Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender – A Review

Here is my analytical review of Dan Allender’s latest book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only is the book rich, but take a closer look at the cover of this book, what an excellent design. If you hit the cover it will get larger. The way in which I do this review is share a bit about the author, the authors thesis, an overview then some of my own thoughts on the book. With that said, let’s dive into the review.

Dan B. Allender, PhD. is founder of Mars Hill Graduate School near Seattle, where he currently serves as President. He is a therapist in private practice as well an author of a number of books. He writes in a heart-revealing way. He is a popular speaker, the husband of Rebecca and father of three children.

While many leadership books today focus on knowing your strengths and leveraging your power, Allender in Leading with a Limp argues that the best leaders live paradoxical lives, where they lead with power because of their weakness, find success through acknowledging their failures and lose their life, so that they might save it.

Allender makes it clear that living a paradoxical life requires faith and has enormous costs, but meaningful rewards. He paints a realistic picture of leadership through stories and by guiding us through five universal challenges that every leader faces and calls us to respond in a paradoxical way. When we face crises, we should respond with courage (brokenness and confidence) instead of cowardice (blame and control); when facing complexity, we should respond with depth (foolishness and creativity) instead of rigidity (dogmatism); when confronted with betrayal, we should respond with gratitude (reluctance and humility) instead of narcissism (envy and self-absorption); when faced with loneliness, respond with openness (honest hunger and community) instead of hiding (manipulation), and when faced with weariness, respond with hope (disillusionment and boldness) instead of fatalism (busyness). He encourages us to define our calling not just with nouns (sage, seer, mouthpiece, coach, catalyst), but also with adjectives, like broken, foolish, reluctant, hungry or disillusioned. He reminds us that limping leadership happens in the context of community and is more about forming character than running an organization. He ends with practical advice on how to tell secrets and explanations of the three leaders needed for any organization – king, priest and prophet.

I found the book refreshingly challenging. Refreshing because as Dan shared the beauty and effectiveness of limping leaders, he shared his own brokenness, foolishness, reluctance, hunger and disillusionment. Challenging, because being a limping leader has enormous costs and risks involved, and it takes a nuanced discernment for each of us to apply such wisdom in our life. Leading with a limp requires that we name “some very painful realities about life and leadership, about others and yourself” (7).

His chapter on telling secrets was paradoxical and helpful. He says the way that we embrace honesty is by: “giving up what is already painfully obvious, tell the truth without telling all the truth, and embrace the gospel in your failure to live the gospel” (173). He says we need to tell stories without all the spin, that include failure and the need of grace, stories that share “the already and the not yet, the call to be strong and tender, and the ways of being wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove” (177).

Here are some short quotes I want to contemplate: “There are no easy decisions. To decide requires a death, a dying to a thousand options…” (14). “A good leader will, in time, disappoint everyone” (14). “If you want a friend, get a dog” (33). “Ineffective responses to any of the biggest challenges of leadership – betrayal, crises, complexity, loneliness or weariness – result in failures that eventually come home to roost” (45). This book is worth reading annually. In my next reading, I hope to write out more of what I want to remember and do as a result of reading this rich and realistic book.

14 Responses to Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender – A Review

  1. Pingback: Leading with a Limp: A Review « Church Planting Novice

  2. brad says:

    I sat and thought for over a minute and couldn’t think of a single secular business that uses this model. I went and made coffee and still, nada.

    Ergo, this model of leadership must be true …

    How refreshing is that?!

    Thanks for your review, JR!

  3. JR Woodward says:


    Thanks for the ht. This book is a must for church planters, because each of the five challenges he talks about we will experience.


    You are so right, as one who enjoys reading some business books, it is quite refreshing not to have to try separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s all wheat.

  4. Joel Lane says:

    I began reading, “Leading With a Limp.” I have only made it through the “Introduction: What are you in for?” and I am floored with information. I had to re-read it and take notes; not because the author is too hard to understand, but because I realized how true the information was in my own life. I started to read this book with the thought that it was written for leaders in high places. However, I realized that I am a leader in many ways and this information is right-on with many of the things I struggle with. I’m sure I will have more to say once I have finished the book; but, as for now, being a person who has been led by fear, a person who is living a passionate life but feels helpless and disturbed by the complexity of this world, and a person who has struggled (or does struggle) with addiction to an unhealthy lifestyle and an addiction to inhumane actions, I can already see the connection of dealing with these issues and realizing the freedom and the peace that could come from “Leading With A Limp.” I have heard it said before that one cannot be a leader without followers. Even with just that idea in mind, it would be great to understand who I am following. I suspect that this book will give me a greater understanding of the leaders I have followed in the past, the leaders I will follow in the future, and the leader I am/am becoming.

  5. Chris in RVA says:

    I preached yesterday on James’ exhortation to confess our sin to one another, and how counter-intuitive this is in our culture but how critical it is to healthy life of the body.

    I’d be interested to hear your reflections, JR, on how this level of honesty goes over in LA. My sense is that self-promotion is a strong part of the cultural narrative there.

  6. Chris in RVA says:

    Not to suggest that LA’s the only place where that is the case, of course…

  7. jrwoodward says:


    Dude, thank you so much for sharing such meaningful words. I appreciate you sharing your journey with us and the short time that I have known you, you have really blessed me by your openness, and hunger.


    Hey man, in regard to how this kind of honesty goes over here in LA, like I mentioned in the review, it is always somewhat challenging to be open. Part of the risk is that sometimes people like to take what you have said and throw it back in your face at the worst possible moments. With that said, I think it is quite refreshing for people in LA, especially to hear pastors be open. Most people respond quite positively to that.

    My fellow communicator at Kairos, Greg Larson does a much better job than me in openness when it comes to preaching. I sometimes share very personal things, but not always. I have those close to me who I like to share with about everything, but I need to them. At times I have taken risks in opening up myself to people in public. Yet I probably tend to be more cautious. The place, the people and other factors influence me in different ways.

  8. Very Nouwen: power through weakness!

  9. Noticed the book review title on Twitter and hopped over – this has been one of those on my “I should read” years (it’s fairly old, right?). Thanks for the summary–that’s helpful. I think this exactly the kind of leadership that was modeled for me and that I grew up into at U of Illinois. But I’ve noticed that over the last few years away from my church there, I feel like I’ve lost some of these values: more likely to lead with power or charisma or argument than other ways. That’s disappointing. It’s not like I don’t hold this kind of leadership in high regard–I still do. But practicing it and agreeing with it really are different things I guess.

    I’m thinking the leadership environment really helps. It was easier to be open with weakness when I was in an environment where others were doing the same, and grandstanding with ones strengths wasn’t particularly rewarded.

  10. Evan Hansen says:

    I read this book at the tail end of seminary, before heading to VA and a life of ministry. I thought it was wonderful and it really challenged me. I should probably re-read it now that it’s been 3 years. I’ll second your recommendation!

  11. Arlene says:

    Sounds like a good book for me to read….what you wrote is so packed full of good stuff I will have to re read this tomorrow…our service @ Riv was enough for today

  12. Arlene says:

    Whether publically or privately ..being an open book to those God puts in our path is very risky….my greatest pain has been from those close to me, Christians and then family members so it’s easy to think why risk it…..but overall I really want people to see & know the real me…I know I am a safe person to talk to but I really want others to see God as a safe person too so to me being open & vulnerable is the only option….I need to work on this more though!!!

  13. JR Woodward says:


    For sure. It’s totally worth the re-read. Good to hear from you bro. Hope all is well.

  14. Pingback: My Top Ten Books on Leadership | Exponential

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