Six Words for a Simple Plan

It’s great to hear a church leader speak confidently and clearly about the aims of their denomination.\r\n\r\nSo it was this morning, when Chris James, Pastor of Vintage Community Church in Portishead, Bristol and Weston-Super-Mare, told us about the aims of the Assemblies of God churches in Britain.\r\n\r\n”We are Apostolically Led,  Relationally Connected and Missionally Focused.” he said.\r\n\r\nThat’s it.\r\n\r\nSix words giving a simple and yet dynamic purpose for 600 churches.\r\n\r\nMemorable. Transferable. Legible.\r\n\r\nDefined but with enough scope to allow freedom of thought.\r\n\r\nIs that your church?\r\n\r\nIs that you?\r\n\r\nIf not, try it. Write a six word, memorable, legible, dynamic purpose for yourself or your church.

Desktop Leadership

Reading a book on leadership doesn’t make you a leader any more than reading a book on painting makes you a painter.\r\nIt’s all worked out in the doing.\r\n\r\nLearning to paint is a good analogy. At first its slow going with many disappointments. This blue doesn’t go with that red, this paint doesn’t sit easily on that paper. And when the first painting is finished it can be an embarrassment. It’s hard to believe that one day a beautiful painting will be possible.\r\n\r\nIsn’t that like the beginnings of an inexperienced leader? Launching into a new situation with plenty of theory under the belt but not enough experience, or the wrong sort, can lead to embarrassing situations and missed opportunities.\r\n\r\nWhat’s lacking is the intuitive element that grows through experience, the confidence to handle new situations not found in books.\r\n\r\nIt’s not wrong to be as prepared as possible. Only don’t think that all the information gained from a desktop study can be a substitute for facing the matter head on.\r\n\r\nSo. Inexperienced. Exposed. Inadequate. At sea. Embarrassed?\r\n\r\nBe thankful! For that’s experience, and that’s where intuitive leadership comes from.

Spontaneous Leadership

Spontaneous leadership, by definition, just happens.\r\n\r\nOver coffee, when a friend needs a problem unravelling.\r\nIn a meeting, when an issue is as stuck as ever.\r\nAt home, when the same argument is being rehearsed around the dinner table.\r\n\r\nIf spontaneous leadership just happens, can we prepare for it?\r\n\r\nYes we can.\r\n\r\nBecause spontaneous leadership draws heavily initiative and influence.\r\n\r\nAnd initiative and influence draw heavily on personal capital and relational capital wisely deposited in the past.\r\n\r\nPersonal capital is work usually done on our own. It is the weight of learning, reflecting, thinking, reviewing, reading, and absorbing experiences accumulated at other times in similar or dissimilar situations.\r\n\r\nIt is this personal capital that lays the ground for spontaneous initiative. Rapid fire synapse connections of recognition bringing things before us into focus.\r\n\r\nRelational capital is the work done with other individuals and teams over a period of time to create an environment of trust and believability. It involves deep listening, open vulnerability, compassionate truth-telling, faithful fulfilment of small promises, and sustained action.\r\n\r\nIt is this relational capital that lays the ground for spontaneous influence. Like a kind of relational synapse connections, the  unquestioned recognition that someone doesn’t have to think twice before believing that what is being said is true and the person saying it wants the best for all.\r\n\r\nSo, for spontaneous leadership tomorrow – prepare the ground today.

Cliff Edge Volunteers

One encouraging fact to come out of the Olympics was this:  people like to volunteer.\r\n\r\n240,000 people applied to be Olympic volunteers around London, of which only 70,000 (ONLY 70,000!) were chosen.\r\n\r\nThe National Trust runs with the help of over 60,000 volunteers.\r\n\r\nAnd yet, most churches are struggling to get hold of volunteers.\r\n\r\nBut then, most churches don’t have anything as exciting as the Olympics to offer (although we have plenty of old buildings we may end up giving to the National Trust). We may bandy about statements about the worthiness of the church, but the reality is that most churches are dull and introverted organisations. We are creating proportionally more  bureaucracy to serve fewer people in dwindling congregations. The opportunity to serve as a volunteer in church now seems to be propping up creaking structures that should by all other measures be disbanded.\r\n\r\nAnd that is of little or no interest to most people under forty, let alone those under twenty.\r\n\r\nLeaving aside the lack of opportunities for meaningful engagement in church, selecting the right person for the right job in church is not as easy as choosing thousands of volunteers to stand on street corners and point people around London. New volunteers are all very well in principle, but not every volunteer is appropriate for key roles in the church. And those  volunteers who are appropriate are rarely available, being already overcommitted on existing committees.\r\n\r\nNo, what we need is a new focus. And perhaps it should be based on Jesus’ own example. We rarely see Jesus cajoling his disciples to volunteer (feeding 5,000 perhaps). Instead we find him commissioning them way before they were ready to leave the comfort and close proximity to the main group and head off by twos into unknown territory to discover the joys of Cliff Edge service.\r\n\r\nFollowing this pattern, we need to create some new Cliff Edges to walk along outside the church.\r\n\r\nIn Sports Clubs.\r\n\r\nIn Media.\r\n\r\nWith the Poor.\r\n\r\nWith the Rich.\r\n\r\nIn the Arts.\r\n\r\nIn Government.\r\n\r\nWith Business.\r\n\r\nWith Money.\r\n\r\nIn Britain.\r\n\r\nIn the world.\r\n\r\nWith Secularists.\r\n\r\nWith faithful others.\r\n\r\nYou name it. No really … you name it!\r\n\r\nLet’s make the business of volunteering for the church deeply meaningful and inherently stretching.\r\n\r\nAnd how?\r\n\r\nLet’s find out what our volunteers can do, what interests them, what gifts God has endowed them with, and what Cliff Edge only they can walk along.\r\n\r\nThen let’s support them – rather than ask them to support us.

A church like a tapas bar.

Set back from pavement on the road that connects the main student accommodation district to the university teaching campus is a small bistro with a front courtyard. The internal bar and rooms and the courtyard are on a slightly lower level than the pavement, which gives it a secluded feel even though it’s on one of the busiest streets in town. I knew it thirty years ago when it used to be called the Tapas Bar, because it served … tapas. And Beer. Both of which I enjoyed as a student.\r\n\r\nIt isn’t called the Tapas Bar anymore, it’s called The Town House, although it still sells tapas and beer.\r\n\r\nTo be more precise, it has the name The Town House on the sign board, although we still call it the Tapas Bar. If ever we want to go there we say, “let’s go to the Tapas Bar.”\r\n\r\nThat’s because it has changed management and names so often that we couldn’t keep up. We all knew it as the Tapas Bar before, so the Tapas Bar it remains.\r\n\r\nOf course this raises an underlying truth about the Tapas Bar (or The Town House) . ‘Under New Management’ may be a statement of fact, but it is never a statement of radical action. Whether or not the new owners ever thought they could really change it, they were never able to other than tinkering with decor and fittings and furniture.\r\n\r\nThis was due I suspect to the fragile balance of the enterprise which goes something like this: change alienates the regulars but attracts new customers; but the regulars leave faster than new customers arrive and settle down to become regulars; this net loss of people jeopardises sustainability.\r\n\r\nConclusion: the formula works as it is, so tinker if you like, but don’t change the essentials unless you want to close up shop due to lack of support.\r\n\r\nThe real problem of course is that customers are fickle. They don’t need to go, and might as well go somewhere else if they aren’t getting what they want. It’s their power that counts. Bums on seats.\r\n\r\nI know churches like that.


I can’t take a day off. I don’t get it. Why sit down in some place devoid of activity and purposeful attainment when I could be achieving, supporting, producing, and generally propping up the rickety structure that is my life? Or why take a day off when all the chores need to be done?

I can’t take a day off, which is why I observe the Sabbath. One day a week not spent chasing the things that so easily become temptations –  ambitions and appetites. It’s a religious observance but not out of a sense of religious perfectionism, but out of a sense of grateful thankfulness that everything I am responsible for is not ultimately dependent on me.

It’s difficult to change the rhythm of life, and this has not been easy, but the introduction of a Sabbath has been the most significant change in my lifestyle – ever. Try it: it is to be highly recommended.

Parables of Leadership: Foundations

A large, fine, lush, fertile, plot of ground.\r\n\r\nAnd the owner.\r\n\r\nA Man – energetic, creative -\r\n\r\nWho digs Foundations.\r\n\r\nAt first, here for a house.\r\n\r\nAnd then there, for a barn.\r\n\r\nThen over there under the trees. For a summer house.\r\n\r\nThen on the boundary. For a set of gates.\r\n\r\nAnd so on.\r\n\r\nAnd so on.\r\n\r\nAt the end of autumn (as winter approached) he looked up and saw\r\n\r\nWhat was once\r\n\r\nHis large, fine, lush, fertile, plot of ground\r\n\r\nBut which was now\r\n\r\nHacked and excavated and heaped up and sterilised.\r\n\r\nA field of trenches.\r\n\r\nAnd then it rained.\r\n\r\nAnd then it snowed.\r\n\r\nAnd then he remembered.\r\n\r\nDo one thing at a time.

Parables of Leadership: Bob’s Litter

The word that summed up Bob’s day was ‘LITTER’. He was sitting in bed in the dark. His wife was asleep beside him and he had only his own mind to explore. As he rummaged around in his day’s thoughts he noticed all the discarded wrappers that had packed his best ideas and that now lay like litter cluttering up his inner world. It was just like his office, he thought. Or his car. Or his computer – especially his computer, where the litter had proliferated to such an extent that he could no longer keep track of all the folders and sub-folders and favourites and websites and images and snippets of word and sound and clips and software. As he lay there thinking he realised, he had so much litter that he had lost all the good ideas that had been inside the wrappers.

Maths Textbooks and Thrillers

When I was at school maths textbooks were designed to allow the student mathematician to progress in a systematic and orderly way from one concept to another, and from one subject to another. The necessities of the subject demanded that if prose were needed it would be sparse and clear, sufficient and subservient to the requirements of logic and concept, and most importantly, formatted under Section Headings to guide the student forward.

In contrast to maths textbooks, American crime thrillers – my favourite genre – use no Section Headings (generally) and more prose, but they are equally effective at keeping the reader locked into a specific place in the story. As in maths, one thing follows another, but unlike maths, the signposts can be more subtle and yet there nonetheless.

The contrast between maths textbooks and American crime thrillers came to mind as I was skimming through some leadership books in the bookshop on Paddington Station. Leadership books often deal with process, in a narrative of sorts, and yet they fail reach the effectiveness of either a simple maths textbook or an elegant crime thriller. Why are leadership textbooks so ineffective?

Perhaps it’s because they fall between the two camps of logic and story that they manage to do neither efficiently. Which is in tis own way a parable of much leadership practice.

Or perhaps it’s because leadership is best caught from others not taught from books.


If you see a one-man-band consultant in business it’s a fair and reasonable questions to ask, where are his weaknesses.\n\nSome areas must be fuzzy. Administration perhaps? Finance? Communication?\n\nAnd what’s fuzzy in their consultancy will be fuzzy in your organisation.\n\nSo beware.\n\nHowever, when it comes to church leadership, we love one-man-band leaders.\n\nThey save us so much effort and responsibility and so …\n\nWe may say they are multi-talented.\n\nWe may say look at how they can do anything they are given to do.\n\nWe may say how well they face difficult situations.\n\nWe may even say that this is obviously the anointing of God.\n\nBut beware.\n\nNo-one can do it all. Some areas must be fuzzy.\n\nAnd what’s fuzzy in their character will be fuzzy in your church.\n\nWhere’s the fuzziness? Where’s YOUR fuzziness?\n\nAnd who knows?