Book review: Understanding Christian Leadership (Ian Parkinson)

It seems almost to have become a commonplace that anyone writing a new book on Christian Leadership should begin with some form of justification for their work. Since it seems as though ‘of the making of leadership books there is no end’ (to borrow from Ecclesiastes) writers seem to think they need to defend the fact that they have chosen to add to the pile! So it is that Ian Parkinson begins by acknowledging the rich array of available resources and asking why add ‘yet another one’.

The excellence of his book answers the question!

If you are a student of Christian leadership I’d advise you to clear some apace on your shelves for what is a masterful piece of work that combines a breadth of academic knowledge with a genuine spirituality, seasoned with the lessons of practical experience. If you are a teacher of the subject (as I am) this needs to be on your reading list before classes resume in the autumn!

The book falls into two main sections (each consisting of five chapters): one is more theoretical and the other more practical. Homileticians will appreciate the alliteration of three of the five chapters in part one in which explore the themes of desiring, defining, and distrusting leadership. The other two chapters in the section provide theological meat, as they examine the theme of leadership in the Old and New Testaments.

Chapter one (‘Desiring Leadership: why leadership matters) sets out the case for leadership by discussing what happens when it is missing, and setting out what the author describes as ‘the goods of leadership’. These he defines as sense-making, animation, alignment, problem-solving, and hope. There is also a brief – but important – excursus on leadership and ministry, terms the author believes need to be distinguished.

Chapter two (‘Defining Leadership’) acknowledges the complexity of leadership (‘a multifaceted phenomenon’), given the differences in context and perspective, along with a temptation towards oversimplification. The author then proceeds to survey a range of theories, breaking them into three broad classifications: leader-centred theories, relationship-centred theories, and an approach that sees leadership as a social process.

Chapters three and four then move to a biblical discussion of the theme, first exploring how leadership is presented in the Old Testament and then how it is presented in the New. The chapters are not always watertight as some of the themes that are discussed under the rubric of the Old Testament (such as shepherd, or servant) are not exclusive to the OT, but are also found in the NT, not least in the ministry of Jesus. The NT chapter includes a series of studies on various words that are used to describe early Christian leaders (and, interestingly, some that are not), and these are grouped under three functions: exercising oversight, which includes the work of the elder and of the bishop (there is an interesting discussion on the nature of the overlap between these terms), representing Christ, and animating the body. Chapter four also includes a valuable reflection on a series of core theological themes (creation, incarnation, trinity, pneumatology, and eschatology) suggesting how each of these ought to inform Christian leadership.

By the end of chapter four, the author is ready to present his definition of Christian Leadership:

A relational process of social influence through which people are inspired, enabled and mobilized to act in positive, new ways, towards the achievement of God’s purposes.

Chapter five, the final chapter in the book’s first section acknowledges that for all that might be said about the desirability of good leadership, it is, as Justin Lewis-Anthony has claimed, ‘at best, a contested concept and at worst a dangerous, violent and totalitarian heresy’! The chapter discusses a couple of philosophical and moral reservations before setting out three theological reservations, including the claim that secular theory emerges from a context whose purposes are at odds with the purposes of the Christian Church.

It’s a minor point, but it would have been interesting to see some interaction with the work of Arthur Boers in this chapter: Boers has recently wondered whether Christians are guilty of a ‘faddish fascination’ with leadership.

In part two, the author turns to focus on more practical matters (not that there is no practical outworking of what he has presented in part one, or that part two is suddenly light on theory or in its interaction with academic sources). Five topics are grouped under the heading ‘the work of leadership’.

The first of these discusses leadership and organisational culture. Be ready for a discussion that goes a bit beyond the homely definition of culture as ‘the way we do things around here’. The author points us to the work of Schein who identified three levels of culture: what we see in an organisation’s artefacts, the level of espoused beliefs, and the group’s underlying assumptions. While leaders do not necessarily stand outside of culture in order to change it, they have the possibility of shaping their organisation’s culture through modelling, explaining, exposing dysfunction, inviting participation, and reinforcing.

The next aspect of the leader’s work is the task of ‘animating the body’ (a concept already introduced in chapter four). I had been struck quite early on in the book how fond the author is on the idea of the leader as a catalyst, and that idea is developed in chapter seven, with both theological and practical considerations presented, as well as an honest acknowledgment of reasons why the empowering of leaders does not happen. Three priorities are suggested for leaders: they need to establish a ‘development culture’, cultivate a vision for ‘whole-life discipleship’, and devise a strategy for leader development.

Chapter eight deals with the task of ‘fostering collaboration‘ and includes detailed discussion of the concept of teams, and thoughts on the place of conflict, noting the differences between affective, procedural, and substantive conflict (the third is valuable, the first is not!).

The final task is that of discerning direction in which the author discusses vision and direction. I posted on Twitter (probably only slightly tongue in cheek) that a mark of a good book on Christian Leadership is that it manages to discuss the concept of vision without misapplying Proverbs 29:18! It’s something that irks me, possibly more than it should, but thankfully this book manages to avoid the trap (the author is careful in his use of Scripture throughout). There is a useful discussion of the life-cycles of organisation and the steps that need to be taken to avoid terminal decline – something that easily follows on from a period of stability, and the section on identity, purpose, and vision is concise and very helpfully presented. Borrowing from Kotter, the author suggests that a church’s vision needs to be imaginable, desirable, feasible, focused, flexible, and communicable. Another helpful aspect of this chapter is the discussion of the correlation between levels of involvement in shaping vision and levels of commitment to the organisation.

The final chapter is a short discussion of ‘the spirituality of Christian leadership‘: what is it that makes leadership Christian? For while much of the application in the book relates primarily to leaders in a church context, the book recognises that Christian leadership is not limited to such. In fact several of the case studies that come at the end of each chapter are drawn from the world of secular and organisational leadership. The reflections in the chapter are based around the message of Paul to the Ephesian elders in Acts 6.

Perhaps what most distinguishes Christian leadership from any other form of leadership is the understanding that it is received from God as a gift.


One of the great strengths of the book is its thoroughness. The author demonstrates a considerable grasp of a wide range of relevant contemporary scholarship on the subject of leadership. Clearly he has thought long and often about the range of questions that the discipline throws up.

Not that the book is a simple regurgitation of secular theory seasoned with an isolated text from Scripture here and there in order to justify the title! There is frequent engagement with Scripture in both Old and New Testaments, ranging from theological reflection to the use of biblical narratives to illustrate a point begin made.

While the book is far from being a collection of thoughts on ‘what I have learned about Christian Leadership by being a Christian leader for 30-odd years’, the author makes careful use of his own experience in a way that demonstrates that leadership has been far from a merely theoretical subject for him. The practical side of the book is also served by the list of case studies that are included in each of the main chapters: these range from a vicar revitalising an inner city church in the Everton district of Liverpool (no mention of the football team), to a consultant psychiatrist developing the work of a Mental Health Trust.

It’s hard to quibble with much in the book, but if I was pushed I’d perhaps mention that much of the application is worked out in an Anglican context. This is quite understandable, given the author’s primary sphere of work with CPAS and the Church of England training colleges. This is a small point, but I wonder if the book’s appeal might be extended in a future edition that aims to draw on some more non-Anglican examples. My free-church friends need not be put off – they may even enjoy the discussion of elders and bishops!

I think the best compliment I could pay this book is to say I wish I had the capacity to write it! I’d have to agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury whose foreward describes it as a ‘tour de force’.


Ian Parkinson is a leadership specialist with CPAS and a visiting lecturer at several Anglican training institutions. He has previously appeared on the podcast and you can catch up with his story here and here. You can order your copy of the book here.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Sam Balmer

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Sam Balmer is chairman of Bible Educational Services (BES), an organisation committed to producing Bible resources that are used in some 40 languages in some 65 countries around the world. He is also an elder in Fermanagh Christian Fellowship, a vibrant church that meets on the edge of Enniskillen.

In the course of our conversation Sam talked about his family, about some others who influenced him, about his interest in mission and his own path into the work that he heads up.

He also talks with great vulnerability and honesty about some of the challenges he has faced with stress-related illness, and some of what he has learned through that.

And, as with most of these interviews, he shares some of the key things he has learned during the course of his leadership journey.

What Sam shares about the challenge of stress-related illness is a reminder that spiritual leaders are not exempt from its reach. If you are a leader and some of what he says about it resonates with you, find someone to talk to. If there is no one in your immediate circle that you feel you can talk to, send me an email via this website and I will endeavour to get you in contact with someone who can help.

As I was editing this episode of the podcast a friend sent me an article that discusses the well-being (or lack of it) among pastors: it highlights these five issues:

  • Lack of rest or a day off;
  • Lack of support from fellow clergy and a sense of competition;
  • Lack of personal community;
  • Marital strain;
  • Signing up for ministry but feeling more like a CEO than a pastor.
Sam Balmer’s leadership journey

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Peter Lynas

This week’s guest on the podcast is Peter Lynas, Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance. Peter is a trained barrister and has a degree from Regent College in Vancouver, where he serves on the board.

In our conversation Peter talks about the influence of his father, Norman. At the time of posting this, Norman is in rehab following a serious stroke suffered in August. The most recent news is that he has been making a remarkable recovery. He is able to walk with assistance and able to chat with people. There is still a road to travel, but progress has been encouraging.

He talks about the concept of calling (listen out for his non-traditional take on this) and traces his story through his professional academic study and his work, which has included time with the Jubilee Centre in England.

Peter includes some of other people who have influenced him along the way and our conversation also includes issues such as sabbath and technology. He also talks about the work of the Evangelical Alliance and his passion for connecting faith with the public square.

He shares his key leadership learning:

  • Understand who you are
  • Have a rich understanding of the God story
  • Be in rooms with leaders who are better than you
  • Beware of leaving a generational gap
  • Recognise the loneliness of leadership

If you would like to know more about the public leadership initiative that Peter mentions, you can read about it here.

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.

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

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

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

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

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


For your own reflection:

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

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

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

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST (28): MALCOLM DUNCAN, PART Three

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Malcolm Duncan, Senior Pastor of Dundonald Elim Church, is back for a third week.

He talks about some of the impressions of the Northern Ireland he has returned to. He suggests that there is a lot of hope (‘if you see cranes in a city, it’s a sign of hope’), while there is also a degree of uncertainty.

We discuss the theme of exile: how do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Malcolm suggests that here is a difference between a church that sings and a church that shouts and he argues that we need to spend more energy telling the Church to get its house in order than telling the world to get its house in order.

He offers some ideas on how the Church needs to respond to the secularisation of society: the Church in Northern Ireland needs to be a hopeful community and a source of hope that could flow beyond these shores.

He reflects on some of the early Irish missionaries and how they went about their work and wonders where the big story tellers are at a time when we may have been guilty of overly dissecting the gospel. Cultivate a bigger vision of the gospel by cultivating a smaller vision of its reality – which means looking for ‘the green seeds of hope’ in your community.

He talks about how he feeds his mind and soul and shares at some length about how he approaches Scripture.

He also talks about the ‘niteblessings’ which you can follow on his social media platforms: @MalcomJDuncan on Twitter and InstagramRevMalcolmDuncan on Facebook – and watch out for the upcoming book!

Towards the end of the podcast, he shares some of the most important things he has learned in leadership:

  1. You cannot be a good leader unless you are a good follower.
  2. There is always more to learn (‘I understand God less than I have ever understood him, but I love him more than I have ever loved him’).
  3. Leadership is as much about learning to trust God as it is about leading other people (‘I do not need to understand God in order to trust him’).
  4. God is good and his love endures forever (‘I have learned the gift of suffering’).
  5. ‘I have nothing to prove!’

Listeners of a certain age will catch the reference to Larry Norman!


 

Here is the podcast:


For your reflection:

  • How can the Church learn to sing more than it shouts?
  • What does it mean for the Church to be an alternative community on the edges of society?
  • Have you a big vision of the gospel?
  • What might it mean to find God at work in your community, as Malcolm describes it?
  • How do you feed your mind and soul?
  • Have you developed a pattern of engaging with Scripture?