The Leadership Journey Podcast – Season Two, Episode Three: Philip Emerson (part 3)

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This week Phil Emerson, from Emmanuel Church in Lurgan is the guest on the podcast one more time.

If you’ve missed the first two episodes, you can get them here (part one) and here (part two).

In this week’s episode, Phil talks about the devastating loss of his first wife – one of a series of losses experienced in his church family around the same time, and the questions about healing that are raised when people are not healed.

He also talks about his wider ministry and some of the challenges and opportunities that come at this season in life and leadership.

And he shares these three pieces of advice for younger leaders:

  1. Give God everything
  2. Don’t go alone
  3. Get around godly mentors



For your own reflection:

  • What have been some of the things that have most struck you from Phil’s story of his leadership journey?
  • What’s your reaction to the three pieces of advice Phil shares in this episode?

Christian leaders and their devotional life

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I was recently asked to speak to a church staff on the importance of a leader’s devotional life. With Bono’s disclaimer that ‘you preach what you need to hear’, here is the drift of what I said.

A key verse (albeit with a spiritualised interpretation) is Song of Solomon 1:6 –

My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!

So here are four reasons why leaders might find it challenging to maintain their devotional life and four reasons why it matters:

  • There is a lot to do! Which means that various things jostle for attention and priority. It can be tempting to be drawn to what can be measured (how many hours we worked, how many people we counselled); but what if the things that matter cannot actually be measured? The story of Mary and Martha is a reminder that there are times when we can get so weighed down by the list of what needs done (or what we think needs done) that we serve from resentment rather than from the overflow of devoted hearts.
  • We get distracted! Richard Foster said that ‘distraction is the primary spiritual problem in our day’. Aside from our preoccupation with the mountain of tasks that are calling for our attention, there are our own inner thoughts – our preoccupations, fears, confusion and questions. And there can be the ubiquitous distractions of our social media feeds on-demand news cycles.
  • Ministry becomes a substitute for devotion and we become professional Christians. At times it takes the form of thinking that once we’re ‘in ministry’, we have somehow graduated beyond the need for the normal routines of the Christian life. Or the fact that we read the Bible for our sermons and talks somehow exempts us from reading it for ourselves.
  • The problem of routine. ‘Discipline’ sounds harsh and some of us see routine as the enemy of spontaneity, or even a pathway to ‘legalism’. It’s true that routines can become ruts, but without structure we’re at the mercy of our moods and circumstances, and routines help us not to forget.

The trouble is, as soon as you sit and become quiet, you think, Oh, I forgot this. I should call my friend. Later on I’m going to see him. Your inner life is like a banana tree filled with monkeys jumping up and down (Henri Nouwen).

And why is any of this important?

  • We are followers before we are leaders. Or, as a good friend of mine puts it, God has called us to be shepherds, but some of us have forgotten we are still sheep.

Jesus had different priorities than teaching us to lead. ‘Follow’, however, comes up explicitly over thirty times in the Gospels. Whether or not all of us or anyone are called to leadership is not at stake; we are all called to be followers. Discipleship is first and foremost about following. Disciple indicates one who follows Jesus, ‘a relationship that involves both commitment and cost (Arthur Boers).

  • Our best leadership flows from who we are. Leadership is not merely a set of functions carried out by a leader: the next leadership is the leader expressing who they are. The best Christian leadership is an overflow of who the leader is being shaped to be in God.
  • We need to find strength in God. Leadership is challenging and there are times when leaders are overwhelmed and their own resources are insufficient. A seasoned leader once told me that ‘probably one of the greatest things you need to learn on leadership … is the ability to strengthen yourself in God’.
  • Leaders need to know that God loves them. This has been a theme in some of the leaders’ stories that have been shared with me, both in my research and in my Leadership Journey podcasts. In the middle of all the remarkable events and challenges of his leadership, what must it have meant to Moses to hear God say, ‘You have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name’?

Pastors often slip into the trap of building their identities around their roles and performance rather than being beloved children of God and co-heirs with Christ. Pastors need to pursue growth in their understanding of and feelings concerning God’s acceptance (from Resilient Ministry).


Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

(From the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind)

The Leadership Journey Podcast – Season Two, episode Two: Philip Emerson (part 2)

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Phil Emerson is the guest once again on this week’s episode of the podcast (you can listen to part one of his story here).

This week Phil talks about some of the challenging personal circumstances he has had to navigate and how, through some of these, God has given him a heart for the people of his town.

He also recounts the story of a dramatic experience of God’s love, and talks about some of the remarkable growth experienced by his church as well as sharing some of the story of how God provided for them.


For your own reflection:

  • How has God used difficult circumstances in your life to prepare you for leadership?
  • Why is it important that leaders (and others) have an assurance of God’s love?

The Leadership Journey Podcast – Season Two, episode One: Philip Emerson

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After a break over the summer, the Leadership Journey Podcast is back this week. The guest on the first three episodes of this new season is Philip Emerson. Philip is one of the lead pastors at Emmanuel Church in Lurgan, a church that was birthed in his living room over 20 years ago.

In this first episode Phil talks about growing up around the shore of Lough Neagh where he came to faith as a child and quickly developed a love for God and a zeal to serve him and tell other people about him. He discusses some of the people who most influenced him and some of the factors in the development of his leadership.

On a practical note, he shares how he has learned leadership through the years by intentionally seeking out the counsel and wisdom of more experienced leaders.

AND… have you ever heard anyone say that their duck’s a swan? Listen carefully!


For your own reflection:

  • Do you think leaders are born or made?
  • How intentional are you about learning from leaders who are farther along the path of leadership (and may be much stronger leaders) than you?

Leadership refreshment: a course for leaders

News on a 6 part course for Christian leaders: get in touch if you’d like to know more.


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‘Refreshing your Leadership’ is a six-part course intended for groups of Christian leaders. It is designed primarily with church or mission/ministry leaders in mind (though it can be adapted to Christians leading in other fields). Ideally there should be at least 5 people in the group. The group could consist of a church leadership team, the staff or leadership team of a mission, a local group of pastors and ministers, or a gathering of missionaries.

Who leads the course?

The course is led by Dr Alan Wilson. Alan is a visiting lecturer at the Irish Baptist College in Moira, an associate tutor at Belfast Bible College, and part of the adjunct faculty of the Irish Bible Institute in Dublin. He has over 20 years of pastoral experience in Northern Ireland and Switzerland. His doctoral workexplored the theme of ‘crucible’ experiences in shaping Christian leaders.

How will the course run?

The material is organised in 6 sessions (ideally of two hours each, though they can be condensed) and there is flexibility in how these might be arranged. For example it would be possible to run the course over a series of weekday evenings, as an intensive weekend event or as a series of day retreats for a team.

As well as the teaching content, the course allows time and space for personal reflection, not least the opportunity for leaders to reflect on their own leadership journeys.

How much will the course cost?

The cost will depend on the size of the group and the group’s ability to pay: suggested donation is between £450-800, plus travel costs.

What does the course cover?

Part One: The Leader’s Journey (Moses)

The first two sessions will explore the concept of a leadership journey and we will be making use of the story of Moses as a template to help us explore our own stories.

  • Introducing the story of Moses. Moses is one of the most significant figures in Scripture’s story line, and his own story is one of the most dramatic in the Bible: it is rich in insights into how God works with a leader.
  • Introducing the concept of the leadership journey timeline. The narrative of Moses’ life falls neatly into three distinct: formative years, exile years, and leadership years. The course encourages leaders to reflect on their own leadership timeline, highlighting ways in which they have been shaped and lessons they have learned along the way.
  • The leader’s formative years. The first stage of Moses’ life helps us to reflect on the people who have influenced our development, and to think about key decisions that have shaped the direction of our lives.
  • The leader in exile. While the biblical text gives us few details about the middle stage of Moses’ life, it is a stage that opens up the theme of exile or wilderness when the leader’s aspirations and the reality of their actual circumstances are quite different.

Part two: The Leader’s Journey, continued

  • The leader’s calling. This session looks at the debate between Moses and the Lord: when Moses is finally called to lead the Hebrews (what he wanted to do 40 years previously), he has decided he’d rather stay in obscurity and leave the work to someone else: what excuses do leaders offer to avoid God’s call?
  • Leadership challenges. Moses’ experience reminds us that strategic spiritual leadership is no easy task. In this session we explore some of the tough challenges that confront Moses and other leaders.
  • Leadership opportunities. While the leader has to face challenges, spiritual leadership also brings great privileges: we will think about the importance of a leader being secure in the love of God.

Part Three: The Leader’s Task (Nehemiah)

In sessions three and four, the focus is on the leader’s task and we will be using the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem to structure our thinking as well as referring to more general leadership ideas.

  • Introducing Nehemiah and his times. This session sets the scene and reflects on the important theme of living in exile. As Nehemiah prays for Jerusalem, we ask what it means for a leader to pray ‘Your kingdom come’.
  • The leader’s vision. What was happening in Jerusalem was so wrong that Nehemiah knew it had to be put right. As he prayed, God put a plan in his heart. What does it mean for a leader to have a God-given vision?

Part Four: The Leader’s Task, continued

  • The leader’s team. While the role of the leader is important, leaders’ effectiveness is limited if they are not surrounded by a team who will join them in the vision and plan. Nehemiah’s story is the story of a host of otherwise largely unknown people who rolled up they sleeves to rebuild Jerusalem.
  • The leader’s resilience. Nehemiah’s leadership takes place against the backdrop of opponents who attempt to hinder the rebuilding task. What are some of the issues leaders face – both in terms of their work and personally – where perseverance and resilience are called for?

Part Three: The Leader’s Model (Jesus)

In sessions five and six we reflect on the life and teaching of Jesus as they relate to our thinking on leadership. It’s been pointed out that there is a lot more in the gospels about a call to follow than about a call to lead!

  • Jesus, the Leader. Biblically, leadership starts with God and in this session we will explore how Jesus led, focussing on the concept (which has become popular in general leadership thinking) of servant leadership.
  • The leader’s testing. Again we turn to some of the challenges that leaders face. This time we reflect on what we might learn from Jesus’ testing in the desert: what happens when leaders are tempted to go it alone relying on their abilities more than on God, or when they are tempted to take short cuts?

Part Six: The Leader’s Model, continued

  • The leader’s life. In this session we will focus on Jesus’ teaching in John 15 where he talks about the disciples’ relationship to him (‘abide in me’), their relationship with each other (‘love one another’), and to to the world (as witnesses).
  • The leader’s call to follow. For all the talk in this course about leadership, leaders need to remember that their primary calling is not to lead but to follow. We’ll explore Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 21 and think about what it means for leaders to be faithful followers.

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST (30): Helen Warnock (part two)

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This week Helen Warnock is back on the podcast. Helen is Principal of Belfast Bible College in Dunmurry.

In this week’s episode she talks about some of the people who have influenced her along the course of her leadership journey, highlighting a boss who knew how to give people opportunity where he saw potential; again she talks about the importance of friends.

She talks about some of the challenges she has faced (some of them are just life and work issues – not particular to leadership) – including the challenge of knowing yourself – and shares her list of key areas of learning:

  1. You are not invincible
  2. Team is fantastic
  3. Take responsibility for your own life
  4. Ask yourself good questions
  5. We need champions
  6. Don’t be lonely
  7. Heart matters.

For your own reflection:

  • What do you make of the special staff meeting that Helen describes? As a leader, have you ever considered publicly and personally thanking those who work with you (including volunteers)?
  • If you work with a talented team, do you genuinely want them to be better than you?

This episode brings season one of the Leadership Journey Podcast to a close. We plan to be back with season two after the summer.

For more on Belfast Bible College’s 75th anniversary, visit their website.

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST (29): Helen Warnock (part one)

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This week’s guest is Helen Warnock. Helen has worked in Northern Ireland with Youth for Christ and with Scripture Union. Since December 2016 she has been Principal of Belfast Bible College in Dunmurry.

In this first part of her interview Helen talks about the kind of work she has been doing in her first 18 months at BBC – a college that is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. She talks about some of the early indicators of leadership (organising street concerts as a child in her local housing estate!) and the family heritage of Christian faith.

She describes her years with YFC, when for part of the time she was responsible for a major monthly youth event in Belfast, how she decided to move to Scripture Union (where she became the first director who was not a Presbyterian minister, and where the first three years represented a steep learning curve), and her more recent move to BBC.

Along the way there is an opportunity to reflect on discerning God’s leading, both personally and for organisations, some thoughts on how a 150 year old organisation can remain as relevant today as it was in the past, and discussion of the role of friends in helping to keep her on course.


For your own reflection:

  • Helen talks about ways in which experiences on mission teams helped to form some of her priorities: reflect on ways some of your own early experiences of mission or ministry have contributed to where you are today.
  • In the interview we discuss seasons of events and how to know when it is time to stop and event (even when it has previously been successful): have you any experience of events that may have run longer than they should, or others that have been stopped prematurely?
  • Do you have space in your leadership to be a ‘thinking practitioner’?
  • Do you have friends who can speak to you in the way Helen describes her conversations with her friends?

For more on Belfast Bible College, visit their website – in particular you might like to find out more about the new MA that is being launched this year.

In fairness to other Bible colleges where I am also involved, I should mention Irish Bible Institute, and its MA, as well as the Irish Baptist College and its MA: I find myself in the odd, but privileged place of having input into all three MA programmes!