Monthly Archives: June 2012


I am bombarded with invitations to buy leadership books, attend  leadership conferences and to be challenged to have my “leadership style turned on its head”.  I don’t pay much attention to them, though I used to.

My reticence about taking up these invites comes from the motivation they work from.  They invite me to be transformed from an average leader to a big player (and I suspect others in loftier places are invited to learn how to keep on top).  Periodically,  I take samples from the church leadership gurus of the moment and so much of what I encounter sounds like this scene from the film Mystery Men.

Why are the Mystery Men taking  formulaic advice from a man in a mask? They are a group who want to be superheroes who can clean up their city, get the kudos and maybe even the girl. The catch is that they are rubbish at what they do and as  they become aware of their lack of competence they edge towards returning to their bland unfullfilling lives.

The appeal of leadership training comes from the fact that most of us feel like a mystery man.  The irony is that the more we learn the secrets and systems of  leadership the more we feel rubbish about our own ministries.  The real leaders are Coca Cola and I was the stuff you buy at Aldi.

I’m not alone in this feeling of  falling short. If I was, the leadership industry would have no millionaires. Their millions are made from making lesser mortals look at the heroic saying, “that’s not me, I must be doing something wrong” or even worse  “I want to be just like them, how do I get there?”.

In the Lord of the Rings Trilogy we meet a failed, shamed leader in Theoden. He’s allowed himself to fall under the spell of Wormtongue who gives him bad counsel that aids his enemies and who turns Theoden into a feeble deteriorating old man with a  petty backwater for a kingdom.  When he is restored  by the heroes of the piece, he feels shame at what he allowed himself to become and his decision making is cursed by an under confidence that he can still lead and whether the battle is still worth fighting. We might say he’s lost his mojo and he knows it.

This lack of confidence continues up to the point when he will have to make a decision on which the fate of the world hinges. He is called to what will be the battle at the end of the world. The only reason to go is to die fighting instead of on bended knee.  There is no real hope of victory. At this moment the question is, “Will you go“.  After a pause pregnant with expectation, he says, “Yes”.  The  moment is powerful because without his yes, as we discover, all would have been lost.

On reflection my leadership can be defined as saying yes to good things and no to what is harmful or less fruitful. There are great things happening in both of my churches, not because I am doing them or I thought of them. They are things being done by people who were given permission to follow their passion and their vocation. These are people who without affirmation and encouragement might have said, “it will never happen”.

Coming to terms with a post based on boosting other people up, I now realise some valuable truths about what leadership in ministry is about:

  1. It isn’t about me. My ministry is not about gaining followers or growing my parish or being adored. It is about bringing people into the presence of God. God is the one who does all the work that matters.
  2. Leadership ideas are not immediately transferable to every context. The stars of the leadership industry rarely admit this or take into consideration the neighbourhood, the type of situations you lead in, the types and numbers of people, their life experiences and expectations.
  3. Just because someone is a great success doesn’t mean they are a great leader. It is easy to tell people what to do, particularly if their job is on the line. It is much harder to get  people to follow you to a destination neither of you are sure you are going to reach.

My mentors are the ones who never hold seminars, they don’t write books and if I told them I see them as mentors and guides, they would smirk and change the subject. That’s why I won’t name them here. They are flesh and blood men and women who get on with the task of leading churches, first from their relationship with God, second from who they truly are (warts and all) and then from information and theory about how they might practice leadership.

Good leaders don’t have slogans or mottos. They bear fruit.  They are people who believe that they have been given a gift to give to other people.  They are people content to say yes or no.

So thanks to you who have taught me through your successes and failures and for encouraging me when I feel I’m not cutting it. Thank you for leading me well. Thanks for letting me be part of a band of ordinary people doing the best with what they have rather than feeling part of a  band of failed, unfulfilled wannabes.  Thank you for letting me be myself.

Judge Judy, you’re my hero…


My youngest son has started watching Judge Judy in the afternoons after school. I’m not sure why. Perhaps he is practicing to be a retired person. Perhaps he likes watching people without brain cells trying to make coherent presentations. Perhaps he likes fiesty, abusive, dismissive older women.

Judge Judy works this way: two people have a dispute that would be handed in a small claims court and  agree to have their case heard and judged by Judy, who presumably used to be a real judge of some sort ( I could do some research but really, I can’t be bothered). They also agree to be bound by her ruling.

After a couple of weeks of this, we see a definite pattern involving one of three scenarios:

  1. Person loaned something to someone or let them let them live with them or asked for a service to be provided which was never delivered and it all turned out badly.
  2. Person loaned someone else their good credit rating and got stuck paying off the loan while having their own credit rating trashed.
  3. Someone was unfairly dismissed by someone else who was a terrible boss usually on the basis that they “didn’t like me from the start just because I took 10 cigarette breaks a day”.

On the grounds of taste and “you only live once” I’d tell him to get his butt off the sofa and do something constructive. But Judge Judy is proving to be instructive about the ways of the world and I hope he is paying attention.

These people have disputes with each other that come out of lack of discretion and lies “I said I borrowed the money to pay my rent but really I used it to go to a weekend of debauchery in Las Vegas”  or greed “I wanted the truck even though I couldn’t afford it so I talked my girlfriend of 3 weeks to co-sign for it” or infantile behaviour where the employer is a tyrant and the employee is a petulant child.

So we are allowing JJ to serve as a cornucopia of object lessons about how not to live your life.

Lesson 1:

Proverbs 3:27
Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them

If you loan anything to anyone, consider it given to them. Don’t expect they will pay you back or even to be grateful for it. Don’t say that out loud but let go of the thing you loaned. If it comes back (as it should), great. If not, then you’ve learned a lesson about discernment and wisdom in financial affairs. Loaning money among friends and family is fraught with relationship destroying behaviour and expectations. Money is a great relationship killer.

Lesson 2:

Proverbs 22:26, 27                                                                                                                                                                                                                Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge
or puts up security for debts;
 if you lack the means to pay,
your very bed will be snatched from under you.

All you have in this world is your good name. Don’t loan it to anyone lightly. If Lloyds bank won’t give them a loan without your name on the paperwork, you are the one who is going pay it off in the end. If you wouldn’t consider giving them your kidney, don’t consider giving them your good reputation when their own won’t stand up to scrutiny. On the other hand, where people are oppressed and cheated and made vulnerable your standing in the world may just be the difference for them. Risk your reputation fighting injustice but never to help someone buy a 4×4 they can’t afford.

Lesson 3:

1 Corinthians 9:24                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.

When people play the tyrant as a boss, you can choose to join them in pettiness or you can choose to keep your dignity and consistently be the better person. All that pushing is to goad you into becoming like them so that eventually it is hard to tell which one is the jerk. Living in a world where people in power are childish and bullying is hard, but you lose the high ground when you decide to join them. Wait it out, choose your moment and get out for something better.  Running the race to win means running it differently than those who will not stay the course and want to make sure you won’t either.

So who would have thought Judge Judy would hold up a light to painful, damaging ways of living? Hopefully, my children will never find themselves in a J J conundrum or have that look every participant in every episode has which says “how did I get here and what did I do wrong?”.

Living life well is not just about avoiding the difficulties and playing it safe. It is about a life which minimises the opportunities that invite the difficulties in the first place.