Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: Building Below the Waterline

Building Below the Waterline by Gordon MacDonald was recommended to me as a book to read on leadership. I'm hesitant about the obsession with 'leadership', especially when it seems to be business world wisdom applied to the church. The book was fine, and readable, but I'm not sure I would recommend it to others.

The title comes from the story of the erection of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. After months of construction work, there was still no sign of anything visible, and the public began to question the cost and the progress. But the construction firm were building below the waterline, putting in solid foundations so that what was above the water would stand firm, and indeed has done ever since. That's the metaphor MacDonald pursues, urging the reader to build solid foundations in the unseen, private world of the soul, so that public leadership is assured. The book is divided into those two sections - the inner life of a leader, and the outer life of a leader.

The book comes at the end of MacDonald's career, and acts as a reflection on a life of ministry and leadership. There are many allusions to some kind of breakdown or disgrace, but the story is never told, so the reader coming in ignorance is left in confusion and imagining the worst. Perhaps if this had addressed or explained in some way, the book would have made more sense.

As it is, the chapters are short, the practical application is ready-made, but I'm not sure that there's much of scripture in it. Rather, it seems to be practical pragmatism with some spiritual sweetener on top. It's fine, but not what I'd want to build my life on, above or below the waterline. In a similar vein, I much preferred Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller.

Building Below the Waterline by Gordon MacDonald is available for Kindle.

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