The Leadership Journey Podcast: Sam Balmer

Sam Balmer

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: 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: Mark Strauss

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

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

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

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

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Gilbert Lennox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The time you spend in Scripture is never wasted.

For your own reflection:

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

‘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 (part 2)

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

For your reflection:

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

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

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

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