The Leadership Journey Podcast: Terry Virgo on ‘God’s Treasured Possession’

This week Terry Virgo is back on the podcast and he’s talking about his new book, ‘God’s Treasured Possession: Walk in the Footsteps of Moses’, which has just recently been published by IVP.

We start our conversation by asking ‘why Moses?’ and go on to talk about a number of the themes arising from the book.

There is a special offer for listeners in that IVP, the book’s publishers, are offering a discount when you order from their website: you can get the code at the beginning and end of the podcast.

Terry was previously on the podcast in November when we discussed his leadership journey. You can listen to that conversation here.

God’s Treasured Possession: Walk in the Footsteps of Moses

For some time Moses has been one of my main go-to characters in terms of biblical material on leaders. I’ve been particularly interested in the way his story functions as a paradigm of a leadership journey – in fact I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past twelve months doing some writing about it all.

So I have had a special interest in Terry Virgo’s most recent book which is fairly hot off the presses. God’s Treasured Possession (IVP) is Terry’s exposition of the story of Moses, from his origin story, with its inherent identity conflict, to the end of his life, falling short of getting into the Promised Land, and further, to his appearance with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

It’s a wonderful read, combining careful attention to the details of the story as we have it in the text of Exodus and Numbers with insights from Terry’s years as a pastor and leader.

The book opens with the claim that the story is ‘a story written for us’ and actually begins on the Emmaus Road with the two disciples whose hearts burned as the risen Jesus opened up the Scriptures in a way that they had never known. The ancient events of the Old Testament have been handed down to us to teach us: God has revealed himself through stories.

We are taken through Moses’ abortive attempts at leading (‘running ahead of God’), through his reluctance to respond to God’s commission and on to the early challenges of leadership (‘Pharaoh proved to be a formidable opponent, certainly no pushover’): we learn that ‘apparent setbacks and even heartbreaks can work God’s purpose in you as you learn patience and begin to understand that it’s ultimately His story not yours.’

We are reminded of Moses’ role as a frequent mediator and intercessor, we learn about guidance, about faith and fear, about the importance of God’s call and commission, about sharing leadership, and about the need for secure leaders. One of the strengths of the book is the way it takes specific episodes in the story, like the Passover, or the establishment of the Tabernacle and ties them to the wider picture of biblical theology.

I’m delighted that Terry has agreed to chat to me on my Leadership Journey podcast this week (it will actually be his second appearance on the podcast) when we will spend time discussing some of the book’s themes. I will post the link when the podcast is available.

On striking rocks and getting in the way of Jesus

(This is drawn from ‘The Crucible of Leadership’ – a book project I am working on, based around the story of Moses.)

Moses Striking the Rock (Chagall)

For leaders to lead in the way of Jesus is one thing (a good thing, if it means they are seeking to be like Him), but for leaders to get in the way of Jesus is something else.

By way of a final word on Moses’ leadership journey (and our own), we return once more to Meribah, and the rock-striking episode.

It was at Meribah (Numbers 20) that Moses’ anger re-emerged. What had been an arguably justifiable attribute when he responded either to injustice or to the people’s unfaithfulness was this time an expression of frustration as the complaints of the people tipped him over the edge. It led him to take a situation into his own hands, to deal with it in his own way, instead of trusting God, leaving room for Him to work, thus acknowledging His holiness.

Centuries later, referring to Israel’s history by way of warning the members of the church in Corinth about the dangers of an array of sins, including putting Christ to the test, Paul writes about the spiritual food and drink that were available to Moses’ followers. They drank spiritual drink from a spiritual rock, ‘and that rock was Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:4).

I don’t think Paul’s reference requires a non-historical understanding of the incident at Meribah, but it does point us towards a typological understanding of the incident: in the desert, Christ was the true source of the people’s nourishment.

The task of New Covenant ministers is to share Christ with people. He is the source of spiritual life and nourishment that people need. Beyond what Paul says here in this somewhat enigmatic paragraph, Jesus referred to Himself as both the Bread of Life and the Source of living water. Our task is to help people to engage with Him. 

May God forgive us when our words and actions get in the way of this and we drag His name into disrepute. How many people have been turned away from the Source of living water because of the behaviour or attitude of a Christian leader? It’s a tragedy when people cannot see past us to Jesus. Our calling is to point to Him, to guard the sense of Him holiness, and make sure that we do not make ourselves the focus.

May God forgive us when we make ourselves the focus of our leadership. It’s not simply the big platform, high profile leaders who are at risk (wittingly or not) of this. Any of us has the capacity to attempt to put ourselves at the centre. What good is our leadership if we get in the way of Jesus?

Those of us who are preachers need to be aware of the temptation to allow our frustrations to come out in the administration of harsh verbal lashes.  There is something wearisome about the kind of preaching that seems to see listeners as a badly-behaved class of children who need to be brought into line. Some good friends in our church in Switzerland were once kind enough to ask me if I liked Christmas (I do). They had noticed that in my zeal to ‘challenge’ the once-a-year visitors to our Christmas services, I was coming across as angry: Ebenezer Scrooge in the pulpit!

A few months ago I heard the story of advice that the Puritan, Richard Sibbes, gave to Thomas Goodwin. In Goodwin’s own words, his preaching could be described as ‘battering consciences’. After hearing him preach, Richard Sibbes said this: ‘Young man, if you ever would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus.’ 

There are times when, in our zeal, we simply try too hard. It’s for the best of motives but our ministry and leadership are all about ‘challenge’. Our preaching is always about the big stick. Our leadership is always about the next hill to climb, rarely pausing long enough to be thankful for the distance we have already covered. Of course there is such a thing as a sense of urgency, but it’s possible to try so hard that we end up getting in the way of Jesus. People grow weary and it seems as though we are only offering stale bread and lukewarm water while all along Jesus wants to invite people to taste the bread of life and drink of the living water.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Dawn McAvoy

This week’s guest on the podcast is Dawn McAvoy from the Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland. As well as he work generally with EA, Dawn leads the work of Both Live Matters a movement that has tackled the emotive issue of abortion with a commitment to advocate for both of the lives implicated in a pregnancy. Part of their aim is ‘to create a life-affirming culture that values each woman and her unborn child.’

In our conversation Dawn talks about growing up in a family of faith and how her life took an unexpected turn while she was at university in a way that changed her direction and began to develop in her a sensitivity to the issue to which she has subsequently devoted so much of her energy.

Dawn’s advice to her 20 year-old self is drawn from something she picked up from the recent HTB Leadership Conference:

  • Be secure in your identity with God,
  • And walk in obedience to him.

You can get more information about Dawn and the work of Both Lives Matter by visiting the website.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Reggie McNeal on ‘A Work of Heart’

This week I am joined by Dr Reggie McNeal to talk about his book A Work of Heart. Reggie is a writer, and leadership coach who is passionate about God’s Kingdom. He is the author of some ten books, including Practicing Greatness and, his most recent book, Kingdom Collaborators. He is also the host of The Reggie McNeal Podcast.

The book we feature in this episode of the podcast was actually published just over twenty years ago. I was very struck by it at the time and have recently been suggesting it as reading for some younger leaders.

As the subtitle says, the subject of the book is ‘understanding how God shapes spiritual leaders.’ The book falls into two parts. The first tells the story of four biblical leaders whose stories are recounted in quite some detail in Scripture – Moses and David from the Old Testament, Jesus and Paul from the New. The second part highlights six heart-shaping themes that are discernible in these leaders stories, but which each merit a chapter on their own.

In our conversation, Reggie and I discuss these six themes:

  • Culture – leaders are not born into a vacuum;
  • Call – ‘something you orient your entire life around’;
  • Community – what part do others play in the shaping of a leader?
  • Conflict – hard to avoid, but essential to know how to navigate;
  • Communion – the challenge of maintaining a walk with God;
  • The Commonplace – learning to look for God in the ordinary events of life.

Along the way we talk about self-awareness (‘the single most important body of information you have as a leader’) – without it, Reggie suggests, a leader does not know why they do what they do.

Meantime, if you’ve not read A Work of Heart, do yourself a favour and get a copy. If you have read it, buy a copy to give to another leader!

The joy of the Lord: an alternative view

(This is taken from ‘The Crucible of Leadership’ – a book project I am working on, based around the story of Moses.)


Another of my favourite leadership stories in Scripture (besides Moses) is the story of Nehemiah. At one point, in the second part of the book, what might be best thought of as a spiritual revival, fuelled by a reading of the Law, takes place among the Jerusalem community. One of the things I find interesting is the emphasis on both mind and emotions in the narrative. Great pains were taken to ensure that everyone understood what was being read to them.  Levites busied themselves in instructing the people and making sure that the meaning of the Law was set out clearly. However intellectual understanding led to a profound emotional reaction, first weeping, doubtless at the realisation of how far they had fallen, but then rejoicing, secure in the knowledge that ‘the joy of the Lord’ would be their strength.

That oft-quoted expression is commonly understood to refer to people locating their joy in the Lord. Your mind might go to Paul and Silas who, far from feeling sorry for themselves as they nursed the wounds that had been inflicted on them by means of a severe flogging, and as they languished in their Philippian prison, spent the night singing hymns to God. The joy of the Lord was their strength. The implication is that a joyful Christian is a strong Christian, so we need to work at cultivating this joy in the Lord.

And that may very well be Nehemiah’s point here; indeed he would later write that ‘God had given them great joy.’ Raymond Brown comments that,

The people’s joy in life was not to be found in ideal circumstances, material prosperity, or social popularity, but in the Lord. Their joy is derived from the knowledge of who he is, what he does, what he says and what he gives.

However some years ago an article in the journal Vetus Testamentum suggested an alternative view which I must admit carries a certain appeal. What if ‘the joy of the Lord’ refers less to the joy that someone finds in God and more to the joy that God himself experiences? And what if the Hebrew word translated ‘strength’ were translated ‘stronghold’, or ‘refuge’, which is often its meaning? Nehemiah’s encouragement would then be that the people could rejoice and celebrate because God’s joy (over them) was their refuge, a guarantee of their protection.

Such an idea would sit well with Zephaniah’s beautiful picture of God rejoicing over his people with singing (Zephaniah 3:17), or might even evoke the prodigal father of Luke 15 whose joy over his son ensured that the boy’s shame was covered and his status was restored. Wouldn’t you love to have seen that joyful father running along a dusty road to reach his bedraggled and disgraced son as quickly as he possibly could, to throw his arms around him and embrace him with kisses of compassion and acceptance?!

Some of us, who doubt the depth of God’s affection for us, might need to adjust our functional theology to accommodate a picture of a God like that!

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Derek McKelvey

This week’s guest on the podcast is Derek McKelvey. Derek is a retired Presbyterian minister who served congregations in Bangor, Ballygilbert, and Fisherwick, in the university area of Belfast. In addition to his congregational ministry, Derek is well-known for his prayer ministry course that operates under the auspices of the Kairos Trust.

Derek McKelvey – portrait by his wife, Helen

In our conversation we talk about Derek’s upbringing and his conviction from early childhood that he would one day be a minister. He would discover later that God was answering a prayer prayed by his mother before his birth. Derek also talks about a challenging season of exhaustion in his ministry that led to a remarkable encounter with God and opened a new vision of ministry.

Among the wisdom he shares are these valuable gems:

  • Seize the God-moments!
  • Believe all of God’s promises!

If you would like to know more about Derek’s ongoing ministry with the Kairos Trust, feel free to contact him via their website.

The podcast will be back in a couple of weeks when I hope to be chatting with author Reggie McNeal about his excellent leadership book, A Work of Heart.

(PS – the episode with Reggie McNeal will be in May.)

Easter discovery: the Palm Sunday donkey

This week millions of Christians around the world have, in various ways, been celebrating ‘Holy Week’, during which they seek to relive the events of the last week of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion. Among one of the best known stories from the week is the story of Jesus’ arrival, on a donkey, in Jerusalem. Christian preachers and biblical scholars will be familiar with the echoes from the Old Testament prophet, Zechariah, announcing the arrival of Jerusalem’s King on a donkey, but it turns out that there may be more material for these preachers and scholars to mine following a report from a international team of archeologists led by Dr Shlomo Ben Israel from the New University of Tel Aviv.

The team have discovered a likely familial link between the Palm Sunday donkey and the ‘little donkey’ which is alleged to have carried Mary on her journey to Bethlehem ahead of the birth of Jesus. The discovery hinges on the finding of an ancient journal that is thought to have belonged to a Jewish landowner living just a few miles from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. In one entry he writes about his acquisition of several donkeys that had previously belonged to his cousin in Bethlehem. The donkeys were apparently of a particular type, dubbed by archaeological specialists as asinus orientalis (eastern donkey). The researchers were unable to find any other examples of this type of donkey anywhere else in the Middle East. A painstaking study of DNA material found in the area suggests that these donkeys trace their origin back to the area around Nazareth, a fact that would support the idea that Mary travelled on a donkey from there to Bethlehem. The discovery of the ancient journal then appears to connect the Palm Sunday donkey to Mary’s donkey.

The findings were welcomed by a spokesman for the European Council for Ecumenical Celebration who said, ‘I have always enjoyed the donkey stories in the Bible, from Balaam’s talking donkey through to Palm Sunday. This discovery underlines the importance for all of us to ask, which donkey am I most like?’

Unfortunately the archeologists have so far been unable to confirm the presence of a little drummer boy in Bethlehem, or the names of the wise men. But there is still plenty of time until Christmas. Meantime, work is underway to discover potential links between Balaam’s donkey and the donkeys lost by the father of King Saul.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Gareth MacLean

Gareth McLean is Minister of Orangefield Presbyterian Church, a thriving congregation in East Belfast. He’s been there for almost three years, having moved from First Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney, in North Antrim. Gareth is also the cohost of a new podcast, Greenways podcast, which aims to share stories from followers of Jesus as they live out their faith in the context of their real world vocations.

Gareth grew up in County Armagh and became a Christian after a remarkable series of events when he was eleven but it was an unforgettable conversation with a fellow student while at university that had the effect of really turning his life around. After completing a degree in business and IT, he took on a youth position in a Belfast Presbyterian church before training for ordained ministry.

In our conversation Gareth talks about some of the experiences and people that have had a big impact on him, including the serious illness of his young son.

He also talks about the advice he would have for his twenty-year-old self, including underlining the importance of time with God.

Coming up on the next episode of the podcast, my guest will be Derek McKelvey, former minister of Fisherwick Presbyterian Church.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Dave Landrum

Dr Dave Landrum is Director of Advocacy and Public Affairs at Open Doors UK and Ireland.

Open Doors traces its origins back to 1955 and the visit by a young Dutch Christian to a Communist youth congress in Poland. So began the work of Brother Andrew and today Open Doors is a ministry that seeks to support and strengthen persecuted Christians in some 60 nations.

Dave has been working with Open Doors since the start of this year. Previously he worked with The Evangelical Alliance and with the Bible Society. Before his work with these Christian organisations that has spanned the past two decades, Dave lectured in politics and social sciences at Edge Hill University College.

In our conversation we talk about the work of Open Doors and what is involved in Dave’s role. We also talk about Christian attitudes to politics as well as some of the key things Dave has learned about leadership. There may even be a reference to Everton!

The Leadership Journey Podcast: John Dickinson

John Dickinson is the recently-retired minister of Carnmoney Presbyterian Church in Newtownabbey – a congregation he served for nineteen years. Previously John served in churches in various parts of Northern Ireland, including Seaview, in North Belfast.

In our conversation John talks openly about the recent loss of his wife, Christine, just a few weeks after a cancer diagnosis in 2019. He talks about growing up in a ministry family, about some of the people who have influenced him, and about his growing awareness of God’s presence in the ‘now’ of ministry. Looking back over his nineteen years in Carnmoney, he talks about aspect of his ministry that most stands out, and he shares two things he would like to say to his twenty-year old self.

The next guest on the podcast will be Dave Landrum, Director of Advocacy and Public Affairs with Open Doors.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Arthur Boers on ‘Servants and Fools’

Arthur Boers

My guest this week is Arthur Boers. Arthur is Canadian and has pastored churches and taught in seminaries in both the United States and Canada. He has written a number of books, including Living into Focus: Choosing what Matters in an Age of Distraction, and The Way is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. He has also written on the intersection of the Bible and Leadership, and in this episode of the podcast we discuss his book, Servants and Fools: A Biblical Theology of Leadership.

I first came across the book a few years ago (it was published in 2015) on the recommendation of Ian Coffey and more recently I asked some of my students to write an essay based on the following quotation from one of its early chapters: it may give you a little bit of a pointer as to how Arthur views the Bible’s teaching on leadership. In fact, he believes that much of the Church’s interest in leadership is ‘faddish’ and argues that the Scriptures are suspicious of human leaders.

While history focuses on victors and the powerful, at the top and in charge, the Bible pays an astonishing amount of attention to regular, normal folks who are nevertheless the unexpected means of God’s dramatic work.

Arthur Boers, Servants and Fools.

*I had planned to have John Dickinson on the podcast this week, but we’ve had to push that episode back: you should be able to listen to John’s story in a couple of weeks.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Ruth Valerio

Ruth Valerio is Global Advocacy and Influencing Director for Tearfund. She has worked previously for the Evangelical Alliance and as Churches and Theology Director for Arocha. She is author of several books, including L is for Lifestyle, and Saying Yes to Life, originally published as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book for 2020.

As you will hear in the podcast, Ruth is passionate about issues of justice and poverty: this passion is a thread that runs through her various professional roles. Here is a link to Eco Church, mentioned by Ruth in our conversation.

The guest on the next episode of the podcast, in two weeks, will be John Dickinson, recently retired minister of Carnmoney Church.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Rowland and Alli Clear

Rowland and Alli Clear live in Devon, where they lead ‘On Track Ministries’, a ministry that seeks to support people in Christian ministry. They are also associates with Living Leadership. Previously they have been involved in churches in Canterbury and Rayleigh, Essex. They describe themselves as ‘spiritual cartographers’.

In our conversation they talk about their journey in faith and ministry, including (for Rowland), the experience of a dark night of the soul.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Steve Brady

The guest on this first episode of 2021 is Dr Steve Brady. Steve is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Grand Cayman. Previously he has served churches in the UK, including in London and Bournemouth. He is also President of Moorlands College, where he was Principal for almost twenty years. He has written or contributed to over twenty books, including study guides to Galatians and Colossians. He is a well known speaker at the Keswick Convention and served as a trustee of the convention for many years.

He is also a true blue supporter of Everton, so be warned, there will be some chat about Everton, though even if you are not a fan, it will be worth a listen!

If you would like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do so via Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Future guests on the podcast include Rowland and Alli Clear, Ruth Valerio, and John Dickinson.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: James Lawrence

This week’s guest on the podcast is James Lawrence. James works with the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS), where he oversees work on developing leaders, including through the Arrow Leadership Programme, an 18-month programme for 25-40 year olds that aims to help participants ‘be led more by Jesus, lead more like Jesus, and lead more to Jesus.’ He is the author of the book, Growing Leaders.

Among other things our conversation reviews James’ earliest steps in leadership, discusses the significance of call and vocation as well as challenges facing the Church, and – of course – what James would say to his 20-year old self.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Keith Getty

This week’s guest on the podcast is Keith Getty. Keith, along with his wife Kristyn, is one of the leaders of the modern hymn movement. He’s probably best known as co-author of the well known hymn, In Christ Alone, which he wrote 20 years ago with Stuart Townend.

In the podcast, Keith talks about the convictions that lie behind his commitment to write hymns that help build deep believers across the world. He talks about some of what has shaped him, and shares what he would say to his 20 year-old self.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Paul Tripp on ‘Lead’

My guest this week is author and conference speaker, Paul Tripp. Paul has written many books, and his most recent book is Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church – that’s what we focus on in our conversation, though Paul also talks about some of his own leadership journey.

The book outlines 12 principles that Paul would like to see worked out in every leadership community. In our conversation he gives an overview of the 12 before focussing on 3 of them for further discussion.

Paul writes with the conviction that the gospel his not simply a set of historical facts, but that ‘it is also a collection of present redemptive realities.’ Here is what he says about the book, and why he wrote it:

I wrote this book because I love the church of Jesus Christ and have a deep affection for all who have surrendered their lives and gifts to ministry leadership … And because my heart is in the church, I am concerned about the spiritual health of the community of leaders that pastor its people and direct its ministries. This book is not about the strategic work of the ministry leadership community but about protecting and preserving its spiritual depth so it may do its work with long-term fruitfulness. Really, this book is about the Lord of the church, about his love for the ambassadors he has called to represent him, and how he meets their every need with glorious and faithful grace.

You can read more about Paul and his ministry at his website, where you can also download the Paul Tripp app, with its access to many free resources.

You can order his new book here (10 Of Those will give you a free ebook when you buy a hardback copy of the book).

Enjoy the podcast!

Paul Tripp on ‘Lead’

This week I will be chatting with Paul Tripp about his most recent book – for church leaders.

Here is what he says about the book – Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church – and why he wrote it:

I wrote this book because I love the church of Jesus Christ and have a deep affection for all who have surrendered their lives and gifts to ministry leadership … And because my heart is in the church, I am concerned about the spiritual health of the community of leaders that pastor its people and direct its ministries. This book is not about the strategic work of the ministry leadership community but about protecting and preserving its spiritual depth so it may do its work with long-term fruitfulness. Really, this book is about the Lord of the church, about his love for the ambassadors he has called to represent him, and how he meets their every need with glorious and faithful grace.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Ian Paul

Ian Paul is a theologian, writer, blogger and self-confessed chocoholic and is this week’s guest on the podcast. Ian has recently published a commentary on the Book of Revelation.

In our conversation he talks about coming to faith as a young person, sensing a call to ordained ministry, serving in a growing church, and later becoming involved in theological training and writing. He talks about some of the disappointments and challenges he has faced and along the way he talks about some of his observations on leadership.

You can read Ian’s blog at psephizo.com, and while you are there you can find details of his commentary on Revelation, and other books.

Next week, my guest will be Paul Tripp, and we will be talking about his new book on church leadership.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Terry Virgo

This week’s guest is Terry Virgo. Terry is the founder of Newfrontiers, a family of churches that brings together some 2000 churches in some 75 nations. Terry is a Bible teacher and conference speaker, and has written several books, including his autobiography, No Well-Worn Paths.

In our conversation Terry talks about his early experience as a Christian, and about the impact of his experience of the Holy Spirit. He talks about the beginnings of local church leadership and how this eventually blossomed into the formation of a network of growing churches. We also talk about Moses – the subject of Terry’s most recent book, written this year and scheduled to be published in 2021, and he shares some of what he would want his 20 year old self to know.

Terry has a website (terryvirgo.org) where you can find out more about Terry’s books and listen to a collection of his teaching.

Next week’s guest on the podcast will be Ian Paul (aka ‘Psephizo’), a theologian, author and speaker based in Nottingham.

Sword or staff?

A military historian exploring the story of Amalek’s attack on Israel at Rephidim (Exodus 17) may be a little disappointed. The narrator omits most of the military detail. We don’t know how many soldiers were involved on either side, we don’t know how many of them were injured, and we don’t know much about the details of either side’s strategy, although there is a note in Deuteronomy that throws some light on the opportunistic nature of Amalek’s attack – attacking when Israel was weary and focusing on those who were lagging behind.

Exodus is more interested in drawing attention away from the battlefield, where Joshua is operating (and will eventually triumph) with the sword, to the top of a newly hill where an 80 year old Moses is holding out a shepherd’s staff. Remarkably the outcome of the battle is connected to the fact that he was able to hold out the staff until sunset. Not that he was able to manage on his own: it took the support of Aaron and Hur to keep his weary hands steady.

What appears to be no more than an ordinary staff is actually ‘the staff of God’. God has transformed something ordinary and made it extraordinary, the means by which his power is mediated. It’s the same staff that invoked the power of God to divide the Red Sea, and the same staff that produced water from the rock.

Because of what it represents, the staff is more significant than the sword. To translate that into our day to day, what we invite God to do is more significant than what we do.

Could it be that we spend more time than we ought on tools and tactics, and less time than we should on seeking God?

Joshua only accomplished what he did because of what Moses was doing. And Moses was only able to do what he did because of the support of Aaron and Hur, and – more importantly, because God had transformed the ordinary into something extraordinary, a vehicle for his power.

Who am I? Defining moments

While it may well be true that significant elements of our lives are shaped by the decisions of others, leaders can expect that their leadership journey will toss up some defining moments when they need to make their mind up about their identity and the direction of their life.
Who are you? Why are you here? Why should you choose this path and not another? Why turn down some opportunities and accept others? Why should you draw a line here and not there?
These are vital questions for anyone to ask, never mind leaders.

The answers will not always make sense to other people. Why should someone turn down the prospect of a well-paid job to lose themselves as a missionary somewhere or because they know that the job may require further choices that will conflict with their deepest convictions? Why would you turn your back on a comfortable existence to give your life in the service of people who have nothing of material value to give you in return? At various times we will need to ‘nail our colours to the mast’, perhaps when our colours are not in fashion! It’s part of deciding who we are.

I’m not particularly into musical theatre in general, but I have watched the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables on several occasions. It is full of powerful and poignant moments. There is the old priest who forgives Valjean for exploiting his hospitality to steal from him: his redemptive act sets up Valjean’s new life. There is the dramatic suicide of Inspector Javert who has been let off the hook by Valjean but as a firm believer that ‘the law is the law and the law is not mocked’ finds himself unable to live ‘in the world of Jean Valjean’. There is the moving moment at the end of his life when Valjean is reunited with Cosette and Marius.

And there is a dramatic scene where Valjean, now known as Monsieur Madeleine, and a successful factory owner, realises that someone else has been mistaken for him and is on trial. To say nothing condemns an innocent man, but to reveal his true identity puts the livelihood of his workers at risk.

In one of the show’s many memorable songs he weighs it all up before deciding to come clean and announce that he is Jean Valjean.

Who am I? 
Who am I?
I’m Jean Valjean.
And so Javert, you see it’s true,
That man bears no more guilt than you!
Who am I?24601.

Defining moments are those moments when we need to decide who we are and what we stand for.

The Leadership Journey Podcast – Marcus Honeysett

The guest on this week’s podcast episode is Marcus Honeysett, executive director of Living Leadership, an organisation that aims to encourage the development of disciple-making leaders who have learned to live in the grace of God. Living Leadership’s website will give you more information about the organisation, including links to a podcast and other resources. Marcus is the author of several books, including Fruitful Leaders.

One of Living Leadership’s recent initiatives has been the development of an online network with fortnightly gatherings via Zoom for encouragement and refreshment.

In our conversation Marcus talks about some of people who invested in him in his early years as an emerging leader, about ambition and saying no to major platforms, about the importance of a biblically-informed understanding of Christian Leadership, and about grace.

Among the advice Marcus would share with his twenty-year old self is the need to grow in deep-rooted spiritual habits, to have a biblically-shaped definition of leadership, and to avoid the temptation to establish ‘success metrics’.

Leaders: you are not the finished article!

I’ve been wrapping up a chapter on leaders and their character as part of my book project: I’ve wanted to stress that leaders are not the finished article. Here are four reflections.

Unresolved patterns

For Moses it was anger – as it may be for you. As a leader you are used to getting your own way on all the big issues (and even on the small ones): no one stops you because they have learned to fear your anger.

Anger is a tricky emotion to handle, not least because there are times when we are guilty of not being angry enough or of not being angry at things which ought to provoke our anger. Paul urges us not to sin in our anger and not to let the sun go down while our anger is unresolved. James adds James that we are to be slow to get angry: our anger will not accomplish the righteousness that God desires.

In a short series of articles for the Australian version of the Gospel Coaltion, church leader Ray Galea wrote about his own journey with anger. Among his reflections was his observation that while it is sometimes an experience of being hurt that lies behind out anger, pride is the vice that lurks deeper still: ‘pride which demands that we be treated properly and woe be tide anyone who crosses our path.’

Even if we’re not guilty of the Meribah-style rock-splitting fits of rage, some of us may be far too tolerant of a simmering self-centred impatience or a constant spirit of complaint.
For other leaders it may be pride, not necessarily expressed in outbursts of anger, but evident in an arrogance, or a spirit of superiority.

For still others the unresolved pattern may involve lust. It may be greed, self-indulgence, a hankering after comfort and luxury.

What a tragedy if these patterns are unnoticed or perhaps worse, if they are noticed but tolerated and left unresolved until they take deeper root in our lives until we have our own Meribah moment and sabotage our leadership.

Unguarded devotion

This is Solomon. The man whose writing urges us to guard our hearts left his own unguarded. Not only did he give his heart to the many foreign women who came to share his life, but he allowed the lure of those women’s foreign gods to draw his devotion away from the Lord.

Recently James K.A. Smith has argued that we are what we love, or, ‘you are what you worship … what we worship is what we love.’

Our idolatries … are more liturgical than theological. Our most alluring idols are less intellectual inventions and more affective projections – they are the fruit of disordered wants, not just misunderstanding or ignorance.

Leaders are worshipers – we all are. The question is what has our hearts and what are we doing to guard them from the allurements of disordered affections and illegitimate gods.

Unfinished growth

The development of our character is a work in progress. But what are the character qualities into which we should be growing?

There are so many ways we could answer that question. We could talk about what it means to be holy, as the God who called us is holy. We could talk about the imitation of Christ; or we could reflect on the fruit of the Spirit.

Dan Allender answers the question like this:

Character is grown to the degree that we love God and others.

In saying that, he takes us back to the two great commandments: first, the command to love God with our whole being, and second, to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. As Jesus put it, it’s on these two commandments that everything else hangs. Or, in Paul’s formulation, love – which does no harm to a neighbour – is the fulfilment of the law.

Here is the measure of our growth in character. Do I love God more now than I did a year ago? More than ten years ago? How would I answer the question that Jesus asked Peter: do you love me more than these? That seemed to be Jesus’ requirement for leadership.

And am I growing in my love for other people? Are my relationships marked by a greater degree of patience? Am I doing better at rejoicing at the triumphs of others? Of course leaders ought to be growing in knowledge, honing their gifts, and developing their talents, and by all means set yourself goals and targets for personal development. But would people who know you describe you as kind? For all your firmness and decisiveness as a leader, are you known as gentle? Do your people know that you have their best interest at heart?

Unsurpassable grace

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.

Jerry Bridges: The Discipline of Grace

If the second part of that is a reminder that we are not the finished article (as we keep saying), the first part is an encouragement not to give up. Just as it is grace that has brought me ‘safe thus far’, so there is grace for the gap between where we are and where we need to reach, and there is grace for the gap between what we wish we were and what we know we still are.

When Dallas Seminary professor Howard Hendricks died in 2013, among the tributes that were paid was this one, from one of his students:

I asked him, if we forgot everything else he had ever taught us (which was unlikely), what one thing would he want us to remember? He thought a moment and replied, “Finish well.” He said plenty of people in the Bible did well for a time, but very few of them finished their lives faithfully.

Wise leaders know they are not the finished article; but the humility that comes from that realisation will help them to finish well.