This week’s episode is a bit different from the usual format.
A few days ago I spoke at a men’s breakfast that was run by Westlake Church in Lausanne, Switzerland: it’s a church that I was involved with in its early development almost 15 years ago. I spoke from the story of Moses, with an overview of some of the elements of his leadership journey. In the famous words of DL Moody, Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody, 40 years learning he was nobody, and 40 years discovering what God can do with a nobody.
Instead of an interview with a leader, this week’s podcast is an edited version of my talk, which was called ‘Finding yourself in your story’. As you listen, take time to reflect on some of the things that have become part of your own leadership journey.
Here are a few things to think about:
What have been some of the key stages of your journey?
Who have been the major influencers?
What defining moments have shaped you?
How would you describe your sense of calling, or vocation?
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?
This week Charles McMullan, current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church is back on the podcast. We pick up the story with his arrival as minister of Legacurry Presbyterian Church near Lisburn, where his eight years represented a season of growth in the church.
He talks about his growing openness to the person and work of the Holy Spirit and the ensuing change in his ministry and then his eventual (dramatic) call to West Church in Bangor, where he followed the ministry of David Bailie who had pioneered a new church plant and had spent some 40 years pastoring the church. Charles describes ministry in a place where there is a deep spirituality and a joy of life.
He talks about the importance of relationships in helping to maintain the momentum in West, staying fresh, without falling into a rut. A large church, like an ocean liner, can continue on course for some time after losing its power!
In talking about what he would say to his 28 year old self he talks about the twin convictions of the unconditional love of God and the sense that, even though he wants to give his best, God’s work cannot depend on him: know that you’re loved, but don’t take yourself too seriously!
In the final part of the interview Charles talks about his experience as Moderator and how it has encouraged him in his thinking about Church, and his passion to see renewal for the traditional Church.
Here are a couple of questions for reflection:
‘God has always worked in me according to my personality.’ How do you respond to this statement that Charles makes about his experience of God?
As a church leader, how can you maintain continuity with the past while keeping the church fresh?
Russell Birney is back this week, continuing his story (you can listen to the first part here).
In this part of the interview Russell talks about his ministry in three of the four churches where he has served, starting with two years in Carrickfergus where he was somewhat pitched in at the deep end before moving on to the challenging environment of Newry where people were feeling the weight of the Troubles: he stayed in Newry for 9 years.
He then spent over 20 years in High Kirk, Ballymena, where he faced the challenge of bringing change to a church whose previous minister had been there for 36 years.
In this context he talks about key influencers that helped shape his thinking about and his excitement for the Church: David Watson in York, and Ray Stedman in California. (You can still pick up copies of David Watson’s book, I believe in the Church).
Questions for your own reflection:
Have you any examples of being pitched in at the deep end in leadership? What happened and what did you learn?
Russell talks about his view of the importance of pastoral visitation: if you are in church leadership, how do you react to Russell’s view? What is your own practice?
In this week’s episode we resume David Dunlop’s story.
David describes some significant conversations that took place while on sabbatical including how he was introduced to the programme of Arrow Leadership and their work on issues of character, calling and competence in leaders. Arrow proved to be a huge formative experience for David.
Another key encounter during his sabbatical was with someone who asked him what he was doing to guard his heart (see Proverbs 4:23). Such was the impact that this verse has become David’s life verse.
From there David goes on to talk about spiritual disciplines/holy habits and describes a number of practices including a rule of life that includes spiritual disciplines, self care, use of time, and silent retreats.
As a leader he recognises the importance of being aware of perceived expectations and avoiding becoming proud when he’s praised and crushed when he is criticised. He also talks about the role of other people in his life, including the importance of his wife in helping him to guard his heart.
David also talks about his journey as a (reluctant, not unwilling) leader in Windsor – not least in his preaching ministry. We also talk about team and how David has experienced that in Windsor Baptist.
He also gets the opportunity to speak to a young version of himself and shares advice he would give which includes this: ‘If you want to be in leadership for a short time, knock yourself out’, and the advice to hold some things lightly.
This week’s guest is David Dunlop, pastor of Windsor Baptist Church in South Belfast (yes, another South Belfast Baptist Church) – a diverse church which can count 15-18 nationalities on a Sunday. He has just celebrated his tenth anniversary as pastor of the church (and not so long ago, his 50th birthday).
David describes how he came to faith in Christ as a child, so beginning a journey that has continued (with some bumps in the road) for over 40 years. He describes a stage of ‘going through the motions’ in terms of church, and reaching a point of recommitment at 18 – not least through involvement in an event that many Northern Irish Christians (of a certain age) will remember: Mannafest.
In terms of early influence he describes the example of the pastor of the church where he grew up (though David had no pastoral aspirations at that time) and some teachers he knew at school.
In his early 20s he was given the opportunity (along with his wife) to lead the church youth group. He talks about one of the key lessons from his work with young people – the importance of building trust and earning the right to speak: something he believes was ‘caught, not taught’. They underwent training on a youth ministry course with Oasis Trust in London.
At the end of the training, there was an opportunity for both David and his wife to work as the youth pastoral team in their home church in Ballynahinch – where they served for 13 years (though their roles changed after 8 years). David describes the enjoyment of working in a team, but the highlight was working with the young people and the privilege of journeying with them through various stages of growth and development.
He also talks about the journey of moving from Ballynahinch to Windsor Baptist (despite having resolved that he would never be a pastor). His experience of ‘calling’ is a little different from how others have experienced it!
For your own reflection:
How do you respond to David’s thoughts and experience in the lead up to moving to Windsor Baptist? Does this challenge what you have tended to think in terms of ‘the call’? What about the role of other people in helping us to discern in our decision-making?
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.