The Leadership Journey Podcast: Simon Stuart (A rocha)

Simon Stuart is the Executive Director of A Rocha International, a family of Christian organisations involved in conservation projects around the world. Simon has worked in conservation for many years and in 2020 was awarded the prestigious Blue Planet Prize in recognition of his work.

Simon has also been a personal friend of mine for over 30 years. He worked alongside me as an elder in Westlake Church in Nyon, Switzerland, before he and his family moved to the United States.

Simon’s work with A Rocha brings together his love for God and his concern for the wellbeing of what God has made.

In our conversation we talk about Simon’s journey in the world of conservation and how he integrates faith and science. We touch on the issue of climate change – to know more Simon recommends you visit the website of Christian climate scientist, Katherine Hayhoe, and Simon shares some of what he would say to his 20 year old self.

We’re planning one more podcast episode before Christmas, when the guest will be Tony Horsfall. Tony is a teacher and trainer; he has worked overseas and has authored several books, including ‘Resilience in Life and Faith’, and ‘Working from a Place of Rest.’

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Ruth Garvey-Williams

Ruth and her husband, Andrew, have been living in Buncrana, Donegal for the past 17 years where they have been involved in a range of ways with their local community and have recently facilitated the start of a new fellowship. Ruth is also the founder and editor of Vox magazine and has recently published, ‘Gloriously Ordinary’ which she has written with Andrew and several other people involved in mission.

‘Gloriously Ordinary’ sets out several principles that Ruth believes are key to incarnation mission in Ireland: you can order a copy of the book from Teach Solas, an Irish Christian bookshop in County Cork (Teach Solas is Irish for Lighthouse).

In our conversation we talk about Buncrana’s ‘Amazing Grace Festival’ (are you aware of the connection between Donegal and John Newton?), about team ministry, incarnational mission, and signs of hope for the Church in Ireland.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: ‘Canoeing the Mountains’ with Tod Bolsinger

This week Tod Bolsinger returns to talk about his book ‘Canoeing the Mountains’ (he previously talked to us about his more recent book, Tempered Resilience). The title is a metaphor for the situation church leaders find themselves in when what lies ahead of them and their leadership looks very different from what they have been trained for and grown accustomed to: leaders need to be aware of the changes that have happened in the Western World and of the need for ‘technical competence, ‘adaptive change’, and ‘relational congruence.’

We also get the opportunity to hear a bit about the man behind the books, including what Tod would like to say to his 20-year-old self.

Feel free to add your own caption!

The guest on the next episode of the podcast will be Ruth Garvey-Williams, editor of VOX Magazine.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Tod Bolsinger on ‘Tempered Resilience’

In this (shorter) episode of the podcast the guest is Tod Bolsinger from Fuller Seminary in California. Tod is the author of several books, including his most recent book, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change.

It’s a follow on from Tod’s previous book, Canoeing the Mountains in which he discusses what it means for Christian leaders to lead in the uncharted waters of a rapidly-changing culture.

In Tempered Resilience, he walks us through a blacksmith’s forge and compares the steps in preparing a metal tool with the spiritual formation of a leader who is being prepared to ‘hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope’ (quoted from Martin Luther King).

The smithing process involves working (‘leaders are formed in leading’), heating (‘strength is formed in self-reflection’), holding (‘vulnerable leadership requires relational security’), hammering (‘stress makes a leader’), hewing (‘resilience takes practice’), and tempering (‘resilience comes through a rhythm of leading and not leading’).

Next week Tod will return to the podcast to talk about his previous book, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: David Cupples

This week’s guest on the podcast is David Cupples, minister of Enniskillen Presbyterian Church in County Fermanagh. David had been minister there for over 30 years, having arrived in the town in September 1987, just weeks before the community was devastated by a Remembrance Day bomb.

In our conversation David talks about some of his experience as a minister at that time. He also talks about some of what he has found to be important in sustaining a long ministry in one place. he shares a bit about his time on the Camino Santiago and, as with other guests on the podcast, has some advice for his 20-year-old self.

David has written a book on his Camino experience and you can order a copy by contacting him via Enniskillen Presbyterian Church.

The guest on the podcast in a couple of weeks will be Tod Bolsinger who will be talking about his most recent book, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change.

The Crucible of Leadership: Learning from the Story of Moses

This week I have signed a contract with Instant Apostle for the publication of a book I have been working on. The book is The Crucible of Leadership: Learning from the Story of Moses, and it should be available in May/June of next year.

His formative years were spent in Egypt where he had been born into a family of Hebrew slaves but remarkably ended up being raised as a member of the royal family. A failed attempt to lead a liberation movement resulted in his being pitched unceremoniously into the wilderness years – forty years spent in the Midianite desert where the peak of his career appears to have been taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep – quite a contrast with some of the traditional understandings of his time in Egypt which tell tales of military prowess! Finally, after a remarkable encounter with God on the edge of the desert, his life takes another dramatic turn and he becomes a reluctant leader, going on to spend the next forty years navigating the highs and lows of leadership in the desert.

The Crucible of Leadership explores the life-shaping journey of leadership by weaving together a series of reflections and framing them in the context of the remarkable story of Moses as it has come down to us in our Bible.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Chris Green on ‘The Gift’

This week’s guest on the podcast is Chris Green. Chris leads a church in North London and this month IVP has published his most recent book: The Gift.

I’ve already written about the book, so you can get a quick idea of what the main ideas of the book are. In our conversation, Chris talks about some of his other work, including other books he has written, including The Message of the Church, a biblical theology of the Church, part of the Bible Speaks Today series, and Cutting to the Heart, on application in preaching.

He talks about the key ideas of The Gift, including some cautions about whether and how we should think of Jesus as the Model Leader, why church leaders could think of their work in terms of the twelve slices of pizza, and what he means when he defines church leadership as ‘Corporate Application’.

Along the way we mention the work of Patrick Lencioni and his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which is well worth your while checking out.

And we have a discount code: you will pick up the code if you listen to the podcast and it will give you IVP’s best price when you order from their website.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Justyn Terry on The Five Phases of Leadership

This week’s podcast episode features another author interview. My guest is Dr. Justin Terry and the book is The Five Phases of Leadership, recently published by Langham (you can order a copy from their website). You can read a quick overview of the book on the blog and the podcast conversation will allow you to get a bit more detail.

The basic premise, as the title suggests, that there are five phases to a leadership assignment. You could almost call them stages, but thinking of them as phases allows for some overlap between them.

  • Establish trust
  • Cultivate leaders
  • Discern vision
  • Implement plans
  • Transition out

Justyn Terry is Vice-Principal at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford. Previously he served as Dean/President of Trinity School of Ministry in Pittsburgh and as Minister of St Helen’s Church in North Kensington.

The guest on the next episode of the podcast will be Chris Green, and he will be talking about his book The Gift: How your Leadership can Serve your Church. The book will be launched next week and you can read my review on the blog.

The Gift: How your leadership can serve your church

Continuing the theme of posts on my summer reading (especially for leaders), this one is a little different in that the book in question has not yet been released: it’s due on August 19. In preparation for the launch, the author made an electronic copy available ahead of time and I have been having a read.

The book is The Gift and it is aimed at church leaders. The author, Chris Green, is the vicar of a church in North London and previously served as Vice-Principal at Oak Hill Theological College. He has written or edited several other books, including Cutting to the Heart, on application in teaching and preaching.

It hardly needs to be said the there is no shortage of books and resources on leadership, including Christian leadership. Some, like Emma Ineson’s book on ambition, or Tod Bolsinger’s recent offering on resilience (review and podcast to come), have a particular focus on a specific area of the leader’s life; others, like James Lawrence‘s Growing Leaders, or Ian Parkinson’s Understanding Christian Leadership take a wider look at a range of relevant issues. Chris Green’s focus is on the task of church leadership, and the primary audience to benefit from the book will be pastors and ministers, for whom the book will serve as an opportunity to recalibrate their understanding of their role, and rediscover the core of their calling.

For there is a plethora of voices and leadership models, clamouring for the leader’s attention. Is the pastor essentially an ecclesiastical CEO? At the other end of the spectrum, a teacher? A counsellor? What does it mean to lead a church, and to do so in a way that is shaped by biblical priorities and values? This book will go some way to answering those questions.

The book falls broadly into two parts, though there is a third element – one of those leadership fables that draws you in and sets you up for the teaching content of the book. The fable unfolds in three parts: in the book’s prelude, in an interlude between the two main parts of the book, and in a postlude. It imagines a number of people involved in ministry who get together for a seminar with an old college professor.

The first part of the book (‘Who needs leaders?’) starts by seeking to establish some some biblical and theological reasons why we need leaders at all and moves on to discuss how healthy rule breaks down, resulting in what appear to be opposites, but which are theological twins: anarchy and tyranny. Anarchy seeks freedom at the expense of rule while tyranny imposes rule without freedom. From there (and there is a biblical-theological logic in the progression) we move to a chapter on celebrity, comparison and the sin of Babel: the problem of the ‘Peacock Pastor’. Let we conclude too quickly that Jesus might be the model leader, the author warns us about the serious danger of trivialising him. It’s too easy for us to find our own leadership ideas illustrated in Jesus. we need to heed this warning:

If you see [Jesus] as a ‘Great Leader’, but don’t put that in the context of his being the ultimate, eternal King, then all you’ll get is someone general common sense on teams and priorities. YOu’ll quote him, Confucius and Winston Churchill in the same breath.

Nonetheless there is ‘buried treasure’ for us in the study of Jesus. We can note his passion and his focus, but it’s important to see him more as our pattern than as our leadership guru. When Jesus taught his disciples about leadership, he called them to service, in contrast to the self-exalting ambition of the Gentiles. And he still leads the Church: through his word, through the Spirit, and by gifting members of his Body, empowering them to lead through the gifts of the Spirit.

That idea prepares the way for the second part of the book, ‘The Gift’, in which the author carefully and methodically works towards his definition of leadership: we have to wait until chapter 14 before we get there!

The first few chapters of this section focus on the particular gifts of teaching and leading which the author argues should come together in the Church’s pastors/elders/overseers. To be a leader only, at its most dangerous, is to lead in ways that come adrift from Scripture; to be a teacher only, is to run the risk of applying Scripture in purely individual, rather than corporate ways. And since the proposed definition of leadership is ‘Corporate application’, this matters.

It matters too that the leader’s method and message are integrated (the case of Diotrophes is summoned as evidence). As it matters where we source our wisdom, and it matters that we remain attentive to the reasons why we do what we do.

The author loves pizza and as he gets closer to his definition of church leadership and how it works out, he talks about ministry as a 12-slice pizza. It’s worth noting the slices:

  • Study
  • Small groups
  • Preaching
  • Praise
  • Counselling
  • Mutual Care
  • Discipling
  • Evangelism
  • World mission
  • Training
  • Self-discipleship
  • Leadership

Sprinkled all across the whole pizza – every slice – are olives. They may not be to everyone’s taste on a literal pizza, but in this leadership model, the Acts 6 ministries of prayer and ministry of the word are to permeate everything.

Leadership then is ‘corporate application’: it is bringing the word of God to bear in all facets of the life of the church: its formal organisation, its family dynamics, and its future intentions. One chapter is given over to a practical illustration of what this approach would look like in addressing a pastoral issue and the final chapter concludes with the exhortation to ‘preach the word’ but to remember that its application needs to be bigger than the pulpit (think of those pizza slices).

If you are looking for something to guide you step-by-step through how to discern a vision, how to apply Belbin to your ministry leadership team, or how to find tools that will help you to communicate more effectively, or strategies for managing change, The Gift may not quite be the book you are looking for. It doesn’t aim to answer all those questions. In many ways it is more fundamental than that and that is why you will benefit from reading it! As I said at the start of this review, it will provide you with an opportunity to recalibrate your ministry and remind you how the Lord of the Church has equipped you to do what you do.



For more on the book, you can watch out for a podcast conversation with Chris in the second half of the month, after the book has launched.

Meantime, for those of you on Facebook, you can join the book launch team (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thegiftlaunch/) and you can even join in a ZOOM session with the author on Wednesday evening (August 12).

Refreshing your leadership

Refreshing your leadership is a 6-part course intended for groups of Christian leaders. It’s been designed primarily for church or ministry leaders and aims to give leaders the opportunity to grow in their leadership by reflecting on their own leadership journey, on the task of leadership, and what it means to lead as a follower of Jesus.

Download a copy of the brochure for more information, and feel free to contact me if you’re interested in running the course.

The Five Phases of Leadership

Another of my summer reads has been Justyn Terry’s book (published by Langham earlier this year) on the five phases of leadership. The author is Vice-Principal of Wycliffe Hall in Oxford and has previously served as a parish minister and the head of a theological seminary in the US.

The basic premise of the book is simple but very helpful: a leadership assignment can be considered as consisting of five phases: establishing trust, cultivating leaders, discerning vision, implementing plans, and transitioning out. While there is likely to be a logical and chronological flow between each of the five, it’s best to think of them as phases rather than stages, as there may well be overlap between some of them.

The chapter on the foundational task of establishing trust is a chapter on the character of the leader. Obviously the subject of a leader’s character could be approached from a number of different perspectives: here, the author uses Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit – the fruit are by no means limited to leaders, but they are explored here with a leader-perspective.

While ‘developing trust never ends’ and therefore phase one remains relevant throughout a leadership assignment, there are other things a leader must do: cultivating other leaders is one of them. The author dips in to his own experience to illustrate the kinds of leaders that might need to be developed and also includes a helpful short section on ways we might identify potential leaders, summing them up with five ‘i’s: integrity, initiatives, influence, intuition, and intelligence.

Next, leaders need to discern vision: what does it mean to clarify the future of your church or organisation? ‘How would you describe it in five- or ten-years’ time if it fulfilled its God-given potential?’ The chapter discusses vision, purpose, and core values. I wondered in reading this chapter if what is presented is more relevant to existing organisations than to new ventures: part of the counsel is to explore the past with a view to discerning a trajectory for the future.

The fourth chapter is by far the longest and most ambitious in the book (it is twice as long as the next-longest). There are a lot of nuts and bolts to work through – all very useful and helpful to leaders who want to do a better job of implementing the plans that arise from their discernment of vision. For example there is wise advice on communication and on the use of time across a church’s year. I wonder if the chapter might have been written differently, with some of the detail (like finance management) covered in a short series of appendices.

Finally, the book discusses transition: when is it time for the leader to move on? Leaders leave too soon or, conversely, hold on too long – especially if Howard Gardner is right in his claim that ‘sooner or later, nearly all leaders outreach themselves and end up undermining their causes’!

Justyn Terry has served us well with this overview of the phases of a leadership assignment: each of the five chapters has something to say to leaders wishing to lead well, regardless of whether they find themselves in phase one or phase five.

The book is available to purchase from Langham.

**Justyn will be joining me on next week’s Leadership Journey Podcast to discuss the contents of his book.

Ambition: What Jesus Said about Power, Success and Counting Stuff

Summer can provide extra time and opportunities for reading and over the past few weeks I have been working my way through a few newish books around themes of Christian Leadership. One of these is Ambition: What Jesus Said about Power, Success and Counting Stuff , by Emma Ineson, Anglican Bishop of Penrith and previously Principal of Trinity College in Bristol.

The book’s chapters basically form a series of thought-provoking and helpful theological reflections around the theme of ambition, particularly as it relates to Christian leaders.

As Christians, how should we think of ‘success‘? Does failure actually have a part to play in success? Would we be better talking in terms of excellence (even if that has pitfalls of its own)?

What about ambition (the title of the book)? Is it OK for a Christian to be ambitious? Perhaps the answer to that is ‘it depends’! The author suggests that leaders need not to be afraid of ambition, but must pay more attention to character, learn to be accountable (‘The more ambitious you are, the more you will need others alongside you’), and develop a keen sense of theological reflection.

Then there is a chapter on counting (Goodhart’s law on measures and targets would have fitted well here). Counting can be useful (it helps us to know where we are) when done for the right reasons, but there are various wrong reasons for counting, not least the temptation to validate our existence by numbers).

Not too far from counting is the trap of comparison, and this too gets a chapter in which we get to meet the ‘approval monster’ (‘those with a high aptitude for performance have an interior approval monster who is very, very greedy’) and note some ways he might be tamed.

The final two chapters take a slightly different direction in that they focus less on traps related to ambition and more on positive leadership characteristics. First, we are encouraged to reflect on what it means to lead in the image of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are ambassadors of our King; we take our place in ‘the cross-shaped gap and mediate between what is and what could be’; and we lead with the vision that is inspired in us by the Holy Spirit who points us forward to the completion of the Kingdom.

The final chapter is a reflection on the Beatitudes of Matthew 5, reading them as ‘key spiritual dispositions’.

Overall it’s a very good read, not only for the thought-provoking way it tosses up important questions for leaders, but also as a model of good theological reflection.

The Leadership Journey Podcast – Rick Hill on ‘Deep Roots of Resilient Disciples’

This week Rick Hill returns to the podcast (you can listen to the story of his leadership journey here and here) to talk about his new book on discipleship. Rick has written out of a deep concern to see followers of Jesus put down deep roots that will enable them to persevere in the long haul.

I had the opportunity to read the book ahead of its publication and write an endorsement.

Rick Hill is an outstanding young Christian leader, and this book expresses his heart for his generation and for those of us of any generation who are willing to listen. Simply put, it’s a renewed call to follow Jesus. Rick writes out of a deep and authentic pastoral concern and grounds his message in the realities of everyday life. What he proposes is a fresh discovery of the heart of discipleship - a call to follow Jesus and obey him, to cultivate a relationship with him, and in the process be changed to be more like him. While his style of communication is fresh and relevant, he is never faddish; and while he writes with compassion and genuine understanding of the issues that turn some people away from the Church, he never softens the call or downplays the cost. In a rapidly changing world, here is an invitation to rediscover the significance of a two thousand year-old message. Read it and digest it. Then go out and buy another copy to give away! 

For more on the book, visit Rick’s website, where you can order a copy.

Rick Hill on Resilient Disciples

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Ray and Jani Ortlund

The guests on this episode of the podcast are Ray and Jani Ortlund and the interview was carried out in conjunction with the Keswick at Portstewart Convention where Ray has been delivering some online Bible teaching. If you’d like to watch the interview you can catch it on the Keswick at Portstewart Youtube channel.

Ray and Jani have been married for almost fifty years and for most of that time they have served in ministry together. Ray has pastored several churches, including Immanuel, Nashville, whose leadership he handed over to TJ Tims in 2019. Together they oversee the work of Renewal Ministries.

Both have authored several books: Jani most recent book is Help! I’m Married to My Pastor while Ray’s next book, to be released in September, is The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility.

In the next episode of the podcast, Rick Hill will be making a return visit: this time he will be talking about his new book, Deep Roots of Resilient Disciples.

The Crucible of Leadership: Learning from the Story of Moses

This week I have been wrapping up some editing of a book manuscript that I have been working on for a year or so. I’ve sent it to a publisher who has expressed some interest, so we will see how that goes.

I’ve called it ‘The Crucible of Leadership’ and in it I’ve set out several things that I think Christian leaders need to come to terms with in their leadership. My reflections are framed in the context of the remarkable story of Moses.

His formative years were spent in Egypt where he had been born into a family of Hebrew slaves but remarkably ended up being raised as a member of the royal family. A failed attempt to lead a liberation movement resulted in his being pitched unceremoniously into the wilderness years – forty years spent in the Midianite desert where the peak of his career appears to have been taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep – quite a contrast with some of the traditional understandings of his time in Egypt which tell tales of military prowess! Finally, after a remarkable encounter with God on the edge of the desert, his life takes another dramatic turn and he becomes a reluctant leader, going on to spend the next forty years navigating the highs and lows of leadership in the desert.


Here are the chapter headings:

  • Introduction: (Yet) Another book on Leadership!
  • Chapter One: Wise leaders know that they don’t get there by themselves.
  • Chapter Two: Wise leaders learn to navigate the desert.
  • Chapter Three: Wise leaders get over their excuses.
  • Chapter Four: Wise leaders understand that ministry is best shared.
  • Chapter Five: Wise leaders know that God loves them.
  • Chapter Six: Wise leaders know that they cannot escape criticism.
  • Chapter Seven: Wise leaders realise that they are not the finished article.
  • Chapter Eight: Wise leaders understand when to hand on the baton.
  • Epilogue: Wise leaders don’t get in the way of Jesus.

Here is how the book’s epilogue concludes:

The final piece of biblical narrative that involves Moses comes in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration.

Peter, James and John, the inner circle of his disciples, accompanied him to pray on a mountain where Moses and Elijah appeared and engaged in conversation with Jesus about his impending death in Jerusalem. After Peter’s misguided suggestion about building a shelter each for Jesus and the two Old Testament figures, a cloud covered them and a voice spoke:

This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him (Matthew 17:5).

When their vision cleared, the only leader they could see was Jesus.

And that is a good place for us to conclude. Our reflections have been framed in the story of a towering leader-figure, but one who was flawed. At the start of his leadership he attempted to wriggle out of God’s call; later he sabotaged his leadership through anger and his story ended with disappointment.

The only flawless leader is Jesus, perfect in obedience, love and humility.
Listen to Him!

Wise leaders set themselves to walk in His ways, and they take care not to get in His way!

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Darran McCorriston

Darran McCorriston is the minister of Ballyloughan Presbyterian Church in Ballymena, where he has served for fifteen years. Alongside his ministry in the church he chairs the committee for the Keswick at Portstewart Convention – an annual gathering on Northern Ireland’s north coast that is part of the family of the wider Keswick movement.

In our conversation Darran talks about influences he experienced growing up, about some of his early ventures into Christian ministry, and about people from whom he has learned various aspects of leadership. He also talks about some of the challenges he has faced and about the things he’s say to his twenty-year-old self.

The fruit of your life depends on the root of your life.

The guests on the next episode of the podcast will be Ray and Jani Ortlund. Ray will be providing Bible teaching at this year’s Keswick at Portstewart event (Sunday, July 11 – Thursday, July 15) and you will be able to watch a video of our conversation during the week of the convention (from Tuesday, July 13 at noon), on the Keswick website. The audio will also be available here, and via Apple Podcasts and Spotify, also on Tuesday, July 13.

It is still possible to benefit from the special offer on Terry Virgo’s new book, God’s Treasured Possession: the code mentioned in my recent conversation with Terry is valid for the whole of this month.

Speaking of books, Rick Hill‘s new book, Resilient Discipleship launches next week and you can order a copy here.

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.

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.