Tag Archives: leadership

Hope of the World

bill hybelsI recently came across these notes I made of Bill Hybels’ talk at the 2013 HTB leadership conference. Some useful thoughts on vision and team.


The local church is the hope of the world. There is nothing like the local church when it is working right. The local church will only work well if it is fed well and led well. Can’t talk about leadership without vision

Vision casting – often we start by describing the place we want to go. This may not be the most useful way to bring people with you, however well you cast the vision of that place. People like it ‘here’. They know ‘here’. It’s comfortable ‘here’. You might need to start showing them exactly what is wrong with the place you are currently. People need to see the problems. And they need to realise that we cannot stay in the place we are.  Then a solution can be received. Start by building an airtight case of all the reasons why you can’t stay here.

Vision is most under threat in the middle of the project. Initial enthusiasm has died down and the end is not yet in sight. Need to remind people how far you have come in order to keep going. This also might be the point at which leaders are most vulnerable.
How do we attract, develop and maintain a great team. Leaders need people to share the vision with, and to include others in. Looking for people with the five Cs: Character, Competence, Chemistry (someone you get on with), someone who fits in the Culture of the church, and someone with Calling from God. You will regret it if you compromise on these.
Need to take the time to define the culture of the church. What’s unique about it? At Willow Creek (Bill’s Church), they want people who are incessant tinkerers, who will tweak and tinker in order to improve things.
Figure out who are the most important people in the team. If calamity struck, who would you not want to lose. Who could you cope with losing. Why are they the people you’d not mind losing?  What needs to change? What has changed to bring them to that place (assuming they were important to you when they were hired)? Sometimes you realise though this that you are under using people. Make sure people are not under challenged.
We lead people but the toughest person to lead is yourself. It is our own job to keep ourselves refreshed and healthy in our leadership.  We need to find ways to replenish ourselves. Need to find the rhythms to help ourselves remain full. If we’re a pastor the best thing we bring is ourselves filled with the Holy Spirit, where we have life, patience, and humour.

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Imagine the human race starting again on another planet, from two people, in a very different world. Dark Eden is about exactly that. Two people, Tommy and Angela, were stranded on Eden after a discovery mission from Earth went wrong sometime in our future. Three others attempted to take a damaged landing vehicle back to the main ship in order to return to earth to get help, but they hadn’t been heard of since leaving. Now it is five generations later, and the two have multiplied into 580, and trouble is brewing in their hunter-gatherer civilisation.

The planet is not like earth. There is no sun giving light from above, and consequently no day and night, and no heat from above. All the light comes from trees and is borne deep underground, where life on Eden begins. The trees flower and the flowers produce heat and light as they pump up their boiling sap from below. As a result, forests are warm and permanently light; everything else is dark, cold and snowy. Animals have evolved to either develop their own source of light from a part of their body, or they can see in the dark.

Five generations later, the human inhabitants of Eden are starting to get too large for the small patch of forest that they happen to have been placed in. Food is getting scarce and space is becoming cramped. They are surrounded on three sides by dark, snowy, impassable mountains, and on the other the stream makes its escape through a narrow gorge and huge waterfall.

The novel picks up the story as a young man, John Redlantern, merely a teenager, starts to challenge his community, known as ‘the family’ into leaving their little forest. His actions are not popular and threaten the unity and identity of Eden.

At this point I should say that I don’t usually read Science fiction. But here, Chris Beckett has written a marvellous book, which I urge you to read. His writing is lucid and brilliantly opens up this other world to your imagination. I’m going to write about the themes of identity which evolved from a common story, and the issues of leadership from a headstrong and impulsive young man. If you plan to read the book (and you should) you might want to stop reading here and come back afterwards as there are spoilers coming.

The Writing

Firstly though, about Chris’ writing. Eden is a world that has to be completely reimagined, and he has thought through it brilliantly. What would a world be like where you have to start again? There is no technology, materials are new and different. The memories of things remains and is passed down, but the ability to build them has been lost. What would we do if future education began with only what a couple of people know and can remember? Tommy’s advice to their descendants is to ‘keep building boats and eventually you will work out how to build a boat that is capable of flying home to earth’. This is true, and this is how the process of innovation can happen provided people push at the edges. For the people of Eden, five generations later they were still building very basic boats.

What would a world be like where there is no rising and setting up the sun? We mark our time through the passing of days, weeks and years. We can tell when a day is over because it gets dark. But in a world which never gets dark and thus, ‘a day’, ‘a week’ and ‘a year’ have no meaning, how do you count? What unit of measurement would you use? The one that Beckett picked as readily available was the human gestation period, known in the book as a ‘wombtime’. John Redlantern, at the beginning of the book, is about 20 wombtimes old. He is known as a newhair, not a teenager. (I’ll let you work that one out).

Beckett has also thought through the implications on a society that would have emerged from just two people. Tommy and Angela, the first father, had four children. With no other humans around the third generation was a product of the second. As you can imagine, relationships, which are not monogamous, quickly become incestuous with the expected effects on the subsequent generations. There is a high number of people with cleft palates, club feet, and infant mortality is high.

The main story is about John and a group of his followers who take matters into their own hands, destroy the sacred places of the family and set of over the snowy dark mountains in search of another place. In doing this, they find answers to the story handed down through the generations.

Story as identity
The story of Tommy and Angela and how they came to be on Eden is the thing that drives the identity of all people, even five generations later. They are wedded to the belief that eventually Tommy and Angela’s three companions would have somehow got the message back to earth so that eventually earth would come and rescue them. The possibility that the message didn’t reach earth does not bear thinking about. Consequently, the family are a people in waiting, waiting for rescue, and people who feel they do not belong in their land but yearn for another place, the place with the big light in the sky. They do not move far from where Tommy and Angela originally got stranded, So that, they think, earth will be able to find them when they come.

Of this story is one they repeat, tell each other, and re-enact at each anniversary. But it is a story without an end. They are the people in waiting.

That situation led me to think of the nation of Israel in its early days. They were people with a very strong identity based on historical story – the calling of Abraham, their subsequent slavery in Egypt, and their rescue by God, led by Moses out of Egypt, across the Red Sea and through the wilderness to the promised land of Israel. This story is a key identity marker in the formation of the people of Israel, and the old Testament is littered with references to it. Look back, they are told, to what God has done for you and for your ancestors. Look back and remember who God is and therefore who God will be to you in the present and future.

Israel was a nation Governed by this story and therefore believed, for the most part, in the hope that this story promised. And eventually, in their next hour of darkness, God rescued them again.

I believe all of us live by a story even today which shapes our beliefs, hopes, and actions. However, that story isn’t one that pervades all society like Eden or Israel. We each have our own, as society is more individualistic. In both Eden and Israel the story was one of national identity as well as individual. In Eden, as the story cuts to the heart of who they were, any alternative stories were vehemently opposed. Dark Eden Explores the outworkings of this as John Redlantern takes a group over the dark cold mountains to another place, and in doing so begins to explore alternative stories and therefore threatens the family’s unity and identity.

Loss of story

So, what happens when this story is threatened? (Some major spoilers here) Firstly, the group is split. A small group goes with John, most of the others stay with the main group. But what was previously an easy, consensual unity in the main group now feels oppressive.

Second, right at the end of the book, after John’s group have made it over the mountains and found a vast, vast forest, easily enough to provide ample hunting ground for a population many times the size, the group make a dramatic discovery – one that affects the whole way they think about themselves, and which justifies John’s actions. Their story is dead.

Here, I started to wonder that happens to a society that loses the story by which it defines itself. The book doesn’t really explore this as the discovery comes in the final few chapters. But what about in history? The USA has a story that it is ‘A Christian Nation’, which sprang up from the fact that it was mostly Puritans who set up the country by escaping persecution in Europe. They also cling to the notion of a ‘Spirit of Adventure’ which came from the pioneers going West. How true are they now? Perhaps not as much as they were. In the UK, I feel we have lost our story, part of which was defined by the English Reformation and the state church, and as the Olympics Opening ceremony so wonderfully reminded us, the Industrial Revolution. But how relevant are they to the story by which we live our lives now? For most people, not so much. Our society has lost it’s story and, perhaps, is sucked into the secular default of self-improvement.

When the nation of Israel wandered away from their story in the Old Testament, it was characterised by moral decline and distance from God. Only when it was obvious that going on their own wasn’t working for them, and the exile happened, did they return to their original story of ‘God as rescuer’. With the loss of the ‘wait for rescue’ story on Eden, it remains to be seem what story they may turn to.


Dark Eden also makes you ponder about the nature of leadership. John Redlantern is a natural leader. He sees a problem, has a vision and is relentless in pursuing it. Only, he is young, impulsive and immature. His actions cause him to be exiled from the rest of the group, and is later joined by others. He doesn’t mind facing opposition in pursuit of his goals.

However, he needs to be the leader. There is one moment during the climb over the dark mountains when it seems that everything is lost. They have lost their source of light and are under attack from an unseen monster. The others start to turn on him and he has no ideas as to how to get out of the situation. Suddenly, one character, a young boy called with a claw foot, who had been separated from the group in the monster attack manages to come back and save the day. Initially, this was a cause for rejoicing, but John begins to see the boy as a threat to his authority. Actually, the boy had no desires to lead the group. But John is still worries, and his reaction is to keep him close as a number two. This is an act genius as the boy turns out to be one of the most intelligent of the group who can turn his mind to solving problems.

But the reality of leadership in John is highlighted throughout the book – negotiating the opposition, grumbling, possible threats whilst keeping as many of the group together to press son towards the goal.

This is probably the best example of contemporary fiction I have read for a long time. Please read it. I am very much looking forward to the sequel!

Leadership in postmodern society

networked relationships
networked relationships

From a talk by Jonny Baker. Image from smallritual.org. The underlying assumption is that top down hierarchical structures are on their way out, so leadership needs to reflect that change in society. This is about church leadership, but there’s no reasons why the principles may not work elsewhere.

  1. Environmentalist. Leaders are there to create the culture/DNA of the organisation through which things happen -set the core values. (e.g. a culture of participation, use of gifts etc)
  2. Catalyst. The leader is a peer, someone who is trusted, and inspiration. He/She is the person who lets go and gets other people moving – a catlyst to events. There is trust in the community
  3. Guardian of the Ethos. The one who looks after the DNA, values, and vision of the community, continually reminds the community of these in order to keep in on the right track.
  4. Faithful Improviser. (From NT Wright New Testament and the People of God) Our calling is to improvise faithfully in the gap between Christ’s first and second comings. He left very few rules, but some teaching and an ethos within which to experiment.

Pastors burn out.

There’s an excellent post over on Jesus Creed on pastors needing to ensure they have spiritual and physical support in their work – otherwise they’ll burn out.

Quote from it from Father Rob:

If we are going to minister to others, we better have people ministering to us as well. Personally, I’ve found I need a Spiritual Director (to help keep me growing in my walk with Christ), a Mentor or Coach (to help keep me growing in my vocation), a counselor or therapist (to help keep me healthy in my mental life, as I’ve already mentioned), and at least one friend with whom I can be completely open about everything—and I do mean everything (to help keep me honest.)

Young people’s challenge to the church

In her new book, Visualising Hope, Dr Sarah Dunlop explored the values and spirituality of students in Central and Eastern European countries. She wants to know what makes them tick, what their hopes are, and if the church is meeting them. In a very creative way, by getting students to respond to and take photographs of things that are significant to them over a period of time, Dr Dunlop gets underneath the pat answers and stereotypes to discover their real motivations.

The top values and concerns, she discovers, are to do with self-expression and creativity, freedom – from institutional rules and to be able to think for themselves, quality relationships, and fun.

Given that, she writes:

“The students perceive the church as a place where they would be expected to conform to a set of rules and unthinkingly forced to subscribe to outdated beliefs. Therefore, it is no surprise that the students reject the church on the basis of their values: self-expression, freedom, fun and relationships. We believe that if church leaders take time to engage with young people’s values, they may find that young people become a part of their community, and their contribution to the worship of the church will be vibrant and full of life.”

It’s a good point. There is nothing wrong with values of freedom, self-expression, relationships, and fun. In fact, Christianity is supposed to make us more free. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand ourselves and apply our gifts in a way that is tailored to us – we are made uniquely – isn’t that the ultimate statement of self-expression. Relationship and community is at the heart of the faith – the early church was a congregation that welcomed, loved and supported each other. These values are not the sum total of the faith, but they are definitely there.

When did these positive values get lost from congregational worship? When did it become dry, unwelcoming, and irrelevant? It is true that there are many in the fresh expressions network and emergent church that are beginning to counter this stereotype.

This book is a wake-up call to the church, leaders and congregations, to find out which essential Christian values they are not meeting, and to life them out in ways that are accessible and welcoming.

It is available on Amazon.com in the USA and in the UK.

John Ortberg on being a pastor

The experienced pastor and author John Ortberg responds to a question on Scott McKnight’s blog. The question is “knowing what you know now, what would you focus on from the beginning of your ministry”. His response is:

If I could begin ministry all over again, I would spend time seeking to become a healthier person, emotionally and spiritually. I spent a chunk of time serving in an area where I simply did not fit well, where some of my deepest convictions were not congruent, because I was not self-aware enough to have a clear sense of what I valued and believed. I was stuck in a tradition and setting that was familiar and comfortable, but where I did not feel like I could truly be myself; where I could not really talk about the ideas and beliefs that resonated most deeply in me. And I needed people’s approval too much to be able to serve them well. And my neediness made me too defensive to be able to learn from the criticisms that are inevitably a part of ministry.

If I could start all over again, I would spend more time in solitude getting ready for ministry. I would have spent more time getting feedback from people who knew me best. I would try to walk through the pain of letting go what I thought I needed to do and who it was I thought I needed to be so that I could have served with more freedom and effectiveness. I would try to put less pressure on my wife to be committed to my success, rather than to embrace her own gifts and calling.

I would have read Dallas Willard sooner.

Reading into my own situation what does this mean? Yes – solitude and seeking God for what and where to minister, and doing this more. Perhaps is means doing less stuff, or at least prioritising better so that the urgent but unimportant doesn’t crowd out the non-urgent but important. Perhaps it means finding out the gifts that God has given me and ministering from them, delegating where appropriate.

And perhaps it means reading Dallas Willard…