Dinner with Jimmy Carter and others

I’m hoping to publish a number of posts on the ‘leaders’ dinner party’ theme. Earlier in the month I introduced Steve Henderson who wrote about his choice of guests and even included a menu!

ColinToday’s post comes from Colin Neill. Colin works in economic development and is a member of Waringstown Presbyterian Church where he is congregational secretary. Colin also preaches and is the author of Turas – a fascinating story set in an imagined united Ireland in 2020.

Colin describes his choice of dinner guests as ‘an eclectic mix that reflects a blend of leadership settings and attributes.’

Over to Colin to introduce his guests and why he has selected them.


… the fourth century BC priest and teacher of the law who gave spiritual leadership to the Israelites, as they went about the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. Whilst the better-known Nehemiah directed practical aspects of the rebuilding, Ezra provided spiritual direction.

For me, Ezra 9 and 10, where Ezra leads the people in confession for their sin of intermarriage with non-Jews, are two of the most compelling chapters in Scripture. Read them and you get Holy Spirit goose pimples.

Ezra models a leadership that demonstrates a deep emotional investment in the people he is leading. Ezra himself is guiltless when it comes to intermarriage, but he trembles in self-abasement, tearing his clothes and pulling hairs from his beard. He falls on his knees and foregoes food and water. He prays.

And yet in his state of spiritual shock, he doesn’t act rashly, instead leading the people through a just and measured process to properly investigate and deal with all the offences of intermarriage.

We’re all too often an activity-driven church that reveres the practicality of Nehemiah, yet I believe we’re a church also in need of latter-day Ezras.

Jimmy Carter…

… the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, who became President of the United States, established the Carter Center to ‘wage peace, fight disease and build hope’, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, and in his 91st year is a distinguished ‘Global Elder’.

Jimmy Carter is a man of incredible character, whose Christian faith informed all his values as he attained the most prestigious political office in the world.

And yet, despite that he remained planted and humble. He never sought to monetise the office of the presidency. He still lives in a modest house in Plains, and continues to teach Sunday school every week he can in the local Baptist church.

I’d love to talk to him about how he dealt with setbacks: the profound recommitting of his life to Christ, and going deeper in faith, after losing the 1966 contest to be Governor of Georgia. And, of course, the resilience and resolve that saw him leave the White House after one-term in 1981 to forge what has probably been America’s most meaningful post-Presidency career.

And lest we forget one of the most important things a leader can draw strength from, it would be great to hear him talk about his marriage to Rosalynn.

An accountant called ‘Anne’…

… a former-colleague, who I’ll only refer to as Anne (not her real name). Anne is a highly regarded accountant who specialises in corporate finance. Her ability reminds me that whatever else a leader needs, it matters that they’re technically adept in their field.

Among the things I love about Anne is that she’s direct and forthright, but never rude, and she has an unwavering ability to say uncomfortable things and, in a workplace environment, speak truth to power.

Anne is also extremely kind and helpful. She gets interested in things in a very genuine way, and was particularly helpful to younger colleagues, mentoring people out of a straightforward desire to develop those coming along behind her.

But the most inspiring thing about Anne, time after time, occasion after occasion, was – despite the fact that she wouldn’t profess Christian faith – her unwavering integrity and commitment to ‘doing the right thing.’

It’s easy to be inspired by biblical figures and US Presidents but I’d want Anne along because she shows me leadership is real and breathing, and not just about the brilliance of great figures in books.

I’m convinced the four of us would have a fascinating time together.

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