Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Leading Without Power by Max Depree – A literary Review


I’m continuing with my literary reviews on missional leadership.  Today I will be reviewing Max De Pree’s book entitled Leading Without Power.   

I basically start with my sense of the author’s thesis, followed by a
general overview of the book, and then I focus on themes that are
pertinent to my research. With that said, here is my review.

Max De Pree asserts that “places of realized potential” like nonprofit organizations “spring to life when we move personally and organizationally beyond mastery to joy.” (7)


After describing what places of realized potential are like, De Pree gives advice on how to move from being just an organization to being a movement.  As De Pree shares the challenging context where we find ourselves, he gives motivation to serve, and then gives leaders of nonprofits some vital thoughts on what we need to measure if we want to reach our full potential.  He says, “In the nonprofit world, qualitative concerns seem so much more appropriate than matters easily quantified.”  Other areas that he mentions that can bring life to movements are: communicating well, valuing families, embodying the qualities of vitality, sharing vision and building trust.  He closes the book with three more elements that bring life to movements: risk for love, be a place of hope and leave a legacy.

The eight ways he describes places of realized potential is helpful:

    1. A place of realized potential opens itself to change, to contrary opinion, to the
    mystery of potential, to involvement, to unsettling ideas.
    2. Places of realized potential offer people the opportunity to learn and to grow.
    3. A place of realized potential offers the gift of challenging work.
    4. A place of realized potential sheds its obsolete baggage.
    5. A place of realized potential encourages people to decide what needs to be
                measured and then helps them do the work.
    6. A place of realized potential heals people with trust and with caring and with
    7. People in places of realized potential know that organizations are social
    8. A place of realized potential celebrates. (11-18)

De Pree’s book reminds, encourages, inspires and challenges leaders to create environments where people can reach their full potential and contains many things that missional leaders should ponder.

In regard to movements, “One of the first things required in movements is spirit-lifting leadership, leadership that enables, enriches, holds the organization accountable, and in the end lets go” (25). “Character cannot replace competence” (25). “One of the beauties of a movement is the clear commitment to substance over bureaucracy” (27).  Some signs that movements are deteriorating into just organizations include: “We begin to prefer comfort to ambiguity. We look for control rather than challenge. We begin to trust job assignments rather than respecting individual gifts” (29).  “Movements degrade when rules dominate decisions” (31).

In regard to what we should measure, “In my experience a failure to make a conscious decision about what it is we’re going to measure often causes discombobulation and a lack of effectiveness and a lack of achievement.” (47) De Pree asks some great questions in the chapter that cause us to measure qualitatively.  Chapter four is worth looking into with greater detail.

The attributes to vital organizations are good to remember: truth, access, discipline, accountability, nourishment for persons, authenticity, justice, respect, hope workable unity, tolerance, simplicity, and fidelity to a mission.

This book is rich with wisdom, easy to read and worth reviewing again.  It is fitting to close with a quote about legacy, “A legacy results from the facts of our behavior that remain in the minds of others, the cumulative informal record of how close we came to the person we intended to be” (163).

4 Responses to Leading Without Power by Max Depree – A literary Review

  1. D Malwitz says:

    It seems as though the description of an organization is one that is embraced by mega sized churches where due to the large size comfort, control, and job assignments are a necessity. Smaller communities might have a better opportunity at creating this movement described. If this is the case, how can a larger church create a “movement” or movements within itself?

  2. JR Woodward says:


    You are perceptive and ask some great questions, questions that I think would probably take a bit of space to draw out. In this response, I will just mention one option, because of time and space.

    One recommendation and challenge I would give to the larger church is to consider being a church that plants (starts) new missional churches on a regular basis. This gives a fresh challenge to the church consistently, and allows this new church to consider ways to embody herself in this new context and experiment with fresh expressions of being the church. Statistically more people come to faith in both new and smaller churches, and starting new churches stretches the church planting teams faith and helps more people exercise their gifts.

    If the church plant is close in proximity, the group of churches could help one another and work together in many different ways, creating a neighborhood church movement around the city.

    As I said before, that is just one suggestion for a larger church, one that more churches are opting for today.

  3. David says:

    Its funny you say that because recently these things have been on the hearts of me and some of my close friends. Here in the suburbs north of NY city there is a huge need we see for a strong missional church. I approached the pastor of emerging generations at Walnut Hill.
    Although they see the need as well, church planting is not currently a part of their vision.
    Could you recommend a resource where we could see exactly what a missional church plant might look like?

  4. Pingback: Dream Awakener » A Primer on Today’s Missional Church

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