The Leadership Journey Podcast: David and Shona Murray

David and Shona Murray

In this episode I am joined by my wife, Pauline, for a conversation with David and Shona Murray, authors of the books Reset and Refresh. David is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Shona is a medical doctor.

During our conversation they talk about the experiences of burnout that led to them writing the books. They emphasise the importance of living with a greater understanding of grace, and a sense of our own limitations as we live for God. We discuss the relationship between the physical and spiritual sides of our lives and the concept of self care. We also talk about the difference between the well planned life and the summoned life and the relevance of life stages.

Here are a few links you might like to follow up:

  1. David’s website, which includes a link to his blog
  2. A link to details of other books David has written (including one on Christians and depression)
  3. Reset – available on Amazon
  4. Refresh – available on Amazon
  5. A link to study guides for the two books
  6. Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project website (as mentioned in the podcast)

For your own reflection:

  • David says that you cannot separate the physical from the spiritual: what are the implications of this for your current pace of life and work?
  • How do you strike a balance between self-care and self-indulgence?
  • If you are a pastor, what steps do you take to ensure that you get appropriate time for preparation and study?
  • What steps do you take to tame your inner voices?

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Jude Cairns

Jude Cairns, Chief Executive of Love for Life

This week the podcast returns after a gap of 4 months – largely down to the host having had a heart attack in October! The guest on this episode is Jude Cairns. Jude is the Chief executive of Love for Life, a Christian charity that aims to equip young people so they are able to make good choices about relationships and sex.

Jude has previously worked for Youth for Christ, and Habitat for Humanity. She has been in her current role for 9 years and her work involves leading a team 12 people.

In the course of our conversation she talks about her desire to ‘make things better’ – a driver of leadership, the experience of living overseas for a year and the defining moment of losing her father to illness. She also talks about the influence of the Arrow Leadership programme and shares some of the things she has learned about leadership along the way.

For your own reflection:

1 – Do you think the Church in the West needs to be more courageous in its witness?

2 – What would you say are the main things you have learned about leadership?

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Mark Strauss

This week’s podcast is a bit different for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s international; and in terms of its content, it’s a discussion of a recent new book on leadership, rather than the exploration of one leader’s journey.

The guest is Mark Strauss from San Diego, California. Mark is Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary. Along with his colleague, Justin Irving (Professor of Ministry Leadership in Bethel Seminary), Mark has written Leadership in Christian Perspective, a book which outlines a model of ’empowering leadership.’ The book is based around research carried out by Justin, and Mark’s contribution is to bring a biblical perspective to each of the nine leadership practices that Justin has highlighted in his work.

I’ve previously reviewed the book here. I have added it to reading lists for classes I am teaching over the next few months at Belfast Bible College, and you can get your own copy here (UK).

As well as this most recent book, Mark is the author of a considerable number of books and articles. He also serves on the translation committee for the NIV. You can find out more about Mark from his website.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Gilbert Lennox

This week’s podcast was recorded with an audience (and live-streamed) at New Horizon in Coleraine.

My guest is Gilbert Lennox, who was responsible for the Bible teaching each morning at New Horizon. Gilbert’s initial career path took him into teaching, but after a number of years left school teaching and devote himself to church leadership and Bible teaching. He was involved in founding Glenabbey Church just outside Belfast, a church that celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2018. Although he has retired from his staff position in Glenabbey, Gilbert is still involved in the teaching ministry of the church.

Once we get over Gilbert’s reticence to describe himself as a leader, we talk about some of the early influences on his life, growing up in Armagh: not only were his parents ‘profound believers’ but there were opportunities to encounter various people along the way – not least Professor David Gooding, who has been an influence for decades: starting a Bible study in an old henhouse became an impetus for regular study with David Gooding

Gilbert taught in school for 15 years before he sensed God calling him to move more fully into church work. As sometimes happens with new callings, his move from school to church was severely tested.

He talks about some of what has helped him to be resilient in ministry: specifically, the part played by his wife, and having a bedrock of Scripture.

Reflecting on leadership, he notes that Jesus talked about what it is not! ‘Leadership [is] a partnership with God and with others.’

His advice to his 20 year old self includes the need not to take himself too seriously and the realisation that you can’t fix everything (though you can help).

The time you spend in Scripture is never wasted.

For your own reflection:

  • Gilbert discusses a couple of significant mentor figures in his life: what people can you identify in your own life and how would you respond to the challenge of being a mentor to others?
  • Gilbert talks about the importance of *learning* to be content: are you learning this?
  • Especially if you are involved in any way in theological education (either as student or teacher) – how do you respond to what Gilbert says about the possibility of theology getting in the way of our knowledge of God through the Bible?
  • How do you respond to Gilbert’s challenge to the thinking where we are often keen to use labels in church leadership?

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Barry Forde (part 2)

Barry Forde is back on the podcast this week. Barry is the Anglican and Methodist chaplain at Queen’s University in Belfast. If you missed the first part of the conversation with Barry, you can catch up here.

For your reflection:

1 – What do you make of the idea that a leader is ‘someone with a magnet in their heart and a compass in their head’? How important is it for a leader to be ‘personable’, as Barry describes it?

2 – ‘Hold the present responsibly and the future lightly’: how do you respond to Barry’s idea of being alive to opportunities in the present rather than attempting to anticipate 5 years hence?

  • The series of talks on leadership by Eugene Peterson can be purchased here, and
  • Here is more information about the book on Irish preaching to which Barry has contributed a chapter.

The podcast will be taking a few weeks off, but we plan to be back in August.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Barry Forde

Barry Forde is the Church of Ireland and Methodist Chaplain at Queen’s University, Belfast, and he is the guest on the next two episodes of the podcast.

Prior to taking up the role as chaplain at Queen’s, Barry was a curate in St Patrick’s Church, Coleraine, and before that had a career as a barrister. For six years (three as chair) Barry served on the board of New Horizon, a large Bible conference held annually on the North Coast of Ireland.

In the first part of our conversation, Barry talks about the unique nature of chaplaincy in Belfast. As well as being one of the chaplains to the university, Barry is the minister of The Church of the Resurrection, an Anglican congregation attached to the chaplaincy, but whose membership is not limited to the student world. He also talks about the range of ecclesial influences that were part of his formation on the road to seeking ordination within the Church of Ireland.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Sladjan Milenkovic (part two)

This week Sladjan Milenkovic is back to continue his story (you can listen to part one of the interview here). Sladjan is the director of HUB, a Christian centre not far from Belgrade, in Serbia. One of the main features of HUB is its Bible school, but its work includes other ministries. Some 360 students from across the Balkans have been through the Bible school, with around 60% of former students involved in active Christian ministry.

In this part of the story Sladjan talks about becoming the director of the Bible School at 26. The school’s mission is to serve the Church. In 2004 the school was able to buy a former motel: not only does this house the school but it is also used for conferences and seminars – seminars that cover subjects like worship or church planting.

HUB also runs ‘Camp Hope’, camps for families whose children with disabilities or cancer. Most of the people who attend these camps are unbelievers and the camps give them the opportunity to be loved and to hear about God.

Sladjan talks about the way cancer affected his own family, when his oldest daughter became ill with a brain tumour. It’s been a difficult journey that has taught Sladjan about vulnerability and suffering: he comments that ‘even in the midst of suffering, God can bring something good.’

He talks about leadership challenges, not least the overwhelming nature of the need, but also the challenge of being hurt by someone you have trusted. While he has had times of questioning his call, he returns to the conviction that God does not make mistakes. He also talks about resilience and staying true to his call: it’s important for him to remember who God is. In the middle of the stress and tiredness of leadership, God he trusts God for what he needs.

Listen to Sladjan’s interview here:

For your reflection:

  • How have some of the challenges of leadership helped to shape your character?
  • Would you commit to pray for Sladjan and the work of HUB?

Remember that you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Castbox (‘The Leadership Journey Podcast’): and perhaps you could leave a review.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Sladjan Milenkovic

Sladjan Milenkovic

For the next two weeks the podcast goes international as I talk with Sladjan Milenkovic. Sladjan is director of HUB (Christian Trust Belgrade), in Serbia, which includes a small Bible school that I have had the opportunity to visit on a few occasions over the past few years.

The evangelical community in Serbia is small. To be Serbian is practically the same thing as to be Serbian Orthodox. In a nation of 7 million, it’s reckoned that there are may be 10000 who are part of the evangelical mainstream: for more on the situation of evangelicals in Serbia, the European Evangelical Alliance published this interview with the director of the Serbian Evangelical Alliance about four years ago. 

In this first episode, Sladjan talks about the spiritual situation of the country and goes on to tell his own remarkable story of coming to faith in Christ: at eighteen a colleague gave him a New Testament, and as he read, he realised the reality of Jesus. As he puts it, his first steps in faith were with Christ alone and the Bible. Eventually a small group came together, reading and praying together regularly – like a little pocket of revival: remarkably all this was happening at the height of NATO bombs in Serbia (not all the news makes the headlines!).

After spending a year in the army, Sladjan married and he then went to the Bible School that now leads (it had started 5 years previously and his wife had already studied there). At the end of his year of study, the founder of the school (Andy Mayo) invited him and his wife to stay and work alongside him: eventually he would take over the leadership (at twenty-six)..

For reflection:

  • Were you surprised to learn about the spiritual situation in Serbia?
  • As you listen to the story of Andy Mayo’s investment in Sladjan (his eventual successor), what stands out about his decision to invest in a young man? What do you look for in future leaders? What do you think young leaders might be looking for in you?
LJP: Sladjan Milenkovic, part one

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Ken Clarke (part 2 – repost)

This week’s episode continues the story of Ken Clarke’s leadership journey. Ken (who recently celebrated the 49th anniversary of his 21st birthday) is one of the most respected Christian leaders in Northern Ireland and further afield. Ken has served the Church in several roles, including as a local church minister and as a bishop.

Ken (Fanta) Clarke: looking relaxed after spending the afternoon on a course

Among other things, Ken shares these four important pieces of advice for leaders:

And there are these four key pieces of advice:

  • Don’t be a maverick: think team!
  • Remember that team members have different capacities;
  • Have soul friends;
  • Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23).

Next week the podcast goes international when the guest will be Sladjan Milenkovic a young Serbian leader. He is the director of HUB (Christian Trust Belgrade) which includes a small Bible school which I have had the opportunity to visit over the past few years. He has a wonderful story to tell, and the interview also throws some light into a part of the world that is easily overlooked by many evangelicals.

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, SEASON 2, EPISODE 23: RICK HILL (2)

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This week Rick Hill continues his story, chronicling his move to church-based youth ministry, in Carnmoney Church. He talks about the part played by a couple of his bosses – Helen Warnock in his time with Scripture Union, and John Dickinson, at Carnmoney.

After five years in Carnmoney Rick was appointed to his current role. This was a move away from a focus on one local congregation to working across the wider denomination in a specific area. At the same time he has continued to contribute to the life of his local church (he is part of the eldership team in a new church plant).

He talks about some of the challenges of leading as a young person in an environment where leaders tend to be older, including learning how to begin about appropriate change.

During the conversation we talk about some of the ways generations may lead differently. Rick describes how he values consistency and commitment: leadership is who he is rather than what he does.

Among some of the leadership ideas Rick discusses are the idea that influence is greater than authority and proximity trumps distance. Both of these elements point to the importance of relationship to leadership. He also talks about the value of leading out of vulnerability.

Younger leaders face the challenge of balance as they seek to hold together a range of commitments and the challenge of knowing how to deconstruct what needs to be deconstructed (in terms of traditionalism), without neglecting to build.

In the final part of the conversation he talks about some of his ambitions as he looks ahead.

For your own reflection:

  • From what Rick shares about a more relational approach to leadership, what are some of the implications for your leadership?
  • If you are a younger leader, how do you think that older leaders could help you in your journey?

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, SEASON 2, EPISODE 21: CHARLES MCMULLEN, part 2

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This week Charles McMullan, current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church is back on the podcast. We pick up the story with his arrival as minister of Legacurry Presbyterian Church near Lisburn, where his eight years represented a season of growth in the church.

He talks about his growing openness to the person and work of the Holy Spirit and the ensuing change in his ministry and then his eventual (dramatic) call to West Church in Bangor, where he followed the ministry of David Bailie who had pioneered a new church plant and had spent some 40 years pastoring the church. Charles describes ministry in a place where there is a deep spirituality and a joy of life.

He talks about the importance of relationships in helping to maintain the momentum in West, staying fresh, without falling into a rut. A large church, like an ocean liner, can continue on course for some time after losing its power!

In talking about what he would say to his 28 year old self he talks about the twin convictions of the unconditional love of God and the sense that, even though he wants to give his best, God’s work cannot depend on him: know that you’re loved, but don’t take yourself too seriously!

In the final part of the interview Charles talks about his experience as Moderator and how it has encouraged him in his thinking about Church, and his passion to see renewal for the traditional Church.

Here are a couple of questions for reflection:

  • ‘God has always worked in me according to my personality.’ How do you respond to this statement that Charles makes about his experience of God?
  • As a church leader, how can you maintain continuity with the past while keeping the church fresh?

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, SEASON 2, EPISODE 19: BRENDAN HEALY (Part 2)

51287865_10155716496111504_9152388120216338432_nBrendan Healy from Mullingar is back this week. In the first part of our conversation Brendan talked about the beginnings of his military career, and about the remarkable story of coming to faith in Christ.

In this part of our conversation Brendan talks about ways in which leaders in various settings (like Church or military) can learn from each other. One example, drawn from the military, is the emphasis put on training for transformation: Brendan suggests that churches need to make discipleship a more serious enterprise.

We also discuss the difference between leading from position and leading from who we are: church leaders are less likely to wear their authority on their epaulettes! Brendan suggests that the great challenge for Christian leaders will be to influence people through character and authenticity.

Brendan also talks about the church of which he is a part in Mullingar, and the roles he has played in its work: along the way, there are some interesting observations in relation to religious and cultural identity!

He also talks about people who have influenced him along the way, and shares some of the main lessons he has learned.

For your reflection:

  • What are some of the spheres of leadership you think Christians would do well to learn from? Are there any cautions?
  • As a leader, do you have a plan for helping to develop other people? Does your church or organisation take training and discipleship seriously?

PS – in the background you will hear some of the staff of Irish Bible Institute (where we recorded the podcast) having a bit of a laugh!

Next week the guest on the podcast will be Charles McMullan, current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, SEASON 2, EPISODE 18: Brendan Healy

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This week’s guest is Brendan Healy. Brendan is a retired Lt Colonel with the Irish Defence Forces. He lives in Mullingar, in the centre of Ireland, where he has played an influential role in Mullingar Christian Fellowship.

In this first part of our conversation talks about growing up in a traditional Catholic family in the West of Ireland, and his early desire to serve God as he felt his heart stirring towards Christianity. His parents were a big influence on him in terms of leadership as a way of making a contribution, and kindness.

Brendan had originally wanted to be in the police (after abandoning the idea of the priesthood), but accidentally (!) found himself joining the officer training programme for the Irish Defence Forces – he describes some of the demands of military discipline.

His sense of wanting to serve God had faded until someone he knew had had an experience of God and invited Brendan to a Christian event (the ‘craziest’ event he had ever attended). However as he explored more listened to a challenge from a priest who had been invited to speak at a mission, he came to the point of accepting Christ: his life was immediately transformed.

Remarkably, several of Brendan’s military colleagues also came to a transformational Christian experience: eventually they discovered that a group of women had been praying regularly for Irish Army officers, and this was the answer to their prayers.

He talks about the change from being a military leader to being a Christian military leader and describes some of the places where he was tasked with leading, including Lebanon and Jerusalem, as well as some of the leadership lessons he learned along the way.

He makes the point that military leadership goes beyond simply giving orders, but involves taking responsibility for the people in the leader’s charge.

(Irish Bible Institute, where we recorded the podcast, has a buzz about it on a Wednesday morning: you will hear some of the atmosphere in the background!)

 

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, SEASON 2, EPISODE 17: ROZ STIRLING, part 2

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Roz Stirling of Cleopas Ministries is back this week. She picks up her story from part one, talking about her work with the youth and children’s department in the Presbyterian Church, and how she went about helping the Church to engage with the changes in youth culture.

She also talks about her sense of call and about a life-changing retreat she she experienced in the US where she realised she was ministering out of her own sense of what was right and wrong rather than from a deep walk with God: this experience was the genesis of Cleopas, even though Cleopas was not developed for some years.

The beginnings of Cleopas brought new challenges as Roz became ill: she talks about how her illness removed her sense of self-sufficiency – developing a high sense of value, but a low sense of importance.

She also talks about the challenge of singleness, and the loss of her dream of motherhood, and challenges the Church about the need for a theology of singleness (and careful practice).

She highlights the following challenges for leaders:

  1. Character: we need to know our weaknesses and seek God’s power for character transformation.
  2. Be honest with yourself!
  3. Enjoy God through and through! Our relationship with God must be central: are the rivers of living water flowing through you?

Questions for your reflection:

  • What are some of today’s challenges in connecting the unchanging gospel with a changing culture?
  • Would you say that you are driven or that you lead from the fulness of a rich relationship with God?

The book Roz mentions is When the Heart Waits, by Sue Monk Kidd.

To find out more about Cleopas, you can visit the website, from where you can contact Roz if you would like to know more about some of the opportunities the ministry offers for spiritual refreshment.

 

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, SEASON 2, EPISODE 13: DAVID DUNLOP (part 2)

David Dunlop

In this week’s episode we resume David Dunlop’s story.

David describes some significant conversations that took place while on sabbatical including how he was introduced to the programme of Arrow Leadership and their work on issues of character, calling and competence in leaders. Arrow proved to be a huge formative experience for David.

Another key encounter during his sabbatical was with someone who asked him what he was doing to guard his heart (see Proverbs 4:23). Such was the impact that this verse has become David’s life verse.

From there David goes on to talk about spiritual disciplines/holy habits and describes a number of practices including a rule of life that includes spiritual disciplines, self care, use of time, and silent retreats.

As a leader he recognises the importance of being aware of perceived expectations and avoiding becoming proud when he’s praised and crushed when he is criticised. He also talks about the role of other people in his life, including the importance of his wife in helping him to guard his heart.

David also talks about his journey as a (reluctant, not unwilling) leader in Windsor – not least in his preaching ministry. We also talk about team and how David has experienced that in Windsor Baptist.

He also gets the opportunity to speak to a young version of himself and shares advice he would give which includes this: ‘If you want to be in leadership for a short time, knock yourself out’, and the advice to hold some things lightly.

 



If you would like to know more about the Arrow Leadership course you can find out more on their websites: the international site is here, and the Irish site is here.

And you can find out more about Windsor Baptist Church here.

Here are some of the books and authors mentioned in the podcast:

Carson Pue: Mentoring Leaders;

James Lawrence: Growing Leaders;

Mark Buchanan: Your God is too Safe,

Mark Buchanan: The Rest of God;

Burns, Chapman and Guthrie: Resilient Ministry.


For your own reflection:

  • What are you doing to guard your heart?
  • Do you follow any kind of rule of life?
  • If your leadership involves preaching, how do you ensure that you allow the Scripture to speak?
  • Are you clear about who you are as a leader, without needing to try to be someone you are not?
  • What is your rule of thumb about what can be held lightly and what needs to be held firmly?

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, SEASON 2, EPISODE 12: David Dunlop

David Dunlop

This week’s guest is David Dunlop, pastor of Windsor Baptist Church in South Belfast (yes, another South Belfast Baptist Church) – a diverse church which can count 15-18 nationalities on a Sunday. He has just celebrated his tenth anniversary as pastor of the church (and not so long ago, his 50th birthday).

David describes how he came to faith in Christ as a child, so beginning a journey that has continued (with some bumps in the road) for over 40 years. He describes a stage of ‘going through the motions’ in terms of church, and reaching a point of recommitment at 18 – not least through involvement in an event that many Northern Irish Christians (of a certain age) will remember: Mannafest.

In terms of early influence he describes the example of the pastor of the church where he grew up (though David had no pastoral aspirations at that time) and some teachers he knew at school.

In his early 20s he was given the opportunity (along with his wife) to lead the church youth group. He talks about one of the key lessons from his work with young people – the importance of building trust and earning the right to speak: something he believes was ‘caught, not taught’. They underwent training  on a youth ministry course with Oasis Trust in London.

At the end of the training, there was an opportunity for both David and his wife to work as the youth pastoral team in their home church in Ballynahinch – where they served for 13 years (though their roles changed after 8 years). David describes the enjoyment of working in a team, but the highlight was working with the young people and the privilege of journeying with them through various stages of growth and development.

He also talks about the journey of moving from Ballynahinch to Windsor Baptist (despite having resolved that he would never be a pastor). His experience of ‘calling’ is a little different from how others have experienced it!

For your own reflection:

How do you respond to David’s thoughts and experience in the lead up to moving to Windsor Baptist? Does this challenge what you have tended to think in terms of ‘the call’? What about the role of other people in helping us to discern in our decision-making?

 

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, Season 2, Episode 10: Edwin Ewart

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This week’s guest on the podcast is Edwin Ewart, principal of the Irish Baptist College, the training college for the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland.

Among the early influences, Edwin talks about his involvement in a Baptist youth fellowship and the influence of the church pastor, an early mentor. He also talks about some of his first steps into preaching – delivering epilogues alongside a music group.

He describes the formative influence of his involvement with the Christian Union during his time at university. University years were formative – not least in that it was here that he met his wife, but also because of a significant group of friends.

The opportunity to be involved in speaking that had begun to shape his thinking in terms of a sense of call to vocational ministry, and his pastor gave him strong encouragement to pursue theological training. We discuss the opportunity for leaders to encourage people in this way.

After studying at IBC and entering pastoral ministry, Edwin maintained his contact with the college as a visiting teacher before eventually joining the staff full time.

We talk about the challenge for Bible College students to maintain both an academic approach and a devotional approach.

For your own reflection:

  • As you listen to Edwin talk about the influence of his pastor, what are some of the things you have noticed about mentors?
  • Would you describe yourself as a reader? What are some of the books that have most helped you?
  • Would you agree with what Edwin quotes from Charles Spurgeon in relation to the importance of earnestness in preaching?
  • What do you make of Edwin’s advice to approach the devotional life with both discipline and variety?

You can find out more about the Irish Baptist College – including the opportunities for study they offer – on their website.

The Leadership Journey Podcast, Season 2, Episode 9: Clive Atkinson (part 2)

Clive

This week there’s more from Clive Atkinson from All Saints Church in Vevey (if you missed part one, you can catch it here).

Following his training in Dublin, Clive served his time as a curate in North Belfast followed by his first incumbency in West Belfast, in an ‘interface’ part of the city (listen for the account of the exploding bread van!).

From Belfast, he moved to his current church in Switzerland, and describes some of the challenges around the move.

He describes some of the ways he sensed God calling him to move (including the Sunday when he made his first visit to All Saints – a Sunday when there just happened to be a Northern Irish preacher in the pulpit!).

He discusses the ‘vertical’ learning curve that awaited him in arriving in Vevey – a learning curve that has continued throughout his time there. As well as the challenge of living in a new culture and parenting their children through a French-speaking school system, there was the challenge of leading a church full of strong leaders. He shares some of the ways he felt he was able to build a team, including the importance of emphasising relationships.

We also discuss some of the factors that contribute to a leader staying fresh – with particular reference to life in a ‘revolving door’ type church: Clive mentions some of the factors that have been helpful to him.

I asked him what advice he would give to a young 22 year old version of himself, heading out in training and his leadership journey. Here is the summary:

  • Leadership is a long term journey, so be patient, expect to change and to grow.
  • Your highest calling is to Jesus (not necessarily to his church), so never short-change your devotional life.
  • The Lord is faithful: trust him!
  • The Lord loves the Church more than you do!


For your reflection:

  • Clive talked about the sense that God was speaking to both him and his wife in relation to their move overseas: how important do you think it is for a leader and their spouse to be on the same page in discerning God’s call?
  • The move to Switzerland had implications for Clive and Yvonne’s young family: how can churches and agencies support families who move overseas, with the particular challenges that brings?
  • What are some of the ways you have found to be effective in building a team?
  • As you listen to Clive talk about some of the factors that have helped keep him fresh along the way, what are some of the things you have in place to help you? Should you be putting some things in place?

Next week the guest on the podcast is Edwin Ewart, principal of the Irish Baptist College.

 

The Leadership Journey Podcast, Season 2, Episode 7: Sir Nigel Hamilton (part 2)

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Sir Nigel Hamilton, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service is back this week (if you missed the first part of Sir Nigel’s story, you can catch up here).

In this week’s episode Nigel talks about how Christian leaders can live out their values in their workplace, and talks some more about his career path, a path which ran in parallel with some significant events in the history of Northern Ireland. He talks about the power of leadership moments, including what might be considered relatively simple gestures as a way of establishing an organisational culture. He also discusses the inspiration of biblical characters such as Joseph and Daniel (and the relevance of Psalm 71:18 in his current season of life).

A few years after retirement from the Civil Service, Nigel underwent significant surgery, and he talks about the significance of Stuart Townend’s song, There is a Hope, and how it helped him to share his faith with fellow patients.

Among other things, he talks about his involvement with New Irish Arts and their recent Greater Love presentation.

His top leadership lessons (and he feels that the Church could do better in terms of leadership):

  1. Have a clear understanding of what you are aiming for
  2. How will you go from where you are to where you are going to go?
  3. Be aware of the role of each individual
  4. The importance of a value base

Listen to the podcast:

For your own leadership reflection:

  • What steps can you take to develop the culture of your organisation?
  • Which biblical characters have you found to be particularly relevant in your leadership journey?

Next week the podcast takes something of an international turn as the guest is Clive Atkinson, chaplain of All Saints Church in Vevey, Switzerland.

 

A biblical picture of leadership

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The past few decades have seen a significant increase in interest in the subject of leadership, both generally and within the Church. So much so that it’s tempting to paraphrase Ecclesiastes: ‘Of the making of books (and articles) on leadership, there is no end!’

The range of resources available means that Christians face a challenge in knowing how to navigate the subject. On the one hand, we can become so infatuated with the most recent trend in management or entrepreneurship that we end up unwittingly relegating the Bible to the sidelines, while on the other hand, we might bury our heads in the sand with regard to the challenges of 21st century leadership or the wisdom that might be gleaned from some of the best leadership thinkers. In fact, we might prefer to ignore the subject altogether, perhaps even dismiss it as unspiritual!

It’s the first of those temptations – ignoring the voice of Scripture – that I hope to address in this article, suggesting three biblical themes that might provide a framework for fruitful reflection on leadership.

1 – The Bible and leaders

The importance of human leaders is implied by the array of leaders that God uses across the pages of both Old and New Testaments. Considerable space is given to many of their stories: from Joseph, in ‘secular’ leadership in Egypt, through Moses and the Exodus, Joshua in the Promised Land, judges, like Deborah or Gideon, kings like David or Solomon, governors like Nehemiah, all the way through to the Lord Jesus himself and those who followed him.

Despite the shortcomings of many of these leaders, many of them were agents of significant work among God’s people. How would the Hebrews have left Egypt and negotiated the wilderness without the leadership of Moses? How would post-exile Jerusalem have been rebuilt without the leadership of Nehemiah (even though he could not have achieved it by himself)?

While we need to be careful not to treat some parts of Scripture as little more than leadership handbooks from which we can glean ‘leadership principles’, many of the stories have a great deal to teach us about the challenges and responsibilities of spiritual leadership. We also need to recognise that few of the biblical leaders left legacies of unmitigated success. Moses failed to make it to the Promised Land. Samson’s story was a confusing mix of faith and recklessness. Many of the kings ‘did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord’.

Scripture’s portrayal of these leaders is so honest about their flaws that, even if it’s too much to say that human leadership is a necessary evil, we might be tempted to think of it as a dangerous necessity!

2 – The call to character

Scripture cautions about the traps of leadership. In the Old Testament Deuteronomy 17 warns the king against accumulating horses (a sign of military power), accumulating wives (perhaps as a way of cementing political alliances, but a potential gateway to idolatry), and accumulating silver and gold (material wealth). By any other reckoning, these three things would probably have been markers of success in the ancient world: who wouldn’t admire a leader with great military power, international influence, and personal wealth?

In fact, Israel had one such leader: Solomon. Solomon’s wealth set him at the top of the ‘Rich List’; he had 12000 horsemen (along with horses from Egypt); in his household were 700 wives and 300 concubines. But the trappings of apparent success carried the seeds of the destruction of Solomon’s leadership. He ended his life an idolater and the kingdom was subsequently torn from his family. How many Christian leaders have crashed their leadership on the rocks of money, sex, and power?

It’s no surprise that the New Testament sets so much store on the kind of people who were to lead local congregations. The instructions for appointing elders/overseers in the Pastoral Epistles prioritise personal character over spectacular gifting (though gifting is part of the picture). Similarly Peter (1 Peter 5) challenges the heart motivations of elders, warning them that spiritual leadership is not intended as a path to wealth or personal power.

3 – Biblical pictures

Derek Tidball, in his book Builders and Fools, encourages Christian leaders to think about their role less in terms of the latest leadership trend and more in terms of some of the pictures the Bible itself gives to describe ministerial leadership. When we do this, there is plenty of material!

Among the pictures from which we might draw, there are kings and warriors, prophets and sages, builders and pilots, and there are shepherds and servants.

‘Shepherd’ is perhaps the dominant metaphor for leadership in both Old and New Testaments. In the OT, God (already the Shepherd of his people) delegates the task of shepherding to kings and other leaders. Sadly, they often prove to be unfaithful and are denounced by the prophets who promise that God himself will step in. Messianic prophecy looks ahead to a coming King who will emerge from Bethlehem and shepherd his people. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the welfare of his sheep, and in turn he delegates the task of shepherding his flock to his followers. Elders are told to ‘shepherd’ the flock.

If 21st century Church leadership is to be biblical, it needs to take proper account of the implications of the shepherding motif, with its call for leaders who are marked by both compassion and courage.

Finally, leaders are servants. The term ‘servant leadership’ has become familiar in general discussions of leadership, but it was Jesus who challenged his disciples to look less at the powerful models of contemporary leadership on display in the Roman Empire, and learn the lessons of servanthood. In contrast to the domineering styles of the culture around them, Jesus’ disciples had to understand that the radically different values of the kingdom of God included a radically different vision of what it meant to be number one: whoever would be first would have to be the slave of all.

Christian leadership follows in the footsteps of Jesus. In fact, we do well to remember that the call to follow precedes the call to lead: our leadership is validated when it flows from our followership. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, biblical leadership exists, not for its own advancement, but for the good of those in its care, for the glory of God, and the advancement of his kingdom.

(This is a slightly edited version of an article written for Insight – the magazine of the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland – part of a special section the magazine is running on leadership.)

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.

8 things Christian leaders can learn about ministry from Moses

Yesterday I had been invited to a gathering of a dozen or so Baptist pastors: I shared some things I’ve learned about leadership, framing them with the story of Moses.

Here is a little summary of my thinking:

1 – We don’t get there by ourselves.

Moses’ survival, his eventual faith in God, and his leadership of God’s people would not have been possible had not been for the faith of his parents, the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter, and the ingenuity of his sister.

Nor do we get there by ourselves. Whether it is the faith, example and witness of our family, the faithfulness of teachers, or the investment of mentors, we don’t get far on our own.

2 – God can meet us in deserts.

For Moses, the middle years of his life represented the loss of his vision and passion. Exile in Midian was not what he was expecting when he attempted to rescue the Hebrew slaves at 40.

Many leaders find themselves in wilderness experiences at various points in their ministry. Whether it is a wilderness of stress and burnout, a wilderness of failure, or a wilderness of illness or spiritual crisis, wilderness by definition is a hard place. But God can meet us there, as he did Moses.

3 – We need to know that God loves us.

At a time of great crisis (see Exodus 32,33), Moses hears from God. The text says that ‘the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend’. Not only did God promise that his presence would be with Moses, but he told him that he had found favour in his sight and that he knew him by name.

Believing that God loves us might seem like spiritual ABCs, but from time to time we need to be reminded: as Henri Nouwen would say, to hear the voice that calls us the beloved.

4 – Ministry is meant to be shared.

Two incidents in Moses’ life are pertinent. The first is when his father in law sees how much Moses’ style of leadership had become a bottleneck and was threatening to wear out both Moses and the people. The second comes later when Moses is complaining about the heavy load of responsibility and God responds by pouring his Spirit on seventy elders. Two people were not part of the main group and Joshua, perhaps anxious to protect the leadership of his mentor, urges Moses to stop them from prophesying. Moses’ responds that he wishes all the Lord’s people were prophets.

Control-freakery is not a sign of healthy leadership. Leaders need to learn the paradox of power: the leader’s power is not diminished when it is given away to others! Ministry is meant to be shared.

5 – We need to learn to handle criticism.

Criticism was a frequent theme of Moses’ life, whether it was about what the people were eating and drinking, or whether it was their complaint (in fact his siblings’) that Moses had got ahead of himself in terms of self-importance.

At times leaders are lightening rods and find themselves attracting any negativity in the air. At times it feels personal (perhaps at times it is!) and can be hard to take. But making it about ourselves and our honour is likely to make it worse.

While criticism may be painful and while a pervading negativity can be toxic in a church or organisation (and may need to be dealt with), we do well to remember the thoughts of a leadership scholar who has suggested that the most successful leaders are liable to be those with the least compliant followers! Without critique, we remain unaware of our weaknesses and areas where growth is needed.

6 – We are never the finished article.

Moses’ character had a streak of anger: witness his reaction to injustice or his smashing of the stone tablets. Yet he is later described as ‘the meekest man on earth’! You’d think that time had sufficiently moderated his character flaw and that his anger issues had been resolved. Until the provocation of the people eventually gets to him and he disobediently strikes the rock.

Beware, lest character flaws you thought were things of the past come back to bite you: avoid the arrogance of thinking you are the finished article!

7 – We must not get in the way of Jesus.

In the mysteries of biblical typology, Paul claims that the rock that followed the Israelites in the desert was Christ. Which suggests to me a picture of Moses getting himself in the way of an encounter between Christ (the rock from which water flowed) and the people.

Leaders have personalities and these are simply part of who we are. But people need more than our personalities: they need living water, and that comes from Christ, not us. Let’s not get in the way by drawing attention to ourselves.

8 – We need to prepare the next generation.

Moses would not make it to the Promised Land, and he knew the people would need a new leader. So he prayed for one (Numbers 27). In answer, God gave him Joshua (though the ultimate answer to the problem of sheep without a shepherd was a greater Joshua!) and Moses commissioned him.

Leaders come and go but the work goes on and calls for new leaders. What are we doing to pray for them and prepare them to pick up the baton?