Book Review: Alone At The Top

There’s only a few books in my adult life that I could say that I “tore” through in just a few days or less. As the parent of a 9 year bookworm, I watch my daughter in disbelief as she walks around the house tripping over any number of things; whether it be dolls, a fisher price airplane, her little brother, or our 3 legged dog Maple, because she has her head glued into the suspense of some fantastic adventure book. For me, the only books that have had a similar effect on me was a story about the “Metal Cowboy” who rode his triple tandem bicycle across the country with three kids, his breastfeeding wife, and his cloth diapered infant, yes, that book, and this book, Alone At The Top by Dwight Smith.
I’m not sure if it was the great cover photo on the book, or the excessively large print throughout, but I was immediately drawn in. Smith starts the book with great encouragement by the way of statistics. “In some Continents, like Latin America and Africa, and in some nations, like China and India, the numbers of Christians are staggering - over one hundred million in Latin America, over three hundred million in Africa, and, maybe the most amazing of all, over 100 million in China.” When I read these words, I was immediately reminded of the stories I was told via Sunday School flannel-graph boards about Amy Carmichael, the missionary that wanted blue eyes. Amy was an Irish child who prayed for blue eyes, but as an adult Amy came up with a disguise that helped her avoid being detected as a missionary in India as well as China to serve young girls forced into prostitution. She wore a sari, the traditional head-dress of Asian women, and used tea bags to dye her skin dark brown. In my mind, I still considered these areas of the world as “unreached,” or hostile to the Gospel. It was very encouraging to see what the missionaries of the last 200 years had been able to accomplish because of their willingness to pursue God’s call.
Dwight Smith brought the challenge directly to me when he said “God has designed leadership to cooperate to the maximum with his infinitely reproducible church.” The author points out that he himself had never received appropriate training in leadership that matches up with God’s plan for a decentralized life and decentralized church into the world. This resonated with me incredibly well, because although I have had many opportunities to lead, and many formal and informal methods of leadership instruction through my time in the military; each of these leadership techniques have to do with gathering and pulling people into and under a centralized top-down structure that doesn’t seem to match up with an Acts 1:8 church on mission.
For me, after the page-burning reading pace concluded and I finished the book for the first time, I found myself returning again and again to the 7th Chapter entitled: The Five Functions Given By Jesus. It is here where I studied and explored again and again the Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelistic, Shepherding, and Teaching functions as demonstrated in Ephesians 4. Never before had I been made aware of these differences and leadership characteristics of those God has called to propel his mission forward! I learned to be cautious is self-assigning my own gifted-ness or function, because in my youthfulness I could begin to view life through only that lens or function. As Smith states: “Maturity may reveal these myopics slowly over time.”

Therefore, as I continue to grow and explore my own function(s) I finally encourage each reader to dwell on this challenge given by Smith in regards to the needs of the Church today: “We need Christ’s people to live in a greater interdependent reality than our gifts individually or even united can produce.” As I have begun to explore this truth, I am more and more encouraged at what God’s people can do if they position themselves in a way that exemplifies God’s design for leadership. You should be encouraged too! A day for global change for the Gospel is at hand.


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