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.

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, 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 ( 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.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: David Hilborn

My guest on this week’s episode of the podcast is Dr David Hilborn, Principal of Moorlands College (a few weeks ago his colleague, Ian Coffey, was my guest).

Prior to joining Moorlands, David was Principal of St John’s College in Nottingham, which followed a leadership role in St Mellitus College. He has also worked as a local church leader and was head of Theology at the Evangelical Alliance for nine years.

As I often do at the end of these conversations, I asked David what he would say to his twenty year old self. Here are his three points:

  • Worry less, pray more.
  • Get really good support.
  • Spend more time with family.

Here is the podcast (and remember you can subscribe on several podcast outlets, including Spotify.

Let’s hear it for the Jethros!

I think I have discovered a new biblical hero. His name is Jethro, and he was Moses’ father in law.

Exodus 18 recounts a well known incident involving him.

The occasion was a family visit to see Moses. It was a good catchup and the text says that Jethro was pleased to hear about the good things the Lord had done for Israel by rescuing them from Egypt: how affirming must it have been for Moses to have his father-in-law listen with such genuine interest to the story of God’s work in his new leadership task. Whether or not we would classify it as a full conversion, Jethro comes to a new realisation about the Lord. ‘Now I know,’ he confesses, ‘that the Lord is greater than all other gods’.

While it may be a bit of an overstatement to describe Jethro as what happens when he sees Moses at work is worth some reflection.

For one thing, while it may be a bit of an anachronism to describe Jethro as the first management consultant, what happens demonstrates the value of an outsider view of a situation: Jethro saw something that Moses and the people had simply accepted as the way things were.

But there is more to be said about him.

In his excellent book, A Work of Heart, Reggie McNeal describes Jethro as ‘the key male figure in Moses’ midlife’. It’s an astute observation. Maybe this is overly speculative, but was Jethro in fact the father that Moses never really had? We know he was nursed by his mother, but his natural father disappears from the early narrative, and Pharaoh, his adoptive father is unlikely to have been particularly close. As McNeal reflects on the role Jethro played, he makes this wider observation:

The recounting of leaders’ life journeys usually turns up a Jethro or two. These individuals are God’s gifts to the leader to provide extraordinary affirmation, encouragement, and guidance. They frequently, but not always, arise from outside the family system. They typically surface during times of the leader’s self-doubt and at points when the leader’s life mission is crystallizing. These God-sent Jethros offer almost unconditional acceptance of the leader, yet they maintain an accountability of presence that implicates itself into the leader’s choices.

For all their obscurity and undoubted challenges, the middle years of Moses’ life – exile in Midian – throw up unexpected and unlikely allies. The question this phase of Moses’ life raises for those of us who are leaders is whether we notice, or make room for the Jethros in our own own leadership journeys.

More than that: for some of us who are older, the challenge is is to be that kind of spiritual father-figure.

The curious tale of Eldad and Medad: or, how to give away your ministry!

One of the counter-intuitive things about leadership is that leaders don’t actually become less as they share leadership with others. being counter-intuitive, of course, means that we can be slow to grasp this.

Numbers 11 is an important chapter for leaders. In terms of the narrative, it gives us an insight into the pressure that Moses faced – pressure that almost caused him to throw in the towel. But it also gives us an illustration of the value, and the challenge, of shared leadership.

God’s answer to Moses’ crisis is to share some of the Spirit that was on Moses with seventy of the community elders. The elders prophesy and now at least, Moses will not have to carry the responsibility alone.

As is sometimes the case, however, the solution to one problem can lead to other problems. So it is that the narrative that follows the sharing of the Spirit goes on to touch on some of the challenges of shared leadership: what happens when you are no longer totally in control? Or, as the next chapter illustrates, what happens if a plurality of leadership brings a set of relational issues such as jealousy and resentment?

Immediately after the sharing of the Spirit there are two men – Eldad and Medad – who have not left the camp to gather with the others and with Moses. Yet they too were empowered by the Spirit, and like the others, they prophesied. Jewish writer Norman Cohen points out that, like Miriam and Aaron (chapter 12), Eldad and Medad receive their calling directly from God and not from Moses.

How leaders respond when people start to operate outside their control is a test of wisdom. It’s a mark of maturity when a leader can give away power to others without fearing a loss of their own power or position. Similarly, it’s a sign of deepening maturity when a leader is able to take genuine delight in the success or fruitfulness of someone else’s ministry: others are viewed not as rivals, but as co-workers, serving the same kingdom.

There is a striking contrast between the reaction of Moses and Joshua at the news of Eldad and Medad, and in some ways the contrast highlights something of the journey of maturity that a spiritual leader needs to navigate. Joshua, Moses’ assistant and future successor, urges Moses to stop them. The text highlights the fact that Joshua had been Moses’ assistant since his youth: doubtless he had a keen sense of loyalty, and for two people from outside Moses’ immediate sphere to have some kind of independent ministry seemed like a betrayal of his mentor: Moses really ought to tell them to stop.

Moses’ response was to dismiss any need for Joshua to feel jealous on his account. This is not about Moses, it’s about the welfare of the people of God. ‘I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them.’

Perhaps you have come across the statement that has sometimes been attributed to American President Harry Truman: ‘It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.’ Even if the sentiment is inspiring, the attribution appears to be inaccurate: apparently a 19th century Jesuit priest called Father Strickland may have been the first to express the idea when he wrote that ‘a man may do an immense deal of good, if he does not care who gets the credit for it.’

If that’s true generally, how much more fruitful might our spiritual leadership be if we were free from the need to receive credit or to jealously guard our achievements as badges of honour that set us above others!

Ultimately Moses’ prayer was answered on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit was given, not to a few but to many, without distinction of age or gender: the work of ministry would no longer be the preserve of a select handful.

Priorities for church leaders in the current climate

As part of my preparation for a course I am running this autumn with Belfast Bible College, I have been thinking about some of the things church leaders (especially pastors and ministers) should be prioritising in the current climate. Here is my list of nine.

  1. Engage in an honest assessment of how you are doing. Have the past 6 months depleted your energy levels or your morale? Are there traces (or more) of weariness, of cynicism, or even despair? Is your sense of call strong, or have recent months blurred it?
  2. Take steps to ensure that you are not isolated. Remember that there is a difference between solitude (a worthwhile practice) and isolation (potentially draining). If you have a ministry team around you, that’s great, but makes sure that your times together are more than just business: seek to build each other up. If you are in a more solitary situation, do what you need to in order to connect with others.
  3. Leave some space for reflection on the ‘why’ of what your church is doing – don’t fill all the space with questions of logistics – the ‘what’ and ‘when’ questions.
  4. Seek to lead hopefully, but without denying the challenges of your situation.
  5. Be on your guard, work and pray for love and unity as opinions perhaps become more strongly held. The longer the Covid situation persists, the more likely it is that people will become more polarised in their views.
  6. Work hard to identify and reach those who have not been engaging and are in danger of dropping out (not least among young adults families) – and don’t forget vulnerable folk who are unable to gather for legitimate reasons. It may mean more work for you, but all of your people matter, and many of the more vulnerable folk are already quite cut off from much of ‘normal’ life.
  7. Identify some of the good practices of the past 6 months (like regular pastoral phone calls) that can be retained.
  8. Don’t assume that the bench mark for the future is being able to resume all you were doing on March 15. Just as there may be good practices that you have introduced and believe you should continue, be willing to leave behind some of the things you were doing pre-lockdown if you have realised they are not vital!
  9. Since the situation is still transitory, hold decisions lightly. Look forward to a time of rebuilding, but be sure to stay flexible.