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Thursday, March 3, 2022

























This paper is a book review of “The Making of a Leader” by Dr. J Robert Clinton.[1] The paper begins by summarizing the content of the book and then my personal take-aways.

Chapter 1: A Letter to Dan, the Intern - Clinton begins his book by sharing an anecdotal story of a letter he wrote to a young intern he knew, named Dan. Dan was struggling with feelings of inadequacy because he wasn’t moving fast enough into the areas of ministry he felt called to. Clinton’s answer to Dan was to summarize the ministry growth phases he has seen people go through over one’s lifetime. He hoped that by seeing the long-game or big-picture, Dan would be able to relax into this season and enjoy it for what it was (knowing that each season matters) rather than trying to rush the process. The remainder of the book breaks these ministry phases down into more detail.  

Chapter 2: The Basis for Lessons: The Big Picture – Clinton takes a chapter to provide the high-level overview of the ministry phases he identified while studying the lives of others. In short, they are Phase I – Sovereign Foundations, Phase II Inner-Life Growth, Phase III Ministry Maturing, Phase IV Life Maturing, and Phase V Convergence. At each of these stages, God has his direct hand in the process, often in ways that one cannot see or recognize during that phase (especially early on).

Chapter 3: Foundational Lessons: Inner-Life Growth Processes – In these early days, Clinton observes, the person will have their character developed. These are the days they may not even be doing ministry but may be working some other job or having other life experiences. Clinton asserts that they will be given a “Word Check”, which tests the person’s ability to understand/receive a word from God and allow God to work it out in their life.[2] He concludes that character is developed when someone receives a word, obeys, and has integrity throughout the process.

Chapter 4: Second Lessons: Ministry Maturing Processes —Part I and Chapter 5: Second Lessons: Ministry Maturing Processes —Part II – Clinton places the maturing process into two chapters. While he subdivides the maturing process into multiple line-items (Ministry Task, Ministry Challenge, Ministry Skills, Insights, Challenges, etc.), all these items can be summarized by saying the individual will have life-experiences that allow them the opportunity to grow internal character, horizontal relationships with others, and vertical relationship with God. He then takes an additional chapter, Chapter 6: Ongoing Lessons: Guidance and Other Multi-Phase Processes, to discuss how one may enter phases in life where they are faced with new decisions. These may lead them to need guidance, mentors, confirmations, and/or face the fact they need to make a change.

Chapter 7: The Deepening Lessons: Life Maturing Processes – Clinton says that these processes are not linear but congruent. One can be at different phases in different areas of their ministry or life experiences. They can be cyclical, being-doing-being-doing, as one grows into the ministry.[3] He also discusses how Isolation, Conflict, and Crises can lead to maturing in the individual.

Chapter 8: Integrating the Lessons of Life: Toward a Ministry Philosophy – After having been through a few rounds of life experiences, one develops what Clinton calls a “Ministry Philosophy”. This may be more aptly put a set of ministry philosophies, as he gives multiple examples of his ministry philosophies through pithy one-liners. Examples of these are “ministry has to be personal”, “expression deepens impression”, and “truth discovered by the learner sticks longer”.[4] He provides some advice for developing a set of ministry philosophies, and their underlying principles.

Chapter 9: Accepting the Lessons of Life: The Leadership Challenge – Clinton concludes by asserting the need for leaders who continue to press into growing as leaders throughout their life, provides a few warnings, and keys to finishing well.


            I begin with my major critique, which is based largely on my own biases. I chaff at all systems. I find that real-life is far more organic than systems allow. I found the idea of systematizing and categorizing the leadership process into flow charts and stages to be somewhat arbitrary and forced. While I can appreciate that there are some observable patterns, I resist the idea that they fall into phases as cleanly as Clinton has presented. He himself admits this but uses the phases as a general guideline. Had the content been presented in a “here are some random observations I’ve made about people who are leaders, in no particular order”, I might have been more receptive. This in and of itself may be a take-away, something to be aware of in my own personality matrix.

            That being said, I did find he made some good observations. The big take-away for me really came in chapters one and two as a reminder of a life-truth I learned the hard way. There is no “there”, slow down and enjoy the ride. As a Widower, I came to a sudden realization that all the things I had been striving for did not matter anymore. I am in Bible College for my own edification. If it ever becomes anything is quite beside the point. Like Dan, I had been in a race to get to this ideal point where I wanted to be. My ideal ministry or lifegoal seemed always just out of reach. I now see that there is no “there”. Even if one accomplishes the goals, they set out to achieve, there will be new goals just around that corner. Taking the time to appreciate the season I am in is more important than achieving anything “significant”. I repeat my favorite quote from the text: “Leadership is a lifetime of lessons. It is not a set of do-it-yourself correspondence courses that can be worked through in a few months or years.”[5] I also appreciated the collection of pithy sayings. In NCIS’s Agent Gibbs fashion, I have collected my own sayings, which I keep published on my personal blog under “Sayings to live by”.[6]  For me, the general lessons all apply but I do not believe they fall as cleanly into phase as Clinton would like to present.

[1] J. Robert Clinton, The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development, Rev. ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012).

[2] Clinton, 57.

[3] Clinton, 136.

[4] Clinton, 156.

[5] Clinton, 33–34.

[6] Darrell Wolfe, “Sayings To Live By,” Blog,, accessed February 5, 2022,


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