology or mentality as a “cult-like atmosphere[6].” For me, there are too many scriptures that resonate in a much more definite nature; for instance:
    1. Matthew 5:37 “But let your ‘Yes” be “Yes,” and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
    2. Revelation 3:16 “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.”
    3. Luke 11:36 “If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light…”

I suppose I just believe that any gray areas are destined for trouble.

Personal reflection:

My dissertation is going to take a look at the role that leaders play in regard to the necessary teaching surrounding the topic of baptism. The very reason for writing this paper coincides with the implied message of this week’s reading; our leaders are not being molded properly to do the job they are called to do. The question I struggled with though, was how can this book help me to present a similar message in regard to biblical integrity when it comes to preaching? At one point, I was looking forward to a more structured method of learning to do just that, but unfortunately, I am very disappointed by this book’s potential in that area. When I view the call of Christian leaders for the church today, I believe we need to find stability through God’s Word over everything else. I do believe our leaders are being molded by popularity, public opinion, politically correctness, and modern-day justifications. Sadly, those are all a prescription for trouble; at least in my humble opinion. I always come back to Paul’s encouragement to Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth[7].” It is established that the best way to become the leaders we have been called to be, is to look to God for the guidance we need. I wish this book would have said that.




Friedman, Edwin H. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.New York: Church Publishing, 2017.

Kleven, Daniel. biblioskolex.wordpress.com.January 21, 2018. https://biblioskolex.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/review-a-failure-of-nerve/ (accessed November 8, 2018).

Roberts, Alastair. Alastairadversaria.com.January 8, 2012. https://alastairadversaria.com/2012/01/08/summary-of-edwin-friedmans-a-failure-of-nerve-part-1/ (accessed November 8, 2018).

Wiens, Greg. leadersthatlast.org.n.d. http://www.leadersthatlast.org/pdfs/a_failure_of_nerve_review.pdf (accessed November 8, 2018).



[1]Wiens, Greg. leadersthatlast.org.n.d. http://www.leadersthatlast.org/pdfs/a_failure_of_nerve_review.pdf (accessed November 8, 2018).

[2]Kleven, Daniel. biblioskolex.wordpress.com.January 21, 2018. https://biblioskolex.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/review-a-failure-of-nerve/ (accessed November 8, 2018).

[3]Friedman, Edwin H. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.New York: Church Publishing, 2017.

[4]Ibid, Kindle Locations 169-173.

[5]Roberts, Alastair. Alastairadversaria.com.January 8, 2012. https://alastairadversaria.com/2012/01/08/summary-of-edwin-friedmans-a-failure-of-nerve-part-1/ (accessed November 8, 2018).

[6]Friedman, Edwin H. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.New York: Church Publishing, 2017.

[7]2 Timothy 2:15.A

About the Author

Shawn Hart

12 responses to “A Failure to …Deliver”

  1. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Shawn,

    A balanced writing, yours was. Thanks for sharing both sides of your take on this book.

    Was wondering what you thought about the author’s thoughts–Adapts to the strong (as opposed to the weak) and works with the motivated (as opposed to the stuck). As I look back over 15 years of being a lead pastor, I am bummed I spent so much time pouring into the unmotivated. I wished I could work more with the willing! How about you in your ministry?

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Jay, I think I see it just the opposite. I have found that most of the motivated are happy to fly on their own, but there is no greater joy than seeing someone that was “stuck” or “weak” find their true path or potential. My frustration usually comes from the people that believe themselves too wise to learn anything; too strong to ask for help; and too sure to admit need. I am reminded of Jesus said in John 9:39, “For judgment I have come into the world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” Never forget that it is the lost that we are here to find and to lead to Him. I have always enjoyed a good challenge, but hated hitting a brick wall.

  2. M Webb says:

    Good introduction and challenge to the book and how it relates to our global leadership context for today. I tend to be conservative theologically but am keen to the idea that when scripture is ambiguous, we should not try to make it definitive, but instead let Scripture interpret Scripture.
    Excellent reflection and use of Scripture to amplify your dissertation position. Paul, thru the Holy Spirit, sure gave us a lot to think about as leaders called into the ministry.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  3. Hi Shawn, I really enjoyed reading you post. You offer an interesting perspective. One of the Quaker values that I appreciate is “All Truth is God’s Truth.” In other words, if a non-believing Jewish man like Friedman arrives at a truthful conclusion as a result of his sociological resreach, it doesn’t matter that he is not a a believer, the Truth he has discovered is still a Truth. That is to say, whether or not Friedman sees God as the creator of all things and therefore attributes observed human characteristics to evolution, the observed characteristics are still there–they exist. So I, as a believer, can learn from those observations even if I did not agree with his assessment of how those behaviors came into existence.

    As for grey areas–I agree that there are some absolutes in our faith –no one comes to the Father but by Christ, the wages of sin is death, the historical truth of the crucifixion and resurrection. These (among other things) cannot be compromised. They are the “spine” issues.” But in my opinion there are also “rib” issues. These are “up for discussion” or could be called “grey” areas. We could still call each other brothers and sisters in Christ, but disagree on worship styles, communion frequency, immersion or sprinkling, infant baptism or believer baptism, women in leadership or not, marraige after divorce or not.

    Do you think all of these are “black or white”?

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Jennifer…appreciate you calling me out. LOL. In my opinion (for whatever it is worth) they are all still black and white…however, it is because of how we view them, not necessarily the issues themself. I could go down your list if you like, but for now, allow me to put it this way; I believe that the Bible is made up commands…in the Old Testament they had the “LAW.” The law was full of problems, which God Himself deemed made it inadequate as a means of salvation, and yet, failure to keep the law would still result in punishment or even death…thus…Black and White.

      Under the New Covenant, we love the concept of “Grace,” however we must not forget that Jesus still said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments;” which thus reminded us that there are still specific expectations placed on us by God for obedience…thus black and white. The real question then, is how do we determine (according to your list), what is the right course of action to thus “keep My commandments?” Well, I believe that is determined on how much we study God’s Word verses how much we want to have a say in the matter. Sadly, those views will not always bring about the say interpretation, but it does not change the black and white of the issue.

  4. Dan Kreiss says:


    It seems that some of the material resonated with you while much of it did not. I think that is a strong indication that this book was valuable and caused all of us to think critically.

    In your role as a pastor you understand that it is necessary sometimes to avoid being pulled into conflict between members, what Friedman calls the leadership triangle. According to Friedman only those who are self-differentiated are fully capable of leading without fear of losing authority. I wonder if and/or how this idea has been evidenced in your own church leadership. Are there times you can look back on when you got sucked into conflict that ended up causing more harm? Are there others that you can look back to when you responded from a differentiated position? How does the reading of this text influence your perspective of those situations now and how might it going forward?

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Great questions Dan. I think the greatest obstacles we face in ministry leadership is when things become personal. If you want to get my cackle up, it usually takes a lot, but I will not lie and say that I am immune. However, I have become pretty thick skinned to personal attacks because frankly, as a minister, they are always coming in some form or another. I have really worked to stay focused on who I am trying to be…and that is a Man of God who is taking the gospel to others. The other day we talked about Christ being interrogated and in spite of all they said and did to Him, He just kept His cool through the entire process; how on earth do you go through all of that and stay so focused. We are actually dealing with some issues right now in the church that has a deacon threatening to leave; to be honest, the immediate issue is super petty, so I know there is much more going on that that. However, if I tell him that he is being petty, this situation will get even worse; so instead, I am trying to find out what is really the problem. I hope that is good leadership; it seems to be working. Am I always right? I WISH!! However, I am always trying to keep focused.

  5. Thanks for sharing your insight, Shawn!

    You create an interesting dichotomy and present us with two very different views of Friedman’s text. You mention that Daniel Kleven found the text to create an apathetic response to the needs of others and tempt Christian leaders to, “…view the marginalized in our society as ‘reactive parasites,’ rather than carefully and humbly engaging with them.” Many times, as Christian leaders we’re led by the calling Of Christ and the cries of people. We seek to meet needs, minister to the hurting and become the Balm of Gilead within our context. However, I’ve seen this turn into a barrier quite quickly and form a hierarchical system in regard to race, socio economic status, educational level, etc. When we’re compelled by God to serve the marginalized, many times, we keep people at a lower level because we’re there to minister ‘to them’, instead of working ‘alongside of them’. This can create people to see us as their savior or intercessor, instead of their brother or sister in Christ.

    Friedman suggest that we react based upon familial upbringing and believes that this influences us more than our cultural or ethnographic context. Did you find that you understood yourself more after reading this book? Did you find that you understood the reactions of others after reading the text? Do you think that we pigeon hold people with false assumptions based upon cultural assumptions, instead of understanding their family structure?

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Colleen, first, I completely agree with your first paragraph…there is only one way to be a truly effective minister, and that is to be family rather than supremacy. I suppose this was the element I felt that Friedman was failing to connect on in regard to ministerial leadership. I was not arguing the valuable nature of his leadership concepts in regard to most avenues of leadership; however, I just felt that many of his concepts did not transfer over to the ministry as effectively.

    As for the questions you asked; I hope I can always gain insight into myself with everyone I interact with; whether in person or even just through what I read. Furthermore, I see Paul and Christ especially interacting with leaders repeatedly in the Bible, and as a result, sometimes they gain ground in spreading the gospel, and other times…well, it led them to prison or the cross. For this reason, I realized that my job is not necessarily to understand everyone, but to at least do the best job of relaying the gospel that I can.

    As for understanding the reactions of others; well, one of the beautiful aspects of this program is that you get to see how differently we all see things based upon our focus; women see things different than men; counselors different than preachers; philanthropists different than missionaries; and professors different than students. Hopefully this is the avenue by which we can glean wisdom and knowledge from one another.

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