Lessons along the way

Your Leadership Journey


Over the past few years I have spent some time interviewing Christian leaders: some of the interviews were part of my doctoral work on crucibles of leadership, and some are part of my ongoing podcast series. I recently wrote an article for the Evangelical Alliance in which I talked briefly about some of the leadership lessons from these interviews.

Here’s a quick summary:

1. Surround yourself with good people

In recounting their stories, many leaders look back to people who have helped inspire and encourage them. Biblical examples include Jethro and Moses, Moses and Joshua, Mordecai and Esther, Jesus and His disciples, and Paul and Timothy.

2. Team matters

Avoid being a maverick: team matters, just as it did in the work of Jesus and Paul.

3. Culture beats strategy

It’s the old adage that ​‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.

4. Be reflective

The value of being reflective – perhaps something…

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Refreshing your leadership

News on a 6 part course for Christian leaders: get in touch if you’d like to know more.

‘Refreshing your Leadership’ is a six-part course intended for groups of Christian leaders. It is designed primarily with church or mission/ministry leaders in mind (though it can be adapted to Christians leading in other fields). Ideally there should be at least 5 people in the group. The group could consist of a church leadership team, the staff or leadership team of a mission, a local group of pastors and ministers, or a gathering of missionaries.

Who leads the course?

The course is led by Dr Alan Wilson. Alan is a visiting lecturer at the Irish Baptist College in Moira, an associate tutor at Belfast Bible College, and part of the adjunct faculty of the Irish Bible Institute in Dublin. He has over 20 years of pastoral experience in Northern Ireland and Switzerland. His doctoral work explored the theme of ‘crucible’ experiences in shaping Christian leaders.

How will the course run?

The material is organised in 6 sessions (ideally of two hours each, though they can be condensed) and there is flexibility in how these might be arranged. For example it would be possible to run the course over a series of weekday evenings, as an intensive weekend event or as a series of day retreats for a team. 

As well as the teaching content, the course allows time and space for personal reflection, not least the opportunity for leaders to reflect on their own leadership journeys.

How much will the course cost?

The cost will depend on the size of the group and the group’s ability to pay: suggested donation is between £450-800, plus travel costs.

What does the course cover?

Part One: The Leader’s Journey (Moses)

The first two sessions will explore the concept of a leadership journey and we will be making use of the story of Moses as a template to help us explore our own stories.

    • Introducing the story of Moses. Moses is one of the most significant figures in Scripture’s story line, and his own story is one of the most dramatic in the Bible: it is rich in insights into how God works with a leader.
    • Introducing the concept of the leadership journey timeline. The narrative of Moses’ life falls neatly into three distinct: formative years, exile years, and leadership years. The course encourages leaders to reflect on their own leadership timeline, highlighting ways in which they have been shaped and lessons they have learned along the way.
    • The leader’s formative years. The first stage of Moses’ life helps us to reflect on the people who have influenced our development, and to think about key decisions that have shaped the direction of our lives.
    • The leader in exile. While the biblical text gives us few details about the middle stage of Moses’ life, it is a stage that opens up the theme of exile or wilderness when the leader’s aspirations and the reality of their actual circumstances are quite different.

Part two: The Leader’s Journey, continued

    • The leader’s calling. This session looks at the debate between Moses and the Lord: when Moses is finally called to lead the Hebrews (what he wanted to do 40 years previously), he has decided he’d rather stay in obscurity and leave the work to someone else: what excuses do leaders offer to avoid God’s call?
    • Leadership challenges. Moses’ experience reminds us that strategic spiritual leadership is no easy task. In this session we explore some of the tough challenges that confront Moses and other leaders.
    • Leadership opportunities. While the leader has to face challenges, spiritual leadership also brings great privileges: we will think about the importance of a leader being secure in the love of God.

Part Three: The Leader’s Task (Nehemiah)

In sessions three and four, the focus is on the leader’s task and we will be using the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem to structure our thinking as well as referring to more general leadership ideas.

    • Introducing Nehemiah and his times. This session sets the scene and reflects on the important theme of living in exile. As Nehemiah prays for Jerusalem, we ask what it means for a leader to pray ‘Your kingdom come’.
    • The leader’s vision. What was happening in Jerusalem was so wrong that Nehemiah knew it had to be put right. As he prayed, God put a plan in his heart. What does it mean for a leader to have a God-given vision?

Part Four: The Leader’s Task, continued

    • The leader’s team. While the role of the leader is important, leaders’ effectiveness is limited if they are not surrounded by a team who will join them in the vision and plan. Nehemiah’s story is the story of a host of otherwise largely unknown people who rolled up they sleeves to rebuild Jerusalem.
    • The leader’s resilience. Nehemiah’s leadership takes place against the backdrop of opponents who attempt to hinder the rebuilding task. What are some of the issues leaders face – both in terms of their work and personally – where perseverance and resilience are called for?

Part Three: The Leader’s Model (Jesus)

In sessions five and six we reflect on the life and teaching of Jesus as they relate to our thinking on leadership. It’s been pointed out that there is a lot more in the gospels about a call to follow than about a call to lead!

    • Jesus, the Leader. Biblically, leadership starts with God and in this session we will explore how Jesus led, focussing on the concept (which has become popular in general leadership thinking) of servant leadership.
    • The leader’s testing. Again we turn to some of the challenges that leaders face. This time we reflect on what we might learn from Jesus’ testing in the desert: what happens when leaders are tempted to go it alone relying on their abilities more than on God, or when they are tempted to take short cuts?

Part Six: The Leader’s Model, continued

    • The leader’s life. In this session we will focus on Jesus’ teaching in John 15 where he talks about the disciples’ relationship to him (‘abide in me’), their relationship with each other (‘love one another’), and to to the world (as witnesses).
    • The leader’s call to follow. For all the talk in this course about leadership, leaders need to remember that their primary calling is not to lead but to follow. We’ll explore Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 21 and think about what it means for leaders to be faithful followers.

The joy of the Lord

I dare say one of the most popular verses in the OT book of Nehemiah is 8:10: ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength’.

It’s normally understood as referring to the joy that the people gathered in Jerusalem should be expressing. They experience, and express joy that comes to them from the Lord.

But what if that’s not exactly what the verse means?

Another suggestion (GCI Wong in an Old Testament journal in 1995) is that the verse is referring to joy experienced by the Lord: he is the one who is rejoicing. ‘Strength’ could also be translated along the lines of a place of shelter, in which case the Jews, previously weeping in response to the reading of the Law, could find shelter in the fact that the Lord was rejoicing – so they too could rejoice. You think of the reference to God’s joyful singing in Zephaniah. Or – a NT illustration – the fact that the returning son in Jesus’ famous story found safety in his father’s joy.

I’m far from an OT expert, and I don’t know if any translators have followed this outlier, but it’s an interesting thought!

8 things Christian leaders can learn about ministry from Moses

Your Leadership Journey

Yesterday I had been invited to a gathering of a dozen or so Baptist pastors: I shared some things I’ve learned about leadership, framing them with the story of Moses.

Here is a little summary of my thinking:

1 – We don’t get there by ourselves.

Moses’ survival, his eventual faith in God, and his leadership of God’s people would not have been possible had not been for the faith of his parents, the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter, and the ingenuity of his sister.

Nor do we get there by ourselves. Whether it is the faith, example and witness of our family, the faithfulness of teachers, or the investment of mentors, we don’t get far on our own.

2 – God can meet us in deserts.

For Moses, the middle years of his life represented the loss of his vision and passion. Exile in Midian was not what he was…

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Here’s part three of a series of podcasts with Malcolm Duncan.

Your Leadership Journey


Malcolm Duncan, Senior Pastor of Dundonald Elim Church, is back for a third week.

He talks about some of the impressions of the Northern Ireland he has returned to. He suggests that there is a lot of hope (‘if you see cranes in a city, it’s a sign of hope’), while there is also a degree of uncertainty.

We discuss the theme of exile: how do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Malcolm suggests that here is a difference between a church that sings and a church that shouts and he argues that we need to spend more energy telling the Church to get its house in order than telling the world to get its house in order.

He offers some ideas on how the Church needs to respond to the secularisation of society: the Church in Northern Ireland needs to be a hopeful community and a source…

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A triumphal arrival in Jerusalem


Yesterday was Palm Sunday, when Christians around the world will have reflected on the Sunday when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem at the start of the most dramatic week of his life.

What is often missed or overlooked is the likelihood that another significant person may have arrived in Jerusalem was arriving in Jerusalem for Passover around the same time.

Pilate, the Roman governor, would have lived in a palace, constructed by Herod in Caesarea, on the coast. But we know that he was present in Jerusalem during Passover: famously he presided over Jesus’ trial that week.

In addition to his presence in Jerusalem to hold court at that time, it is possible that he chose to be there, accompanied by extra soldiers, to keep a lid on any nationalistic over-exuberance among the large crowds that had gathered for the feast: Jerusalem’s population increased dramatically during Passover (it’s still a busy season in the city today).

On his arrival he may have been accompanied by up to 1000 soldiers, some on foot and some on horses: a display of Roman imperial power that would have left no one in any doubt who was in charge. Doubtless, whether the inhabitants of the city liked Pilate or not, it would have been expedient to ensure that he received an appropriate welcome!

Given that Caesarea was on the coast, Pilate would have approached from the west of the city.

Contrast that with the Palm Sunday arrival on the other side of the city. Jesus arrived from the Mount of Olives on the east. As with Pilate, there were crowds to welcome him, with excited acclamations of ‘Hosanna’ and reference to Psalm 118 (one of the psalms sung at Passover time).

Unlike Pilate, Jesus arrived without the trappings of power. More than once along the way he had taught his disciples that in his kingdom the greatest was the least and the first was the servant of all. Now he arrived – not with the trappings of military might, but riding on a donkey. A humble, gentle king arriving in peace, but to a city that would shortly violently reject him.

O what a mystery,
Meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship
For this is your God,
This is your God.

The Crucible: A Morning for leaders in Dublin


A morning for leaders, with leaders.

Following several previous events over the past 18 months, including one in Edenmore Golf Club, the next ‘crucible’ conference for leaders is planned for Dublin on May 8, 2018, beginning at 10.30 am and running until 1.30 pm.

The conference will be hosted by the Irish Bible Institute and will include tea/coffee on arrival, and a light lunch.

The morning will explore the question of how Christian leaders are shaped by various people, events  and experiences they encounter in the course of their leadership journey.

Dr Alan Wilson (whose doctoral research explored this subject) will interview three experienced Christian leaders:

  • Roz Stirling director of Cleopas, a ministry dedicated to helping people – not least leaders – to cultivate their relationship with God;
  • Bishop Ken (Fanta) Clarke, mission director for SAMS (UK and Ireland) and formerly Church of Ireland Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh;
  • Dr Trevor Morrow, Minister Emeritus of Lucan Presbyterian Church and former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

You can expect to be encouraged, as you listen to stories of God at work in leaders’ lives, and challenged as to your own leadership and relationship with God.

Among comments from previous attendees …

‘… incredibly moving, humbling and thought-provoking … a significant marker in my own journey’

‘good for my soul’

Please use the contact form if you would like to have more information about the event.