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.

‘Leadership in Christian Perspective’: a review

‘For reasons both ancient and new, the church today has an insatiable appetite for the study of church leadership. A vast avalanche of books, seminars, videos, and web sites has swept over the landscape in response to that appetite. Some of it is good and helpful, but overall much of it is very weak or even misleading in ways that should trouble the church leaders consuming it.’


Thus wrote Lew Parks in a journal article some 16 years ago. He went on to describe a vision of Christian leadership that takes seriously the Scripture, the Church’s theology, and solid interaction with the best secular leadership thinking.

I think that’s a reasonable way to introduce a very recent book on leadership that’s been written as a joint project between two American professors. Justin Irving is a professor of ministry leadership and Mark Strauss is a biblical scholar (who serves on the translation committee of the NIV). Together they have produced ‘Leadership in Christian Perspective’ (Baker), in which each contributes to an approach to leadership that they call ‘empowering leadership’. They describe this approach as being about empowerment more than control, about a process more than being an event, and about shared goals and vision more than a leader’s goals and vision.

There are three major components to their model of leadership (the first points to the leader, the second to followers, and the third to the organisation’s mission) and these correspond to the three main parts of the book:

1 – Beginning with authentic and purposeful leaders;
2 – Understanding the priority of people;
3 – Navigating toward effectiveness.

Each section comprises three chapters as they break down the major components of their model, and each chapter consists of a three-pronged approach. First, the chapter theme is addressed from the perspective of biblical teaching; second it is discussed from the perspective of contemporary leadership, with reference to Irving’s research; and finally the authors aim to provide an example and encourage reflection on the particular leadership skill demonstrated in practice. Chapters also include a series of practical ‘next steps’, and a short list of relevant books for further reflection.


The first section (Beginning with Authentic and Purposeful Leaders) deals with three leadership practices:

  • ‘Modelling what matters’: in which they discuss the importance of leaders modelling what they call for in their followers.
    ‘Modeling what matters is a primary tool for leaders working to lead through influence rather than control.’
  • ‘Engaging in honest self-evaluation’: in which they introduce the concept of ‘humble self-efficacy’ and discuss self-leadership.
  • ‘Fostering collaboration’: in which they reflect on Paul’s letter to Philippians and on team work.

The second section moves the focus from the leader to the followers:

  • ‘Valuing and appreciating’: which includes a character study on Barnabas, and call on leaders to lead from love not fear, and to appreciate people both for who they are and for what they contribute.
  • ‘Creating a place for individuality’: in which they explore the biblical concept of gifts as an expression of unity through diversity, and the importance of leaders nurturing their followers’ uniqueness and creativity.
  • ‘Understanding relational skills’: which includes this –
    ‘People matter. Leadership, at its heart, is about relating well with people inside and outside your organization.’

The final section then completes the model by reflecting on leadership practices that focus on the mission of the organisation:

  • ‘Communicating with clarity’: which discusses aspects of communication theory and calls for leaders to communicate a clear message.
  • ‘Providing accountability’: in which they discuss the importance of setting expectations which are not only clear, but shared (would you prefer your followers to be owners or renters?).
  • ‘Supporting and resourcing’: which reminds us of our resources as Christians, and discusses what it means to support and resource your team.

So much for the contents: what about the book’s strengths?

I think the principal strength of the book lies in its unique approach of combining the expertise of two authors from different disciplines. Given Parks’ observation referenced at the start of this review, there is value in combining the efforts of contributors who know both the world of the biblical text and the world of contemporary leadership studies. Readers who are familiar with one field more than the other have an opportunity to ‘beef up’ their awareness of the gaps. I hope it is not a form of chronological snobbery, but a book that includes references to other recently published, or recently updated work ticks some boxes for me.

Irving demonstrates his familiarity with many of the currents in secular leadership thinking: not least in the way he draws from the ideas of both servant leadership and transformational leadership. Along the way, there is also material on self-leadership and the related concept of emotional intelligence.

From the biblical perspective, Strauss covers a range of biblical themes and texts (generally from the New Testament, which is his focus of study). His contributions include a discussion of how Paul modelled leadership qualities, and a simple, but rich character study of Barnabas: some of these might serve to prime the pump for anyone wanting to develop their own biblical reflections on aspects of leadership.

At the same time, one suggestion I’d make about the book would be to advocate a wider use of the biblical canon. It’s doubtless a personal bias since much of my own reflection on leadership has tended to come from OT characters Moses and Nehemiah. But I think that here and there, the biblical content section might have benefitted from delving into the OT texts.

The empowering leader model is presented in an appealing and accessible way and I think that combining the focus of servant leadership on the welfare of followers, as well as focusing on the positive aspects of transformational leadership is important. Nonetheless, students of transformational leadership should be aware of some of the recent critique of the model from Denis Tourish.

Another positive is the fact that the book is applicable to all kinds of leadership situations, and is not limited to church or other specifically ‘ministry’ settings (at least as understood in its narrowest form). Indeed, many of the practical illustrations of the various leadership practices are drawn from the world of business leadership.


I’ll be encouraging my students in leadership classes to read the book and I’d also recommend it to current leaders in need of some help to think through a positive leadership model that is evidence-based and biblically grounded.

For those of you who are ready to get your copy right away, here is the link (UK) and here for the US!

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: 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 11: Edwin Ewart (part 2)

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This week, Edwin Ewart, principal of Irish Baptist College,  continues his story (you can catch up with part one of the interview here).

We talk about Edwin’s ministry path, with pastorates in several Baptist churches, starting with Letterkenny, in Donegal, then Belfast (Mountpottinger) and Coleraine, before his move to the Baptist College.

As principal, doesn’t see himself as pen-pushing principal (though there is admin to be done), but his greatest joy in the work is its teaching. We discuss some of the challenges faced by Bible Colleges (Edwin is part of the Association of Bible College principals), including the tension between the residential model and the in-service model of training (IBC has a couple of ministry placements – one local and one cross-cultural) as part of the course).

Along the way we discuss preaching (how long should a sermon series run?), the old pastoral chestnut of the extent to which the pastor/minister should have friends in the congregation, and how easy it is to be sure of the will of God in terms of a ministry calling – not least in the context of trying to determine when it’s time to move to a new situation.

We also talk about books: Edwin shares some of the influential books he has read and some of the things he has learned along the way.


As is becoming custom on these interviews, I gave Edwin the opportunity to talk to his 20 year old self: what advice would he give?

While he reckons he would not change anything (you can’t put an old head on young shoulders), he highlights these points:

  • Immerse yourself in Scripture
  • Memorise the BIble
  • Read good Christian books
  • Get a good circle of friends and maintain those friendships

Listen to the podcast:


For your own reflection:

  • If you are involved in a preaching ministry in your church, what criteria do you use in planning the variety and length of sermon series?
  • What books have most influenced you on your own leadership journey?

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.