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Saint Peter’s Principles: Leadership for Those Who Already Know Their Incompetence

Peter A. Lillback

Reviewed by: Garrett Miller

Date posted: 03/01/2020

Saint Peter’s Principles: Leadership for Those Who Already Know Their Incompetence, by Peter A. Lillback. P&R, 2019. Hardcover, 632 pages, $30.00. Reviewed by OP member Garrett Miller.

It is refreshing to begin a leadership book with an important cornerstone like humility. In my twenty-plus years in management, I have read more leadership books than I can count, and I do not recall an author focusing on the importance of humility. Knowing our limitations and shortcomings is the first step to becoming a great leader.

The title of this book is, in part, a play on the name of a management concept known as the Peter Principle. According to this principle, employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence and then stay there. Author Peter Lillback, the president and professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, turns this concept upside down by stating, “We don’t rise to our level of incompetence, but we begin there.” We are flawed sinners, and if we keep this perspective, we will walk more circumspectly. Lillback examines the life and leadership of the Apostle Peter to show us what true leadership looks like. Peter became a great leader. He understood his weaknesses, learned from his failures, and was able to lead the early church through its darkest days.

The self-aware, flawed leader is also bolstered by a great truth: we serve a God of providence. Despite our failures, God is working all things out for our good and his glory. What comfort! One of the first exercises Lillback recommends is to recount our failures. This reminds us of how God faithfully worked through them and helped us to learn some of life’s most valuable lessons. Humility enables us to learn and to be taught by our failures.

We often poke fun at Saint Peter because he was brash, impulsive, and made some huge blunders, but you’ll come to love our brother even more for his wisdom and leadership style. Peter’s growth as a leader began with the understanding of who he is, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Lillback does a terrific job of drawing out Peter’s maturation as a leader and showing why Peter’s life is a good example for us to follow.

Lillback’s style of writing is very easy to read, and his real-life, transparent, and personal examples help us to realize that growing as a leader is a challenge and call to all of us. The book divides into sixteen sections, each comprised of short two-to-three-page passages building on an introductory Scripture verse from Peter’s life. Thought-provoking questions follow, along with practical tips on ways we can apply these teachings to our lives.

This is an excellent book for individuals or groups studying leadership. Acknowledging our shortcomings puts us in a place where we are ready to listen and grow. Understanding our true estate drives us to seek godly wisdom. The Apostle Peter knew his frame yet sought and found wisdom and resources outside himself, and he became the leader God called him to be. You can, too, using Saint Peter’s Principles.

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