Book Review by the Rev. Dr. Randal Gardner

Led by God: A Monograph to Accompany Activate Human Capital – a New Attitude, by Rev. Canon Richard N. Morrison and Billie K. Fidlin

(Archway Publishing, December 15, 2016).  Kindle and print editions are available.

Former Trustee and Board President for CDSP, the Rev. Canon Richard N. Morrison, and lay leader for the United Methodist Church in Arizona, Billie Fidlin, worked together to write a notable book for church leaders: Led by God.  The book serves as a companion edition to Morrison’s earlier work targeted to leaders and managers in the business world, Activate Human Capital: A new attitude.  In Led by God Morrison and Fidlin further develop Morrison’s thesis that it is the people who work for an organization (or church) that need to be considered in ways that give them as much value in the eyes of the managers and pastors as do financial reports and assessments of property holdings. 

Having run companies, numerous nonprofit organizations, practiced law, led church congregations, and consulted with organizational leaders for more than three decades, Morrison and Fidlin drew upon what they had learned and studied to address cultivation and empowerment of the human resources that are at the core of all enterprises.  Relying on the same principles Morrison outlined in his business book, Fidlin and Morrison tie the principles to illustrations from churches and connect the principles to the teachings of Jesus and examples from the bible. 

While business metrics often focus on statistics and finance, Morrison shows how leaders who put more focus on the wellbeing and creative energy of an organization’s people have more success than those who focus on analytical reports and data streams.  Never discounting the importance of revenue and profits, Morrison and Fidlin make the case that seeing people as human capital in an organization helps churches and nonprofits be more creative, more adaptable to change, and more responsive to the way that the Spirit can bring the body into new and more significant ministry. 

The greater value of the human capital in an organization is developed through the people-oriented focus for management that Morrison and Fidlin outline: 

  1. Give people a purpose.
  2. Communicate widely.
  3. Accommodate/manage change.
  4. Create a culture of worth.
  5. Create a culture of hope.
  6. Reward performance.
  7. Create a vision of participation in determining the future of the organization.
  8. Express gratitude.

The authors provide quick snapshots of why each of these serves the good of a church and how each of these would look if enacted.  Each of the chapters on these topics ends with a few reflection questions.  The book would benefit if the questions were more oriented to a group conversation within organizations than as personal reflections, but the book maintains its focus on convincing the leaders about the value of improving their own people-oriented skills.  Perhaps by trying to prompt self-awareness the motivations to change and improve will increase. 

Morrison opens and closes his earlier book, Activate Human Capital, with an admission that he is frustrated that such a book needs to be written at all.  Indeed.  Since the first study in 1946 (Foreman Facts, from the Labor Relations Institute of NY) and since validated over and over again by Lawrence Lindahl and others, research and data abound to show that employees value empathy, appreciation, and belonging more than they value wages or promotions.  A recent survey done by Microsoft of more than 30,000 people in 31 countries found that about 40% of these workers plan to shift jobs in the next few years, most because their input at work has not been valued and because the condition of their lives beyond the workplace has been disregarded (Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index, “The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?”, March 22, 2021.)  Morrison and Fidlin reiterate this reality by counting people as a capital asset within an organization and offer brief and helpful pathways for increasing the value of that asset.

Both books are brief and engaging, drawing upon anecdotes for illustration and studies for validation.  Fidlin’s contributions to Led by God, drawn from her extensive work in nonprofit and church organizations, enrich what Morrison produced in the original edition of Activate Human Capital.  Either book can stand on its own, I think; and either book can serve a leader who has the desire to grow in skill and ability as part of increasing the success of an organization or church. 

Church leaders benefit from resources like this that help one dig a bit deeper into the best ways to enliven (and appreciate) the energy that the church generates.  Faith-based leadership is different than that found in many other organizations because most of these organizations rely on “employees” who volunteer, energized by mission, friendship, hope, and a sense of the good their efforts can produce.  Most also have significant commitments outside of the “job” of being a church worker or volunteer.  Leaders in the church’s system, whether ordained professionals or lay members who head up projects or programs, grow and benefit by taking stock of what they can and cannot contribute to the good of the effort.  A copy of Led by God would make a good “welcome to the work” gift for a new pastor, a new member of staff, or a new leader of a governing body or working committee.

The Rev. Dr. Randal Gardner served as a rector for three parishes and as Canon for Congregational Life in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.  He has been an adjunct faculty member in the Virginia Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program.  In retirement from parish ministry Gardner has been the Dean of the Chapel for CDSP and currently serves as Donor and Alumni Relations Associate for the School.