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: 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: Stephen Cave

This week’s guest on the podcast is Stephen Cave. Stephen is Senior Vice President for Translation with Biblica (The International Bible Society). He has also served as a Baptist pastor in Northern Ireland and has had leadership roles with the Evangelical Alliance where he is a member of the UK board.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone involved in the work of Biblica, one of his strong ministry passions is his desire to help people engage with the Bible: another is his heart for the wider Church.

In our conversation we talk about his early relationship with the Bible, the role of some people who were key influencers, how his faith was affected by an experience of tragic loss, and how his leadership journey has allowed him to combine his ministry passions.

Along the way he discusses some of his convictions about leadership, including the idea that a leader is someone who is prepared to have a tough conversation.



As you listen to the conversation, you might like to reflect on some of these questions:

1 – As a leader, how easy is it for you to delegate responsibility to others? What might prevent you from doing more of this?
2 – As you listen to Stephen talking about foundational ministry passions, can you identify the things that are key in your calling?
3 – How do you experience God speaking to you?
4 – How easy it it for you to have ‘tough conversations’ with people in your church or organisation?


I’m making a couple of changes to the podcast:

  • Each interview will be one episode rather than two (or occasionally three), previously.
  • Rather than a new episode every week, I’ll be aiming for two per month.

While you can always listen to the podcast via this blog, remember that you can also subscribe via Apple Podcasts or Castbox: just search for The Leadership Journey Podcast. Subscription costs nothing and you will get each new episode arriving automatically on your phone/tablet. New episodes will appear on Friday afternoons – hopefully in time for some weekend listening.


The guest on the next episode will be Peter Lynas from the Evangelical Alliance.

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 (repost)

Happy Birthday!

This week, a previous guest on the podcast, has a special birthday. Bishop Ken (Fanta) Clarke is celebrating the 50th anniversary of turning 20! It’s about a year since I posted a couple of podcasts featuring his story. Here again is part one, with part two coming next week. Beyond that watch for some new episodes.

Happy birthday, Ken – and God bless you in the new decade ahead!

The Leadership Journey Podcast, Season 2, Episode 28: Dave Linton and the Madlug story (part 2)

This week, Dave Linton talks about the story of Madlug, the successful social enterprise that he launched, aimed at helping give dignity to young people in the care system.

If you missed the first part of our conversation, you can catch it here.

Don’t forget to check the Madlug website, where you get information about the bags they sell and you can become part of Madlug’s story by purchasing your own bag.

The Leadership Journey Podcast Season 2, Episode 25: Lucas Parks, part 2

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Lucas Parks, pastor of Village Church in Belfast is back this week, continuing his story. You can catch up with part one of our conversation here.

We start our conversation this week with a discussion of ‘how to plant a church’, and what that looked like in the story of Village Church (we talk about the question of why plant a church in Belfast), including the recent development of a new church plant in South Belfast.

Among other things, Lucas talks about the Acts 29 church planting network, and about what it takes to maintain a team, and some of the defining moments in his leadership journey.

He shares very personally, and powerfully about his recent illness and the challenge of going through a tough season of treatment. He talks about how God came close to him, and about some of the lessons he learned through the experience.

For your reflection:

  • Part of our conversation is on the subject of church planting and the question of whether certain places (like Belfast, which has a lot of churches) really need new churches: what are your thoughts on this? Are new churches a means of revitalising the Church generally?
  • Lucas talks about his view that it’s better to plant churches than to grow churches to be as large as possible: do you agree? What or why not?
  • If you are leading a team, how much are you investing in ‘relational capital’?
  • Reflect on a time when you went through a particular crisis: what were some of the things you learned through it?

 

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 22: Rick Hill

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Rick Hill is the guest on the podcast over the next two weeks. Rick is the Discipleship Officer for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rick is probably the youngest person I’ve interviewed on the podcast (and probably also the tallest!).

In this first part of our conversation Rick describes some of what is involved in his role as Discipleship Officer for PCI, and we go back to the beginning of his story when he talks about the influence of his parents, and about the weekend when both he and a classmate committed their lives to Christ.

He talks also about his early sense that he would somehow be involved in some kind of vocational ministry – an early desire to serve God. This desire influenced his study path (he studied at Belfast Bible College, where we recorded the interview), and he eventually found himself working with Scripture Union where he had responsibility to engage with Bible groups in secondary schools across the country. It was a formative time, helping him to learn how to handle the Bible in ways that were relevant to young people.

For your own reflection:

  • What do you think of Rick’s description of shifting the emphasis from trying to get people into church to equipping disciples who will be sent out from church?
  • If you are a leader, what do you think about what Rick says about giving permission to younger people to run with their vision?

The Leadership Journey Podcast Season 2, Episode 14: Russell Birney

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The guest in the first episode of the podcast in 2019 is Russell Birney. Russell is a retired Presbyterian minister whose ministry spanned several decades and included over 20 years as minister of High Kirk in Ballymena. He is a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

In this first part our our conversation we talk about Russell growing up in Fermanagh, about his experience of coming to faith (it was not a straightforward journey), and about the decision to pursue training for Presbyterian ministry.

Along the way we discuss mentoring and the value of having friends and people who speak into our lives.

Next week I’ll be talking to Russell about his ministry in several congregations, some of the challenges he faced, and some of the important things he was learning about ministry as well as conviction about the importance of the Church.

Here is this week’s episode:

 

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 8: Clive Atkinson

Clive

This week the podcast takes something of an international turn as the guest is Clive Atkinson, chaplain of All Saints Anglican Church in Switzerland. Clive is originally from Northern Ireland (he and I attended the same secondary school, though a few years apart), and has been living in Switzerland for over 15 years.

All Saints Church is a vibrant expat church, part of the Intercontinental Church Society, serving the English-speaking community around Vevey in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. While the church is anglican, various denominations and nationalities are part of the community.

In this first part of our conversation Clive talks about the early influences on his life, growing up in Northern Ireland and his coming to faith as a teenager and the formative years at university where he had some ‘deep end’ leadership opportunities with the Christian Union. He also talks about some of the people who had a big influence on his life, including Harold Miller – a previous guest on the podcast.

In talking about the life of the church, Clive describes the way they have a vision that involves being intentional about sending people out into their regular jobs – referencing the work of LICC.

Next week, Clive will go on to talk more about the journey of ministry and how he came to be in Vevey.

For your own reflection:

  • Can you name people who have had an influence in your life in the way Clive discusses the role of Harold Miller? Are you in a position to speak into the lives of people you mentor?
  • Clive talks about the work of LICC and their emphasis on whole life discipleship: for those of you in church leadership, is there something you can learn from the way Clive’s church has adopted the idea of ‘this time tomorrow’ and their vision of sending people out into their Monday to Friday work?

By the way – here is that photo we talked about!

Vevey photo

Also – you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or Castbox.

 

 

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.

 

The Leadership Journey Podcast – Season 2, Episode 6: Sir Nigel Hamilton (part 1)

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This week my guest on the podcast is Sir Nigel Hamilton. Up until now, my guests have tended to be leaders whose careers have been set in the context of the Church or some specifically Christian organisation.

Sir Nigel’s story is different in that his career was worked out over more than 30 years in the Civil Service, including eventually serving as head of that organisation. So, instead of needing to work out how to relate to elders and deacons, he was working out how to relate to more than 30 various government ministers.

Much of his career spanned what’s become known in Northern Ireland as ’The Troubles’ and in the interview he reflects on some what happened during the time. He also discusses some of the ways he found support as a Christian during his career, including his involvement in the Methodist Church (in which he had become a lay preacher).

In this context we discuss the importance of church leaders supporting members of their congregation who are involved in senior roles outside the walls of the church. He also talks about what it means to exercise Christian faith in senior leadership situations.


For your reflection:
  • If you are a senior leader outside of the walls of your church, what could church leaders do to support and encourage you?
  • If you are a church leader, how might you support members of your church who are leading outside the church?

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 Three: Philip Emerson (part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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



For your own reflection:

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

Christian leaders and their devotional life

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

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

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

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

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

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

And why is any of this important?

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

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

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

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


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

(From the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind)

The Leadership Journey Podcast – Season Two, episode 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?

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?

The Leadership Journey Podcast (26): Malcolm Duncan (part one)

 

9ey7xfrc_400x400The guest this week (for the next three weeks, in fact) is Malcom Duncan. After spending the past thirty years away from Northern Ireland, where he grew up, Malcolm has recently taken up the role of Senior Pastor in Dundonald Elim Church in East Belfast. Previously – most recently – he was Senior Pastor of Gold Hill Baptist Church in England. Malcolm is well known as a conference speaker at events such as Spring Harvest and New Horizon.

In this week’s podcast, Malcolm talks about returning to the country he left three decades ago, he talks about his dramatic conversion experience at sixteen (which he believes also constituted his call to Christian ministry), and he shares some of his thoughts on leadership and mentoring.

Questions for reflection:

  • As you listen to Malcolm describe his conversion experience, reflect on how you came to faith? Was it a dramatic experience, or was it more gradual? Someone has suggested that some conversions are more ‘Emmaus Road’ than they are ‘Damascus Road’.
  • What do you think of Malcolm’s rationale for team leadership? Do you have a theological foundation for your own leadership model?
  • Do you have a Timothy and/or a Paul figure in your life?
  • ‘You cannot lead people you don’t love’: what do you make of this comment?

You can catch also Malcolm’s ‘nite blessing’ – a prayer for each evening – via his Twitter page – @malcolmjduncan, or on his Facebook page – RevMalcolmDuncan.

The Leadership Journey Podcast (23): Ken Clarke (part 2)

bishopkenclarkeThis week there is more from Bishop Ken (Fanta) Clarke, mission director of SAMS (UK and Ireland).

The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness (Robert Murray McCheyne).

This week Ken talks about risk taking and younger leaders, about his experience of culture shock when he went to Chile, about the need for leaders to take time to be reflective, and the challenge of trust.

He also tells the story about a somewhat nerve-wracking experience in isolation on an African mountain and what he learned at that time!

And there are these four key pieces of advice:

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

For your own reflection:

  • How easy to you find it to take time to reflect on your purpose as a leader and on the purpose of your church/organisation? How much time do you spend listening to God?
  • If you lead a team, do you train them well enough that they can leave but treat them well enough that they don’t want to?

The Leadership Journey Podcast (22): Ken Clarke (part 1)

 

bishopkenclarkeThis week’s guest on the podcast is one of the best known and most popular leaders in the Northern Irish evangelical church: Ken (Fanta) Clarke. Ken has served (and continues to serve) in a number of roles through the years, including time spent in South America as a missionary, local church leadership on both sides of the Irish border, his role as Bishop in the Church of Ireland, and his current role as mission director for SAMS UK and Ireland (South American Mission Society).

In this episode he talks about some of the events and people who helped form him for leadership. He discusses his definition of a leader as someone with a compass in their head and a magnet in their heart and underlines his belief in the potential impact of one godly life.

As you listen:

  • Who are some of the people who have helped shape you in your leadership?
  • Are you seeking to make the most of whatever calling you have to influence others?

The Leadership Journey Podcast (17): Paul Reid

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This week’s guest on the podcast is Paul Reid who, along with his wife Priscilla, led Christian Fellowship Church in Belfast for over twenty years.

Paul talks about coming to faith in his teens and his early upbringing in a Brethren Assembly. He and Priscilla left this to start a house fellowship and their group eventually became CFC in East Belfast.

He talks about the influence of Spring Harvest – both in his sense of call to leadership and in his experience of the Holy Spirit, and of several notable Christian leaders, including Terry Virgo and Roger Forster.

He also discusses the controversial ‘shepherding’ movement and the reason why he and his fellow leaders felt they needed to resign from their leadership roles.

Some questions as you listen:

  • Paul talks about some key turning points in the early years of his life and ministry: what events and seasons do you look back on as being formative in your own journey?
  • What do you think about the idea of leaders admitting to their followers that they have got something wrong? Is this a sign of strength? How can leaders distinguish between a conviction that they need to persevere in a course of action and a sense that they need to retrace their steps?

Part 2 of Paul’s interview will available after Easter – this will include discussion of several other controversial issues that Paul’s journey has seen him tackle; and there will be a 3rd part, in which Paul will talk about some of what he has learned about leadership and what advice he would give young leaders.