Leadership or Servanthood?

I’ve been reading this recent book from Langham and next week I hope to have the author, Malaysian church leader, Hwa Yung, as my guest on the podcast.

As the title suggests, the book sets out to question the Church’s fascination with leadership. It’s not that Hwa Yung denies the importance of leadership per se, his concern is the way the Church speaks of it ‘in terms that are not very different from the way the world around us does.’ In contrast, he argues, ‘it appears that the key emphasis in the Bible’s teaching is that we are called first and foremost to be servants and not leaders.’

The book consists of nine chapters and follows a clear path. The starting point is the focus on servanthood (‘the fundamental nature of the ministry and leadership to which [leaders] are called is defined by servanthood, and not by position, status, and power.’) From there we move to a discussion of authority: after all, if we are servants, what authority do we have? The answer is found in a spiritual authority that is founded on submission to the Father, as seen in the example of Jesus.

Just as the path of true spiritual greatness lies through humility and servanthood, so the path of genuine spiritual authority lies in submission to the Father.

Hwa Yung, Leadership or Servanthood, p50.

Next is the question of where we are to find confidence and again the answer is seen in the example of Jesus who was sure of his identity as the Son of God: he lived ‘in the security of his Father’s love and protection’. We are called then to face our own insecurities and live in the security of the Father’s love.

From this we are led to consider the importance of character and spirituality for those called to leadership – and this is illustrated from what we can learn from Paul in his farewell message to the elders at Ephesus as he reflected on how he had served with humility, compassion, faithfulness, sacrifice, and a lack of self-seeking ambition.

Chapter 8 uses the examples of Jacob, Moses, Peter, and Paul, to illustrate God’s transforming work in the lives of those whom he calls. The book concludes by revisiting the relationship between servanthood and leadership (note: ‘Servant Leadership’ won’t really cut it!). It’s well-summarised in these words:

Leadership in the cause of Christ does not come from our striving to be leaders but is the by-product of a life of humble service to him and others.

Leadership or Servanthood, p129.

There is some rich and challenging material in this. The question is a vital corrective to the lure of power and status.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Ruth Garvey-Williams

Ruth and her husband, Andrew, have been living in Buncrana, Donegal for the past 17 years where they have been involved in a range of ways with their local community and have recently facilitated the start of a new fellowship. Ruth is also the founder and editor of Vox magazine and has recently published, ‘Gloriously Ordinary’ which she has written with Andrew and several other people involved in mission.

‘Gloriously Ordinary’ sets out several principles that Ruth believes are key to incarnation mission in Ireland: you can order a copy of the book from Teach Solas, an Irish Christian bookshop in County Cork (Teach Solas is Irish for Lighthouse).

In our conversation we talk about Buncrana’s ‘Amazing Grace Festival’ (are you aware of the connection between Donegal and John Newton?), about team ministry, incarnational mission, and signs of hope for the Church in Ireland.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: ‘Canoeing the Mountains’ with Tod Bolsinger

This week Tod Bolsinger returns to talk about his book ‘Canoeing the Mountains’ (he previously talked to us about his more recent book, Tempered Resilience). The title is a metaphor for the situation church leaders find themselves in when what lies ahead of them and their leadership looks very different from what they have been trained for and grown accustomed to: leaders need to be aware of the changes that have happened in the Western World and of the need for ‘technical competence, ‘adaptive change’, and ‘relational congruence.’

We also get the opportunity to hear a bit about the man behind the books, including what Tod would like to say to his 20-year-old self.

Feel free to add your own caption!

The guest on the next episode of the podcast will be Ruth Garvey-Williams, editor of VOX Magazine.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Tod Bolsinger on ‘Tempered Resilience’

In this (shorter) episode of the podcast the guest is Tod Bolsinger from Fuller Seminary in California. Tod is the author of several books, including his most recent book, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change.

It’s a follow on from Tod’s previous book, Canoeing the Mountains in which he discusses what it means for Christian leaders to lead in the uncharted waters of a rapidly-changing culture.

In Tempered Resilience, he walks us through a blacksmith’s forge and compares the steps in preparing a metal tool with the spiritual formation of a leader who is being prepared to ‘hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope’ (quoted from Martin Luther King).

The smithing process involves working (‘leaders are formed in leading’), heating (‘strength is formed in self-reflection’), holding (‘vulnerable leadership requires relational security’), hammering (‘stress makes a leader’), hewing (‘resilience takes practice’), and tempering (‘resilience comes through a rhythm of leading and not leading’).

Next week Tod will return to the podcast to talk about his previous book, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: David Cupples

This week’s guest on the podcast is David Cupples, minister of Enniskillen Presbyterian Church in County Fermanagh. David had been minister there for over 30 years, having arrived in the town in September 1987, just weeks before the community was devastated by a Remembrance Day bomb.

In our conversation David talks about some of his experience as a minister at that time. He also talks about some of what he has found to be important in sustaining a long ministry in one place. he shares a bit about his time on the Camino Santiago and, as with other guests on the podcast, has some advice for his 20-year-old self.

David has written a book on his Camino experience and you can order a copy by contacting him via Enniskillen Presbyterian Church.

The guest on the podcast in a couple of weeks will be Tod Bolsinger who will be talking about his most recent book, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Chris Green on ‘The Gift’

This week’s guest on the podcast is Chris Green. Chris leads a church in North London and this month IVP has published his most recent book: The Gift.

I’ve already written about the book, so you can get a quick idea of what the main ideas of the book are. In our conversation, Chris talks about some of his other work, including other books he has written, including The Message of the Church, a biblical theology of the Church, part of the Bible Speaks Today series, and Cutting to the Heart, on application in preaching.

He talks about the key ideas of The Gift, including some cautions about whether and how we should think of Jesus as the Model Leader, why church leaders could think of their work in terms of the twelve slices of pizza, and what he means when he defines church leadership as ‘Corporate Application’.

Along the way we mention the work of Patrick Lencioni and his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which is well worth your while checking out.

And we have a discount code: you will pick up the code if you listen to the podcast and it will give you IVP’s best price when you order from their website.

The Gift: How your leadership can serve your church

Continuing the theme of posts on my summer reading (especially for leaders), this one is a little different in that the book in question has not yet been released: it’s due on August 19. In preparation for the launch, the author made an electronic copy available ahead of time and I have been having a read.

The book is The Gift and it is aimed at church leaders. The author, Chris Green, is the vicar of a church in North London and previously served as Vice-Principal at Oak Hill Theological College. He has written or edited several other books, including Cutting to the Heart, on application in teaching and preaching.

It hardly needs to be said the there is no shortage of books and resources on leadership, including Christian leadership. Some, like Emma Ineson’s book on ambition, or Tod Bolsinger’s recent offering on resilience (review and podcast to come), have a particular focus on a specific area of the leader’s life; others, like James Lawrence‘s Growing Leaders, or Ian Parkinson’s Understanding Christian Leadership take a wider look at a range of relevant issues. Chris Green’s focus is on the task of church leadership, and the primary audience to benefit from the book will be pastors and ministers, for whom the book will serve as an opportunity to recalibrate their understanding of their role, and rediscover the core of their calling.

For there is a plethora of voices and leadership models, clamouring for the leader’s attention. Is the pastor essentially an ecclesiastical CEO? At the other end of the spectrum, a teacher? A counsellor? What does it mean to lead a church, and to do so in a way that is shaped by biblical priorities and values? This book will go some way to answering those questions.

The book falls broadly into two parts, though there is a third element – one of those leadership fables that draws you in and sets you up for the teaching content of the book. The fable unfolds in three parts: in the book’s prelude, in an interlude between the two main parts of the book, and in a postlude. It imagines a number of people involved in ministry who get together for a seminar with an old college professor.

The first part of the book (‘Who needs leaders?’) starts by seeking to establish some some biblical and theological reasons why we need leaders at all and moves on to discuss how healthy rule breaks down, resulting in what appear to be opposites, but which are theological twins: anarchy and tyranny. Anarchy seeks freedom at the expense of rule while tyranny imposes rule without freedom. From there (and there is a biblical-theological logic in the progression) we move to a chapter on celebrity, comparison and the sin of Babel: the problem of the ‘Peacock Pastor’. Let we conclude too quickly that Jesus might be the model leader, the author warns us about the serious danger of trivialising him. It’s too easy for us to find our own leadership ideas illustrated in Jesus. we need to heed this warning:

If you see [Jesus] as a ‘Great Leader’, but don’t put that in the context of his being the ultimate, eternal King, then all you’ll get is someone general common sense on teams and priorities. YOu’ll quote him, Confucius and Winston Churchill in the same breath.

Nonetheless there is ‘buried treasure’ for us in the study of Jesus. We can note his passion and his focus, but it’s important to see him more as our pattern than as our leadership guru. When Jesus taught his disciples about leadership, he called them to service, in contrast to the self-exalting ambition of the Gentiles. And he still leads the Church: through his word, through the Spirit, and by gifting members of his Body, empowering them to lead through the gifts of the Spirit.

That idea prepares the way for the second part of the book, ‘The Gift’, in which the author carefully and methodically works towards his definition of leadership: we have to wait until chapter 14 before we get there!

The first few chapters of this section focus on the particular gifts of teaching and leading which the author argues should come together in the Church’s pastors/elders/overseers. To be a leader only, at its most dangerous, is to lead in ways that come adrift from Scripture; to be a teacher only, is to run the risk of applying Scripture in purely individual, rather than corporate ways. And since the proposed definition of leadership is ‘Corporate application’, this matters.

It matters too that the leader’s method and message are integrated (the case of Diotrophes is summoned as evidence). As it matters where we source our wisdom, and it matters that we remain attentive to the reasons why we do what we do.

The author loves pizza and as he gets closer to his definition of church leadership and how it works out, he talks about ministry as a 12-slice pizza. It’s worth noting the slices:

  • Study
  • Small groups
  • Preaching
  • Praise
  • Counselling
  • Mutual Care
  • Discipling
  • Evangelism
  • World mission
  • Training
  • Self-discipleship
  • Leadership

Sprinkled all across the whole pizza – every slice – are olives. They may not be to everyone’s taste on a literal pizza, but in this leadership model, the Acts 6 ministries of prayer and ministry of the word are to permeate everything.

Leadership then is ‘corporate application’: it is bringing the word of God to bear in all facets of the life of the church: its formal organisation, its family dynamics, and its future intentions. One chapter is given over to a practical illustration of what this approach would look like in addressing a pastoral issue and the final chapter concludes with the exhortation to ‘preach the word’ but to remember that its application needs to be bigger than the pulpit (think of those pizza slices).

If you are looking for something to guide you step-by-step through how to discern a vision, how to apply Belbin to your ministry leadership team, or how to find tools that will help you to communicate more effectively, or strategies for managing change, The Gift may not quite be the book you are looking for. It doesn’t aim to answer all those questions. In many ways it is more fundamental than that and that is why you will benefit from reading it! As I said at the start of this review, it will provide you with an opportunity to recalibrate your ministry and remind you how the Lord of the Church has equipped you to do what you do.



For more on the book, you can watch out for a podcast conversation with Chris in the second half of the month, after the book has launched.

Meantime, for those of you on Facebook, you can join the book launch team (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thegiftlaunch/) and you can even join in a ZOOM session with the author on Wednesday evening (August 12).

The Five Phases of Leadership

Another of my summer reads has been Justyn Terry’s book (published by Langham earlier this year) on the five phases of leadership. The author is Vice-Principal of Wycliffe Hall in Oxford and has previously served as a parish minister and the head of a theological seminary in the US.

The basic premise of the book is simple but very helpful: a leadership assignment can be considered as consisting of five phases: establishing trust, cultivating leaders, discerning vision, implementing plans, and transitioning out. While there is likely to be a logical and chronological flow between each of the five, it’s best to think of them as phases rather than stages, as there may well be overlap between some of them.

The chapter on the foundational task of establishing trust is a chapter on the character of the leader. Obviously the subject of a leader’s character could be approached from a number of different perspectives: here, the author uses Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit – the fruit are by no means limited to leaders, but they are explored here with a leader-perspective.

While ‘developing trust never ends’ and therefore phase one remains relevant throughout a leadership assignment, there are other things a leader must do: cultivating other leaders is one of them. The author dips in to his own experience to illustrate the kinds of leaders that might need to be developed and also includes a helpful short section on ways we might identify potential leaders, summing them up with five ‘i’s: integrity, initiatives, influence, intuition, and intelligence.

Next, leaders need to discern vision: what does it mean to clarify the future of your church or organisation? ‘How would you describe it in five- or ten-years’ time if it fulfilled its God-given potential?’ The chapter discusses vision, purpose, and core values. I wondered in reading this chapter if what is presented is more relevant to existing organisations than to new ventures: part of the counsel is to explore the past with a view to discerning a trajectory for the future.

The fourth chapter is by far the longest and most ambitious in the book (it is twice as long as the next-longest). There are a lot of nuts and bolts to work through – all very useful and helpful to leaders who want to do a better job of implementing the plans that arise from their discernment of vision. For example there is wise advice on communication and on the use of time across a church’s year. I wonder if the chapter might have been written differently, with some of the detail (like finance management) covered in a short series of appendices.

Finally, the book discusses transition: when is it time for the leader to move on? Leaders leave too soon or, conversely, hold on too long – especially if Howard Gardner is right in his claim that ‘sooner or later, nearly all leaders outreach themselves and end up undermining their causes’!

Justyn Terry has served us well with this overview of the phases of a leadership assignment: each of the five chapters has something to say to leaders wishing to lead well, regardless of whether they find themselves in phase one or phase five.

The book is available to purchase from Langham.

**Justyn will be joining me on next week’s Leadership Journey Podcast to discuss the contents of his book.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Ray and Jani Ortlund

The guests on this episode of the podcast are Ray and Jani Ortlund and the interview was carried out in conjunction with the Keswick at Portstewart Convention where Ray has been delivering some online Bible teaching. If you’d like to watch the interview you can catch it on the Keswick at Portstewart Youtube channel.

Ray and Jani have been married for almost fifty years and for most of that time they have served in ministry together. Ray has pastored several churches, including Immanuel, Nashville, whose leadership he handed over to TJ Tims in 2019. Together they oversee the work of Renewal Ministries.

Both have authored several books: Jani most recent book is Help! I’m Married to My Pastor while Ray’s next book, to be released in September, is The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility.

In the next episode of the podcast, Rick Hill will be making a return visit: this time he will be talking about his new book, Deep Roots of Resilient Disciples.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Darran McCorriston

Darran McCorriston is the minister of Ballyloughan Presbyterian Church in Ballymena, where he has served for fifteen years. Alongside his ministry in the church he chairs the committee for the Keswick at Portstewart Convention – an annual gathering on Northern Ireland’s north coast that is part of the family of the wider Keswick movement.

In our conversation Darran talks about influences he experienced growing up, about some of his early ventures into Christian ministry, and about people from whom he has learned various aspects of leadership. He also talks about some of the challenges he has faced and about the things he’s say to his twenty-year-old self.

The fruit of your life depends on the root of your life.

The guests on the next episode of the podcast will be Ray and Jani Ortlund. Ray will be providing Bible teaching at this year’s Keswick at Portstewart event (Sunday, July 11 – Thursday, July 15) and you will be able to watch a video of our conversation during the week of the convention (from Tuesday, July 13 at noon), on the Keswick website. The audio will also be available here, and via Apple Podcasts and Spotify, also on Tuesday, July 13.

It is still possible to benefit from the special offer on Terry Virgo’s new book, God’s Treasured Possession: the code mentioned in my recent conversation with Terry is valid for the whole of this month.

Speaking of books, Rick Hill‘s new book, Resilient Discipleship launches next week and you can order a copy here.

On striking rocks and getting in the way of Jesus

(This is drawn from ‘The Crucible of Leadership’ – a book project I am working on, based around the story of Moses.)

Moses Striking the Rock (Chagall)

For leaders to lead in the way of Jesus is one thing (a good thing, if it means they are seeking to be like Him), but for leaders to get in the way of Jesus is something else.

By way of a final word on Moses’ leadership journey (and our own), we return once more to Meribah, and the rock-striking episode.

It was at Meribah (Numbers 20) that Moses’ anger re-emerged. What had been an arguably justifiable attribute when he responded either to injustice or to the people’s unfaithfulness was this time an expression of frustration as the complaints of the people tipped him over the edge. It led him to take a situation into his own hands, to deal with it in his own way, instead of trusting God, leaving room for Him to work, thus acknowledging His holiness.

Centuries later, referring to Israel’s history by way of warning the members of the church in Corinth about the dangers of an array of sins, including putting Christ to the test, Paul writes about the spiritual food and drink that were available to Moses’ followers. They drank spiritual drink from a spiritual rock, ‘and that rock was Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:4).

I don’t think Paul’s reference requires a non-historical understanding of the incident at Meribah, but it does point us towards a typological understanding of the incident: in the desert, Christ was the true source of the people’s nourishment.

The task of New Covenant ministers is to share Christ with people. He is the source of spiritual life and nourishment that people need. Beyond what Paul says here in this somewhat enigmatic paragraph, Jesus referred to Himself as both the Bread of Life and the Source of living water. Our task is to help people to engage with Him. 

May God forgive us when our words and actions get in the way of this and we drag His name into disrepute. How many people have been turned away from the Source of living water because of the behaviour or attitude of a Christian leader? It’s a tragedy when people cannot see past us to Jesus. Our calling is to point to Him, to guard the sense of Him holiness, and make sure that we do not make ourselves the focus.

May God forgive us when we make ourselves the focus of our leadership. It’s not simply the big platform, high profile leaders who are at risk (wittingly or not) of this. Any of us has the capacity to attempt to put ourselves at the centre. What good is our leadership if we get in the way of Jesus?

Those of us who are preachers need to be aware of the temptation to allow our frustrations to come out in the administration of harsh verbal lashes.  There is something wearisome about the kind of preaching that seems to see listeners as a badly-behaved class of children who need to be brought into line. Some good friends in our church in Switzerland were once kind enough to ask me if I liked Christmas (I do). They had noticed that in my zeal to ‘challenge’ the once-a-year visitors to our Christmas services, I was coming across as angry: Ebenezer Scrooge in the pulpit!

A few months ago I heard the story of advice that the Puritan, Richard Sibbes, gave to Thomas Goodwin. In Goodwin’s own words, his preaching could be described as ‘battering consciences’. After hearing him preach, Richard Sibbes said this: ‘Young man, if you ever would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus.’ 

There are times when, in our zeal, we simply try too hard. It’s for the best of motives but our ministry and leadership are all about ‘challenge’. Our preaching is always about the big stick. Our leadership is always about the next hill to climb, rarely pausing long enough to be thankful for the distance we have already covered. Of course there is such a thing as a sense of urgency, but it’s possible to try so hard that we end up getting in the way of Jesus. People grow weary and it seems as though we are only offering stale bread and lukewarm water while all along Jesus wants to invite people to taste the bread of life and drink of the living water.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Reggie McNeal on ‘A Work of Heart’

This week I am joined by Dr Reggie McNeal to talk about his book A Work of Heart. Reggie is a writer, and leadership coach who is passionate about God’s Kingdom. He is the author of some ten books, including Practicing Greatness and, his most recent book, Kingdom Collaborators. He is also the host of The Reggie McNeal Podcast.

The book we feature in this episode of the podcast was actually published just over twenty years ago. I was very struck by it at the time and have recently been suggesting it as reading for some younger leaders.

As the subtitle says, the subject of the book is ‘understanding how God shapes spiritual leaders.’ The book falls into two parts. The first tells the story of four biblical leaders whose stories are recounted in quite some detail in Scripture – Moses and David from the Old Testament, Jesus and Paul from the New. The second part highlights six heart-shaping themes that are discernible in these leaders stories, but which each merit a chapter on their own.

In our conversation, Reggie and I discuss these six themes:

  • Culture – leaders are not born into a vacuum;
  • Call – ‘something you orient your entire life around’;
  • Community – what part do others play in the shaping of a leader?
  • Conflict – hard to avoid, but essential to know how to navigate;
  • Communion – the challenge of maintaining a walk with God;
  • The Commonplace – learning to look for God in the ordinary events of life.

Along the way we talk about self-awareness (‘the single most important body of information you have as a leader’) – without it, Reggie suggests, a leader does not know why they do what they do.

Meantime, if you’ve not read A Work of Heart, do yourself a favour and get a copy. If you have read it, buy a copy to give to another leader!

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Derek McKelvey

This week’s guest on the podcast is Derek McKelvey. Derek is a retired Presbyterian minister who served congregations in Bangor, Ballygilbert, and Fisherwick, in the university area of Belfast. In addition to his congregational ministry, Derek is well-known for his prayer ministry course that operates under the auspices of the Kairos Trust.

In our conversation we talk about Derek’s upbringing and his conviction from early childhood that he would one day be a minister. He would discover later that God was answering a prayer prayed by his mother before his birth. Derek also talks about a challenging season of exhaustion in his ministry that led to a remarkable encounter with God and opened a new vision of ministry.

Among the wisdom he shares are these valuable gems:

  • Seize the God-moments!
  • Believe all of God’s promises!

If you would like to know more about Derek’s ongoing ministry with the Kairos Trust, feel free to contact him via their website.

The podcast will be back in a couple of weeks when I hope to be chatting with author Reggie McNeal about his excellent leadership book, A Work of Heart.

(PS – the episode with Reggie McNeal will be in May.)

The Leadership Journey Podcast: John Dickinson

John Dickinson is the recently-retired minister of Carnmoney Presbyterian Church in Newtownabbey – a congregation he served for nineteen years. Previously John served in churches in various parts of Northern Ireland, including Seaview, in North Belfast.

In our conversation John talks openly about the recent loss of his wife, Christine, just a few weeks after a cancer diagnosis in 2019. He talks about growing up in a ministry family, about some of the people who have influenced him, and about his growing awareness of God’s presence in the ‘now’ of ministry. Looking back over his nineteen years in Carnmoney, he talks about aspect of his ministry that most stands out, and he shares two things he would like to say to his twenty-year old self.

The next guest on the podcast will be Dave Landrum, Director of Advocacy and Public Affairs with Open Doors.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Rowland and Alli Clear

Rowland and Alli Clear live in Devon, where they lead ‘On Track Ministries’, a ministry that seeks to support people in Christian ministry. They are also associates with Living Leadership. Previously they have been involved in churches in Canterbury and Rayleigh, Essex. They describe themselves as ‘spiritual cartographers’.

In our conversation they talk about their journey in faith and ministry, including (for Rowland), the experience of a dark night of the soul.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Steve Brady

The guest on this first episode of 2021 is Dr Steve Brady. Steve is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Grand Cayman. Previously he has served churches in the UK, including in London and Bournemouth. He is also President of Moorlands College, where he was Principal for almost twenty years. He has written or contributed to over twenty books, including study guides to Galatians and Colossians. He is a well known speaker at the Keswick Convention and served as a trustee of the convention for many years.

He is also a true blue supporter of Everton, so be warned, there will be some chat about Everton, though even if you are not a fan, it will be worth a listen!

If you would like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do so via Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Future guests on the podcast include Rowland and Alli Clear, Ruth Valerio, and John Dickinson.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Keith Getty

This week’s guest on the podcast is Keith Getty. Keith, along with his wife Kristyn, is one of the leaders of the modern hymn movement. He’s probably best known as co-author of the well known hymn, In Christ Alone, which he wrote 20 years ago with Stuart Townend.

In the podcast, Keith talks about the convictions that lie behind his commitment to write hymns that help build deep believers across the world. He talks about some of what has shaped him, and shares what he would say to his 20 year-old self.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Paul Tripp on ‘Lead’

My guest this week is author and conference speaker, Paul Tripp. Paul has written many books, and his most recent book is Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church – that’s what we focus on in our conversation, though Paul also talks about some of his own leadership journey.

The book outlines 12 principles that Paul would like to see worked out in every leadership community. In our conversation he gives an overview of the 12 before focussing on 3 of them for further discussion.

Paul writes with the conviction that the gospel his not simply a set of historical facts, but that ‘it is also a collection of present redemptive realities.’ Here is what he says about the book, and why he wrote it:

I wrote this book because I love the church of Jesus Christ and have a deep affection for all who have surrendered their lives and gifts to ministry leadership … And because my heart is in the church, I am concerned about the spiritual health of the community of leaders that pastor its people and direct its ministries. This book is not about the strategic work of the ministry leadership community but about protecting and preserving its spiritual depth so it may do its work with long-term fruitfulness. Really, this book is about the Lord of the church, about his love for the ambassadors he has called to represent him, and how he meets their every need with glorious and faithful grace.

You can read more about Paul and his ministry at his website, where you can also download the Paul Tripp app, with its access to many free resources.

You can order his new book here (10 Of Those will give you a free ebook when you buy a hardback copy of the book).

Enjoy the podcast!

Paul Tripp on ‘Lead’

This week I will be chatting with Paul Tripp about his most recent book – for church leaders.

Here is what he says about the book – Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church – and why he wrote it:

I wrote this book because I love the church of Jesus Christ and have a deep affection for all who have surrendered their lives and gifts to ministry leadership … And because my heart is in the church, I am concerned about the spiritual health of the community of leaders that pastor its people and direct its ministries. This book is not about the strategic work of the ministry leadership community but about protecting and preserving its spiritual depth so it may do its work with long-term fruitfulness. Really, this book is about the Lord of the church, about his love for the ambassadors he has called to represent him, and how he meets their every need with glorious and faithful grace.

The Leadership Journey Podcast: Ian Paul

Ian Paul is a theologian, writer, blogger and self-confessed chocoholic and is this week’s guest on the podcast. Ian has recently published a commentary on the Book of Revelation.

In our conversation he talks about coming to faith as a young person, sensing a call to ordained ministry, serving in a growing church, and later becoming involved in theological training and writing. He talks about some of the disappointments and challenges he has faced and along the way he talks about some of his observations on leadership.

You can read Ian’s blog at psephizo.com, and while you are there you can find details of his commentary on Revelation, and other books.

Next week, my guest will be Paul Tripp, and we will be talking about his new book on church leadership.

Sword or staff?

A military historian exploring the story of Amalek’s attack on Israel at Rephidim (Exodus 17) may be a little disappointed. The narrator omits most of the military detail. We don’t know how many soldiers were involved on either side, we don’t know how many of them were injured, and we don’t know much about the details of either side’s strategy, although there is a note in Deuteronomy that throws some light on the opportunistic nature of Amalek’s attack – attacking when Israel was weary and focusing on those who were lagging behind.

Exodus is more interested in drawing attention away from the battlefield, where Joshua is operating (and will eventually triumph) with the sword, to the top of a newly hill where an 80 year old Moses is holding out a shepherd’s staff. Remarkably the outcome of the battle is connected to the fact that he was able to hold out the staff until sunset. Not that he was able to manage on his own: it took the support of Aaron and Hur to keep his weary hands steady.

What appears to be no more than an ordinary staff is actually ‘the staff of God’. God has transformed something ordinary and made it extraordinary, the means by which his power is mediated. It’s the same staff that invoked the power of God to divide the Red Sea, and the same staff that produced water from the rock.

Because of what it represents, the staff is more significant than the sword. To translate that into our day to day, what we invite God to do is more significant than what we do.

Could it be that we spend more time than we ought on tools and tactics, and less time than we should on seeking God?

Joshua only accomplished what he did because of what Moses was doing. And Moses was only able to do what he did because of the support of Aaron and Hur, and – more importantly, because God had transformed the ordinary into something extraordinary, a vehicle for his power.

The Leadership Journey Podcast – Marcus Honeysett

The guest on this week’s podcast episode is Marcus Honeysett, executive director of Living Leadership, an organisation that aims to encourage the development of disciple-making leaders who have learned to live in the grace of God. Living Leadership’s website will give you more information about the organisation, including links to a podcast and other resources. Marcus is the author of several books, including Fruitful Leaders.

One of Living Leadership’s recent initiatives has been the development of an online network with fortnightly gatherings via Zoom for encouragement and refreshment.

In our conversation Marcus talks about some of people who invested in him in his early years as an emerging leader, about ambition and saying no to major platforms, about the importance of a biblically-informed understanding of Christian Leadership, and about grace.

Among the advice Marcus would share with his twenty-year old self is the need to grow in deep-rooted spiritual habits, to have a biblically-shaped definition of leadership, and to avoid the temptation to establish ‘success metrics’.

Let’s hear it for the Jethros!

I think I have discovered a new biblical hero. His name is Jethro, and he was Moses’ father in law.

Exodus 18 recounts a well known incident involving him.

The occasion was a family visit to see Moses. It was a good catchup and the text says that Jethro was pleased to hear about the good things the Lord had done for Israel by rescuing them from Egypt: how affirming must it have been for Moses to have his father-in-law listen with such genuine interest to the story of God’s work in his new leadership task. Whether or not we would classify it as a full conversion, Jethro comes to a new realisation about the Lord. ‘Now I know,’ he confesses, ‘that the Lord is greater than all other gods’.

While it may be a bit of an overstatement to describe Jethro as what happens when he sees Moses at work is worth some reflection.

For one thing, while it may be a bit of an anachronism to describe Jethro as the first management consultant, what happens demonstrates the value of an outsider view of a situation: Jethro saw something that Moses and the people had simply accepted as the way things were.

But there is more to be said about him.

In his excellent book, A Work of Heart, Reggie McNeal describes Jethro as ‘the key male figure in Moses’ midlife’. It’s an astute observation. Maybe this is overly speculative, but was Jethro in fact the father that Moses never really had? We know he was nursed by his mother, but his natural father disappears from the early narrative, and Pharaoh, his adoptive father is unlikely to have been particularly close. As McNeal reflects on the role Jethro played, he makes this wider observation:

The recounting of leaders’ life journeys usually turns up a Jethro or two. These individuals are God’s gifts to the leader to provide extraordinary affirmation, encouragement, and guidance. They frequently, but not always, arise from outside the family system. They typically surface during times of the leader’s self-doubt and at points when the leader’s life mission is crystallizing. These God-sent Jethros offer almost unconditional acceptance of the leader, yet they maintain an accountability of presence that implicates itself into the leader’s choices.

For all their obscurity and undoubted challenges, the middle years of Moses’ life – exile in Midian – throw up unexpected and unlikely allies. The question this phase of Moses’ life raises for those of us who are leaders is whether we notice, or make room for the Jethros in our own own leadership journeys.

More than that: for some of us who are older, the challenge is is to be that kind of spiritual father-figure.

Priorities for church leaders in the current climate

As part of my preparation for a course I am running this autumn with Belfast Bible College, I have been thinking about some of the things church leaders (especially pastors and ministers) should be prioritising in the current climate. Here is my list of nine.

  1. Engage in an honest assessment of how you are doing. Have the past 6 months depleted your energy levels or your morale? Are there traces (or more) of weariness, of cynicism, or even despair? Is your sense of call strong, or have recent months blurred it?
  2. Take steps to ensure that you are not isolated. Remember that there is a difference between solitude (a worthwhile practice) and isolation (potentially draining). If you have a ministry team around you, that’s great, but makes sure that your times together are more than just business: seek to build each other up. If you are in a more solitary situation, do what you need to in order to connect with others.
  3. Leave some space for reflection on the ‘why’ of what your church is doing – don’t fill all the space with questions of logistics – the ‘what’ and ‘when’ questions.
  4. Seek to lead hopefully, but without denying the challenges of your situation.
  5. Be on your guard, work and pray for love and unity as opinions perhaps become more strongly held. The longer the Covid situation persists, the more likely it is that people will become more polarised in their views.
  6. Work hard to identify and reach those who have not been engaging and are in danger of dropping out (not least among young adults families) – and don’t forget vulnerable folk who are unable to gather for legitimate reasons. It may mean more work for you, but all of your people matter, and many of the more vulnerable folk are already quite cut off from much of ‘normal’ life.
  7. Identify some of the good practices of the past 6 months (like regular pastoral phone calls) that can be retained.
  8. Don’t assume that the bench mark for the future is being able to resume all you were doing on March 15. Just as there may be good practices that you have introduced and believe you should continue, be willing to leave behind some of the things you were doing pre-lockdown if you have realised they are not vital!
  9. Since the situation is still transitory, hold decisions lightly. Look forward to a time of rebuilding, but be sure to stay flexible.

On spiritual leaders and self-defence

One of the traps for insecure leaders is to make everything about them. It is all personal. It is not always easy to separate who we are from what we do, but if I make every issue about me, and interpret every criticism as personal rejection, I simply feed my insecurity and dismantle the possibility for constructive debate.

While that much is true, perhaps there is some apostolic precedent for self-defence in part of what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians where he mounts a fairly robust defence of his ministry, seemingly in the face of rivals who would have loved to discredit him. Discrediting Paul would have made it easier to discredit his message, so enticing the Corinthians to drift from their devotion to Christ.

Rather than list his triumphs, however, Paul lists the severe challenges he has had to face; he emphasises his weakness, recounting the time when he became a ‘basket case’ in Damascus, and the famous thorn in the flesh episode. Paul knew that ultimately he was accountable to God (12:19) and the motivation for his defending himself was for the strengthening of the Corinthians. As Don Carson points out, Paul is not writing to vindicate himself, as the Corinthians suspected, but to build them up.

Carson goes on to comment trenchantly:

Sadly too many leaders consciously or unconsciously link their own careers and reputations with the gospel they proclaim and the people they serve. Slowly, unnoticed by all but the most discerning, defense of the truth slips into self-defence, and the best interest of the congregation becomes identified with the best interest of the leaders. Personal triumphalism strikes again, sometimes with vicious intensity. It is found in the evangelical academic who invests all his opinions with the authority of Scripture, in the pastor whose every word is above contradiction, in the leader transparently more interested in self-promotion and the esteem of the crowd that in the benefit and progress of the Christians allegedly being served. It issues in political maneuvring, temper tantrums, a secular set of values (though never acknowledged as such), a smug and self-serving shepherd and hungry sheep.

A Model of Christian Maturity