Leadership Learnings: Alan Wilson

Alan Wilson* worked as a pastor for just over 20 years: first with Westlake Church in Switzerland, where he spent 17 years, and then with Portstewart Baptist Church on the north coast of Northern Ireland. More recently he has been working on his doctorate, exploring ‘crucible’ experiences in the development of Christian leaders.


Here are two things he has learned about leadership over the years:

1 – This goes for leadership in any sphere. When you are making decisions as a leader, or a leadership team, be sure to consult with the people who are going to be most affected by the decision. Not to do this is poor leadership and easily leads to hurt, resentment and anger. I have observed it (and been guilty!).

2 – More specifically for Christian leaders, remember that it is not ‘by might, or by power, but by God’s Spirit’ that the work gets done. The lesson is dependence. It hit me several years ago when I was a young leader and our church was struggling. I discovered Paul’s reflection that his (far more intense and serious) experience of difficulty was designed so that he would learn not to rely on himself but on God (see 2 Corinthians 1:9). The verse became part of a season for me – and the other leaders of our church – of intentionally stilling ourselves to listen to God (and finding his blessing on our church).

*Apologies for writing about myself in the 3rd person!

Leadership Learnings: Philip Emerson

Philip Emerson is one of the lead pastors at Emmanuel Church in Lurgan, a church that was birthed in his living room, just over 20 years ago.


I asked him about his most significant leadership lesson and how he had learned it.

I’ve always loved team. You only have to go 3 or 4 words into the Bible and you find team (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). So I think my most significant lesson has been that if you have to not give glory to God for anything – and I don’t think that should happen – it should always go to a team. And I think I’ve always got cautious when I’ve heard people say ‘I’ or ‘my’ idea. And on the back of that, I think, raising another generation of leaders. I think we need to always be looking, fathering. That’s my biggest leadership lesson.

How he learned this?

I think by realising that all of us are smarter than one of us and all of us are smarter than some of us, and the more people I can get round the table talking about an idea, the better the idea becomes. So my ideas actually pale into insignificance and I think that’s been the big learning curve for me in leadership is actually the more people involved in the conversation the better it usually becomes.

Leadership Learnings: Martin McNeely

Dr Martin McNeely is the minister of Ballykeel Presbyterian Church in Ballymena. He has recently successfully completed his doctorate with Reformed Theological Seminary. I dare say his love of surfing means he’s glad to be in Ballymena which is not too far from the north coast!


I asked Marty for the most important thing he has learned in leadership and how he has learned it. I don’t know if it has to do with Presbyterian sabbatarianism, but he came up with seven!

Been thinking about this a lot. I would say

1. The most important thing I have learned (via Jack Miller) is to repent. I severely underestimated the ability of my pride and sin at the start of ministry. I also severely underestimated the patience of Jesus in ministry. So repenting of that, and continuing to repent and be aware of sin has been the single biggest thing I have learned in leadership. Allied to that has been the importance of:

2. Praying my way through change, especially loving ‘difficult’ people and seeing the best in them.

3. Building an encouraging team through prayer and having a vision for that.

4. Ongoing learning and reading and regular sabbatical.

5. Lots of leisure time: surfing, rugby coaching.

6. Early morning, regular devotionals.

7. Regular pastoral contact with the flock and the fringe.

Leadership learnings: Eddie Arthur

Eddie Arthur describes himself as an agitator and mission thinker, He has been involved with mission for several decades, notably with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

eddie_arthur_2aI asked Eddie to tell me the most important thing he had learned about leadership and how he learned it.

Here is his answer:

Just talking about things doesn’t mean they will happen. You have to take action and, above all, empower your team to move forward and take the flak for them when they do.

I learned this the hard way; by seeing that my good ideas didn’t get put into practice just because I told people about them and we passed motions in meetings. I had to do some work; not just think great thoughts.

Eddie went on to add this second lesson:

Leadership reveals the strengths and weaknesses of your character – but people will take more notice of the weaknesses! You have to learn to use your strengths and develop your areas of weakness. I learned this by seeing my own character flaws exposed to others and to myself. Thankfully God is merciful and so are most of my colleagues!

If you are a leader, how would you answer the question? What has been your most significant leadership learning?