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: Paul Bowman

Paul Bowman

Surviving and thriving in Christian leadership. What are the self-care practices and support strategies that leaders serving in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland have found helpful for sustaining health, wholeness and leadership in the context of the stresses of ministry?

This week’s guest on the podcast is Paul Bowman. Paul has been involved in youth ministry for over 25 years and currently works in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast. Paul has recently completed his MA with the Irish Bible Institute and I had the privilege of supervising his work on a very important dissertation in which Paul explored some factors that contribute to thriving in Christian ministry. The podcast interview explores some of what Paul discovered and wrote about in his work.

By way of follow up, feel free to get in touch with Paul, either via Fitzroy or via my blog, if you would like to hear more or would like to invite him to speak to your group.

Meantime here is a list of the recommendations Paul makes at the conclusion of his dissertation:

  • Christian leaders together with their church should create clear and reasonable expectations for leadership and ministry.
  • Congregations should be better educated about the stresses associated with leadership and the importance of supporting the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of their leaders.
  • Greater emphasis, training and resourcing should be made available for team ministry as a means of combating isolation, and role overload.
  • Christian leaders need accountability and support to ensure they are availing of adequate rest and maintaining their spiritual self-care. The use of a maintenance contract as suggested by Brain (2001) which incorporates a plan to work, rest, study and be a spouse and parent could be a useful means of accountability that clearly communicates self-care needs.
  • Christian leaders should pursue their calling daily and set specific goals for their spiritual, physical, emotional, social and intellectual development.
  • Christian leaders should take a twenty-four hour period off each week and prioritise activities that recharge emotional energy.
  • Christian leaders should intentionally set aside a day each week to observe the Sabbath.
  • More resources should be made available to enable leaders to make use of retreats, and spiritual directors.
  • Sabbaticals should be financed and made available to all leaders including additional pastoral personnel every five to seven years.
  • Every minister and youth worker should be assigned an experienced mentor throughout the first five years of his or her ministry.
  • It is encouraging to note that PCI is placing greater emphasis on how it supports ministers and their families. Lockhart (2019) refers to the reimagining of presbytery as a fellowship. This is a welcome development though it needs further work in terms of the practicalities of pastoral care. It is beyond the scope of this study to explore this aspect of denominational support, but two recommendations seem appropriate: The promotion of ministerial fellowships or Pastors in covenant groups. And, further study is necessary to consider how supervision could be a means of support and development at a presbytery level.
  • Additional research is needed to look specifically at the role of training and how it equips leaders with the knowledge and skills of self-care.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Jude Cairns

Jude Cairns, Chief Executive of Love for Life

This week the podcast returns after a gap of 4 months – largely down to the host having had a heart attack in October! The guest on this episode is Jude Cairns. Jude is the Chief executive of Love for Life, a Christian charity that aims to equip young people so they are able to make good choices about relationships and sex.

Jude has previously worked for Youth for Christ, and Habitat for Humanity. She has been in her current role for 9 years and her work involves leading a team 12 people.

In the course of our conversation she talks about her desire to ‘make things better’ – a driver of leadership, the experience of living overseas for a year and the defining moment of losing her father to illness. She also talks about the influence of the Arrow Leadership programme and shares some of the things she has learned about leadership along the way.

For your own reflection:

1 – Do you think the Church in the West needs to be more courageous in its witness?

2 – What would you say are the main things you have learned about leadership?

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.

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: 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: 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: 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 27: Dave Linton and the Madlug story

Over the next two weeks the guest on the podcast is Dave Linton. Dave is the founder of the social enterprise, Madlug (Make A Difference Luggage). Madlug aims to help give dignity to children who find themselves in the care system. The idea is simple: for every bag purchased, a bag is given to a child in care. Dave’s vision and passion for Madlug came with the realisation that when children moved within the care system, their belongings were transported in an undignified way as they were put into black bin bags.

This week we hear a bit about Madlug but we also hear about Dave’s own leadership journey. Next week the focus will be in more detail on the story of Madlug.

In the interview Dave talks about his own childhood and how the early loss of his father planted some of the seeds for Madlug. He talks about the influence of his grandparents and life as a young person attending church. Dave’s journey has seen him work in several settings both in Northern Ireland and elsewhere and a good deal of his time has been spent in youth ministry. Along the way he talks about the key influence of Capernwray and Arrow Leadership.

Check back for more detail on the Madlug story next week, and in the meantime if you’d like purchase your own Madlug bag, and in so doing help give dignity to a child in the care system, you can visit the Madlug site, where you can choose from a range of bags.

Here’s the link to the podcast.
Here’s that royal blue Madlug bag!

The Leadership Journey Podcast Season 2, Episode 24: Lucas Parks

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Lucas Parks is the guest on this week’s episode of the podcast. Lucas is pastor of Village Church in East Belfast, and is country director for the Acts 29 Church planting network in Ireland.

In this first part of our conversation (part two is next week), Lucas gives an update on his health (he’s recently come through a gruelling season of treatment for throat cancer) and talks about how someone who grew up between County Armagh and the US, came to be planting a church in Belfast.

He talks about some of the people who influenced him in his Christian life, including a youth pastor who noticed leadership potential and encouraged him to develop in ministry.

*That saying we couldn’t quite remember:

If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

For your reflection:

  • What do you think of the discussion of relational leadership? Are you a naturally relational leader?

 

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 21: CHARLES MCMULLEN, part 2

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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?

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, SEASON 2, EPISODE 20: Charles McMullen

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Over the next two weeks the guest on the podcast is Charles McMullen, the current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. His year as Moderator comes as he completes 20 years as minister of a local congregation in Bangor.

In this first part of the interview, Charles talks about his early years in County Tyrone and learning as a child to love Jesus. One of the key influencers in his life was one of his church ministers who effectively functioned as a kind of mentor to him.

After school Charles left Northern Ireland, first to study in Dublin (where the head of the German department became a mentor) and then in Oxford (where he read Modern European History). At Oxford he had the opportunity to meet a number of people from a range of church backgrounds. He mentions some of the work of an Oxford minister called Caryl Micklem: you can check out one of his books on prayer here.

After a season of feeling like a boat being tossed at sea, Charles surrendered to the sense of God calling him and after Oxford he began theological studies in Belfast. He then served as assistant minister in Lisburn before moving to lead the congregation in Legacurry, a rural congregation not far from there.

As you listen to Charles, here are a couple of things to reflect on:

  • Charles makes a point about reaching a place where he is sufficiently secure in his identity in Christ to be able to reach out to others and be enriched by them? Do you think we put up barriers out of insecurity?
  • Have you found it easier to discern God’s leading in retrospect?

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, SEASON 2, EPISODE 19: BRENDAN HEALY (Part 2)

51287865_10155716496111504_9152388120216338432_nBrendan Healy from Mullingar is back this week. In the first part of our conversation Brendan talked about the beginnings of his military career, and about the remarkable story of coming to faith in Christ.

In this part of our conversation Brendan talks about ways in which leaders in various settings (like Church or military) can learn from each other. One example, drawn from the military, is the emphasis put on training for transformation: Brendan suggests that churches need to make discipleship a more serious enterprise.

We also discuss the difference between leading from position and leading from who we are: church leaders are less likely to wear their authority on their epaulettes! Brendan suggests that the great challenge for Christian leaders will be to influence people through character and authenticity.

Brendan also talks about the church of which he is a part in Mullingar, and the roles he has played in its work: along the way, there are some interesting observations in relation to religious and cultural identity!

He also talks about people who have influenced him along the way, and shares some of the main lessons he has learned.

For your reflection:

  • What are some of the spheres of leadership you think Christians would do well to learn from? Are there any cautions?
  • As a leader, do you have a plan for helping to develop other people? Does your church or organisation take training and discipleship seriously?

PS – in the background you will hear some of the staff of Irish Bible Institute (where we recorded the podcast) having a bit of a laugh!

Next week the guest on the podcast will be Charles McMullan, current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, SEASON 2, EPISODE 18: Brendan Healy

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This week’s guest is Brendan Healy. Brendan is a retired Lt Colonel with the Irish Defence Forces. He lives in Mullingar, in the centre of Ireland, where he has played an influential role in Mullingar Christian Fellowship.

In this first part of our conversation talks about growing up in a traditional Catholic family in the West of Ireland, and his early desire to serve God as he felt his heart stirring towards Christianity. His parents were a big influence on him in terms of leadership as a way of making a contribution, and kindness.

Brendan had originally wanted to be in the police (after abandoning the idea of the priesthood), but accidentally (!) found himself joining the officer training programme for the Irish Defence Forces – he describes some of the demands of military discipline.

His sense of wanting to serve God had faded until someone he knew had had an experience of God and invited Brendan to a Christian event (the ‘craziest’ event he had ever attended). However as he explored more listened to a challenge from a priest who had been invited to speak at a mission, he came to the point of accepting Christ: his life was immediately transformed.

Remarkably, several of Brendan’s military colleagues also came to a transformational Christian experience: eventually they discovered that a group of women had been praying regularly for Irish Army officers, and this was the answer to their prayers.

He talks about the change from being a military leader to being a Christian military leader and describes some of the places where he was tasked with leading, including Lebanon and Jerusalem, as well as some of the leadership lessons he learned along the way.

He makes the point that military leadership goes beyond simply giving orders, but involves taking responsibility for the people in the leader’s charge.

(Irish Bible Institute, where we recorded the podcast, has a buzz about it on a Wednesday morning: you will hear some of the atmosphere in the background!)

 

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST, SEASON 2, EPISODE 17: ROZ STIRLING, part 2

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Roz Stirling of Cleopas Ministries is back this week. She picks up her story from part one, talking about her work with the youth and children’s department in the Presbyterian Church, and how she went about helping the Church to engage with the changes in youth culture.

She also talks about her sense of call and about a life-changing retreat she she experienced in the US where she realised she was ministering out of her own sense of what was right and wrong rather than from a deep walk with God: this experience was the genesis of Cleopas, even though Cleopas was not developed for some years.

The beginnings of Cleopas brought new challenges as Roz became ill: she talks about how her illness removed her sense of self-sufficiency – developing a high sense of value, but a low sense of importance.

She also talks about the challenge of singleness, and the loss of her dream of motherhood, and challenges the Church about the need for a theology of singleness (and careful practice).

She highlights the following challenges for leaders:

  1. Character: we need to know our weaknesses and seek God’s power for character transformation.
  2. Be honest with yourself!
  3. Enjoy God through and through! Our relationship with God must be central: are the rivers of living water flowing through you?

Questions for your reflection:

  • What are some of today’s challenges in connecting the unchanging gospel with a changing culture?
  • Would you say that you are driven or that you lead from the fulness of a rich relationship with God?

The book Roz mentions is When the Heart Waits, by Sue Monk Kidd.

To find out more about Cleopas, you can visit the website, from where you can contact Roz if you would like to know more about some of the opportunities the ministry offers for spiritual refreshment.

 

THE LEADERSHIP JOURNEY PODCAST SEASON 2, EPISODE 16: RUSSELL BIRNEY PART 3

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This week we wrap up the conversation with Russell Birney. If you have missed the first two parts, you can catch up with them here and here.

In this week’s episode Russell talks about the process of leading change (be aware that people have different attitudes to change), and about some of the biggest challenges he faced in leadership.

He also has advice about retirement, and shares his main lessons on spiritual leadership:

  1. The importance of a consistent walk with God;
  2. Making sure your personal priorities are in order: beware of the cost of ‘success’!
  3. Be accountable to someone who will pray for you and strengthen you;
  4. Dispense with the idea of status!

And here is James Lawrence’s visual representation of how people respond to change (from his book, Growing Leaders):

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A question for leaders:

  • Are there issues which you believe to be ‘red lines’, where people need to be challenged?

Next week’s guest is Roz Stirling, director of Cleopas Ministries.