Monday, 31 March 2014

Thinking about Leadership

Some thoughts on the  nature of Christian leadership ….

First, I want to recognise the place of a theology of identification.  Paul says: “I have become all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22).  Paul identified with the contexts with which he engaged, allowing needs and cultures of both Jews and Gentiles to inform his behaviour.  Jesus equally met people where they were – the Samaritan woman at the well, Zacchaeus, blind Bartimaeus etc.  This good missional practice is also good leadership.  I believe in getting alongside those I am leading.

Secondly, I value a theology of encouragement.  We are good at criticising, but good leadership focuses on positive aspects.  Paul knew the value of being encouraged.  He comments: “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain” (2 Tim. 1:16).  We achieve much more by encouraging folk rather than telling them what they have got wrong. 

Thirdly, I believe that good leadership tackles what needs to be tackled.  Paul is more than willing to bring to the fore those problematic issues.  He tells the Corinthians: “I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1).  Jesus’ practice was similarly blunt when necessary – “But woe to you Pharisees!  For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42).

Fourthly, I consider that good leadership should strive to hold things together and aim for reconciliation.  We are told “if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24)  Good leadership should seek reconciliation.  However, the instruction to go to the estranged is a crucial part of the principle, and I recognise that in our imperfect world, reconciliation will sometimes be only partial, and may even prove unachievable.  Reconciliation without justice, or even without resolution, is not reconciliation.

Fifthly, I am convinced that good leadership should not be afraid of vulnerability and risk-taking.  Paul catalogues some of what happened to him claiming “far great labours, far more imprisonments with countless floggings …” (2 Corinthians 11:23).  I am grateful how unlikely it is that I will face anything approaching that, but I believe that sometimes a good leader needs to move significantly out of their comfort zone.

Sixthly, good leadership must be founded on prayer.  Luke 11:1 – “he was praying in a certain place.”  We need to ensure sufficient priority for our spiritual resourcing of ourselves.  I believe that then plays a large role in getting everything else right.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Fishermen Called

I have been reflecting once again on the call of the four fishermen to discipleship by Jesus as recorded, for example, in Mark 1:16-20.  The striking thing is that “at once they left their nets and followed him.”  The following is so important, but it cannot come without the leaving. 

It is also worth noting that Jesus comes to us where we are.  He was walking along by the lake.  That is where the fishermen would be.  It is also worth noting that he takes our skills and makes use of them, but first transforming them “I will make you into fishers of people.”

We might wonder about those who, like Zebedee, are left behind.  How do they get on, having been abandoned.  In a sense, we don’t know – we are not told.  But that mustn’t stop the leaving and following.

What is the adventure to which they are being led?  Why does Jesus choose these four, rather than some of the other fishermen that must have been there on the beach?  Where will he lead them?  Where is a net needing to be cast?

And what equivalent questions should we  be asking of ourselves?  And how are we answering?

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Making The Church Tick

P T Forsyth, the great Congregationalist theologian, had a high view of ministry.  In his book “Lectures on the Church and the Sacraments”, originally published in 1916, he states: “The church will be what its ministry makes it.”  He goes on to say: “The ministry, therefore, has not to be directly effective on the world so much as to make a Church that is.” 

Making a similar point which he then links with Forsyth’s statement, David Peel, a former Moderator of the United Reformed Church's General Assembly, talks of being at a church conference with a URC group – “We arrived at the question: What are ministers for? And one sharp woman instantly exclaimed: “Ministers are here to make churches tick.  Not tick over, tick!”  She had grasped that ministers are called to the very distinctive work of making sure that the church becomes what it is called to be, namely, a sign, expression and foretaste of God’s reign of justice and love.”

Ultimately ministry belongs to us all - and we all called to exercise it.  However, we are called to different roles.  The challenge is not that any of us should do everything, but that we all should do something - that 'something' to which God is calling us.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Innovation and Risk-Taking

In "The Permanent Revolution" Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchin say some interesting things about innovation and risk-taking – “A willingness to take risks does not equate to being reckless. People who take risks for no other reason than to experience a rush of adrenaline or to get accolades from overly bored audiences are rightly called gamblers and thrill seekers. It is hard to see how this can do anything but harm our cause. However, innovativeness and risk taking find their greatest potential for entrepreneurial impact when they intersect and fuse together.”  They also say – “Mission is dicey because of the real possibility that things will not go as planned. And it is precisely this uncertainty, the contingency of it all, that makes investing in a mission risky business. Yet there can be no avoiding it: God’s people are called to be a missional movement. This means we must act even when it seems to violate our penchant for safety and security—and perhaps especially then.”
So, risk is needed, but not just for its own sake.  The risks that count, and that are appropriate, are those that engage us in Gospel challenges.  Showy risk is like the temptations of Jesus - what's the point?  It is not something to be pursued.  However, the kind of risks that crossed the path of the apostle Paul as he undertook his missionary adventures offer an example of what we might just be called to do - difficult things for the sake of the Gospel. 
Are there risks that we are taking and, actually they are not worth it, and we should not be engaging with them?  Equally, are there risks from which we are walking away, even though Jesus is calling us to 'give it a go'?

Saturday, 15 March 2014


One of my favourite spiritual writers is the Roman Catholic, Henri Nouwen.  Nouwen has written a good number of books and, in amongst them, are a number that are journals recording various experiences and times in his life.  I have just started reading one entitled ‘Gracias’ which records some time he spent in Latin America.  In October 1981 he flew to Peru and from there went to Bolivia to study Spanish and back to Peru.  I guess I am particularly interested because it is just about a decade later that Mary (my wife) and I flew to a different part of Latin America to spend almost three years there.  In July 1991 we flew to Costa Rica to spend five weeks learning Spanish before flying on to Panama to live and work there. 

But what I want to share with you is a little incident that Nouwen recounts from the very beginning of his time in Peru.  There was a big Christian festival going on.  The crowds were there to welcome the procession of el Se┼łor de los Milagros – ‘the Lord of the miracles’.  Nouwen talks about how all the important people were there, the mayor, the bishops, even the president – but the people’s attention was on the image of Christ in the procession.  Nouwen describes how he lifted a youngster up so she could see what was going on – “When I lifted up a little Peruvian girl and showed her the Lord of the Miracles, I felt that the Lord and the little girl were both telling me the same story: presidents, mayors, and bishops come and go, but our God continues to enter our lives and to invite children to climb on the shoulders of adults and recognise him.”

I love that image.  Last night I was looking at a photo of Mary and myself together with our older daughter, Steph.  It must have been about 18 years ago, because Steph was about 12 months in the picture and she is now within a month of her 19th birthday, and there she was on my shoulders.

As the verse of the hymn written by Shirley Erena Murray has it: “Like a father, you protect me, teach me the discerning eye, hoist me up upon your shoulder, let me see the world from high.”

Mark 10:14: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them: for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” 

In Jesus’ world women and children were without rights.  They were without voice or power, at the margins.  We sometimes think we have moved on and learned the lessons.  But have we?  Who is it that God is now hoisting on God’s shoulder – and to whom we are being called to pay attention?