Leadership learnings: Chris Thompson


Chris Thompson is Ministry Support and Development Co-Ordinator with Youth For Christ, Northern Ireland. Previously he has worked for Waringstown Presbyterian Church and Prison Fellowship.

He told me about his most significant leadership lesson:

My most significant leadership lesson is that people matter and that leadership is about people.

He saw this modelled by his boss at Prison Fellowship.

He said … to me when I first arrived that this is a people ministry. And so how it was structured was that there was an office and there was a drop-in facility, at least people would have dropped in who would have been in urgent need in some ways. And so he would have said, you stop what you’re doing if there’s a people need – you stop what you’re doing and respond to it, no matter how important your tasks are. And he modelled it in the sense that he would have stopped what he was doing and have stopped stuff for days if needs be to respond to a need. So I learned then that the priority of leadership is people and to invest in people.


Leadership learnings: Lee Russell

Lee Russell Exec Director

Lee Russell is the Executive Director of the Christian Police Association,  a Charity that encourages and supports Christians in the Police Service.  Prior to taking up this role  he served in the Police for 30 years.  Lee holds a Masters Degree from Canterbury Christ Church University.

Here is how he describes his most significant leadership lesson:

The most significant leadership lesson I have learned is not to underestimate someone.  This cuts both ways,  either their ability to do harm or their ability to enhance/develop and support your work/project/plans.  For the purpose of this short viewpoint from me I will concentrate on the positive aspects you can gain if you remember not to underestimate someone. 

I spent my formative working years in a very hierarchical organisation.  However,  what I learned at an early stage is that the level you are in any organisation does not necessarily mean you have the best ideas/abilities/knowledge to progress a given task.  I discovered that you could find people at all levels in your organisation who just “knew” what the answer was and knew the route that needed to be taken to be successful in a given situation.  A good leader will remember this,  will look for those people, and will take risks in pushing a person beyond their colleagues/line managers and their own personal perceptions of their ability.

There are many examples throughout the Bible where our Lord took people who were underestimated by others and by themselves.  Perhaps, Moses is the most obvious example.  However,  I also like the story of the feeding the 5,000 (John 6 1-14). Who would have thought that a small boy bringing his packed lunch of five small loaves and two small fish could have helped Jesus perform a miracle?  Jesus didn’t underestimate anyone!

Leadership Learnings: Sam Balmer


Sam Balmer, from Enniskillen, is one of three elders in Fermanagh Christian Fellowship. Along with his wife, Louise, he is involved additionally in the work of Bible Educational Services and Sow2Reap Trust.

He shares what he has been learning about leadership: it’s very honest and very personal.

As a direct result of burnout, following a very busy and prolonged period of leadership ministry both in church life and in the charitable sector I learned a number of hard lessons. On occasions these still raise their ugly heads!

I discovered that the success of church and ministries do not depend on me – I realised my acceptance by God was not dependent on my work for God – I learned that identity should be grounded in Christ not in my ministry for Christ – I had to learn to say NO, to rest, to simplify life and not feel guilty about this.

My pride and ego took a hit! Gods work continued and expanded while I was off thus confirming all of the above lessons. Reminding myself of these is necessary from time to time.  Through all this experience God remained faithful and His steadfast love ever bountiful.
He also describes the value and significance of  the ‘amazing’ support of a good wife, family and faithful friends.
Music (via a couple of apps) helped during what he describes as long nights and troublesome days. The Holy Spirit spoke to him as he read the book of Jude, both encouraging him and showing him that God will be victorious.
  • In my need for mercy, peace and love my God is sufficient is supplying these in abundance (v2).
  • In my battle contending for the faith not just publicly but privately as the enemy battles with my mind my God is victorious (vv3,4)
  • v20,21 In my worship as I build myself up, pray, bask in Gods love and wait for His mercy my God is glorified (vv20,21)
  • in my inability to keep myself from stumbling and ultimately present myself before His presence my God is able (v24)
And as a concluding word:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Leadership learning: making the most of 'small' moments

nigelhamilton11Sir Nigel Hamilton was head of the NI Civil Service for 6 years until his retirement in 2008. He is the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Belfast and has been chair of Ulster Rugby. He and his wife, Lorna, are members of Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church in Belfast.

Recently he attended our ‘Crucible’ leadership morning at Edenmore Golf Club and later he shared with me some of what he has learned through his own leadership experience.

Interestingly, he was keen to mention examples of leadership behaviours which appear small, but he’d want to argue that they are powerful in terms of relationships.

1 – The importance of shaking hands with everyone, not least reaching out to people who are not from our camp. They may even be people who oppose us. Do it, with grace and humility.

2 – The importance of paying attention to some of the people in an organisation who might be viewed as being at a more junior level. Make a point of taking time to talk with the security man or the doorman. Not only are these folk are a point of knowledge in relation to what is going on in the organisation, but they also have a vital part to play in that they often serve as the first point of contact between the organisation and the outside world.

3 – The value of saying thank-you, especially to those who have done something for us. It can be a spoken word or a scribbled note in a card. Not only is it a gracious act, but it can be very affirming to the person we thank.

As you can see, these are often relatively simple gestures. However Sir Nigel suggests that in fact ‘they are more important, initially, than visions, strategies or plans’. Leaders who don’t demonstrate these kinds of characteristics have lost their followers.

The experience economy comes to church

Once upon a time, when our ancestors wanted to eat cake to celebrate a family birthday, they took themselves to the local grocer who was happy to sell them some milk, flour and eggs. From there, it was DIY and, hey presto, a cake! Until one day the grocer told our ancestors’ descendants that he knew a baker who baked a very fine birthday cake: it even had chocolate flavouring. Why go to the trouble of gathering ingredients, mixing them together and fretting nervously, lest the cake fail to be perfectly puffed, when someone else could make it for you? Which all worked nicely until someone thought the pre-baked chocolate cake could be improved by adding superheroes and cartoon characters and someone else decided that they could pop an entire birthday package in the post, complete with balloons and novelty bags. But even that could be bettered. They could send it all round in a van, to be delivered by a clown who would not only hand over the aforementioned goodies, but would spend the afternoon creating a memorable birthday experience!

Well, it’s not quite Economics 101, but hopefully you see the point. We’ve gone from an economy based on providing a commodity, to an economy that provides goods, then a service, and eventually an experience.

The other day I spotted this – on the website of a Belfast Coffee Shop:

We are not just a coffee shop, we are an experience!

For the record, it’s Cafe Smart in East Belfast but I suspect they’re not the only coffee joint that likes to offer an experience and not just a cup of coffee. Which, you probably don’t need me to tell you, has been turned into an art form in recent years. I had coffee in a friend’s house a couple of years ago: watching him prepare the brew was like being transported back to chemistry class.

Nor are the purveyors of coffee alone in providing an experience for their customers. Ever been in an Apple Store?

But what does it have to do with church?

I have a sneaking suspicion – and I would really like to hear what you think – that this might be one of those areas where as things go with the culture, so they go with the church. I wonder if the church has moved into the business of attempting to provide an experience and if many of those who attend church judge their attendance on the basis of what kind of experience they had.

I need to express one or two caveats here.

For one thing, Christianity is meant to be experienced. I am aware of the debates regarding the extent to which Acts is meant to be normative, but it’s hard to read that particular NT book and conclude that Christianity is a purely intellectual exercise. If the fruit of the Spirit is joy, is that not something to be experienced? Frankly, I think a lot of us could do with a more experiential expression of church at times: more of a clear sense of the presence of God. Is he not meant to be among us when we gather to worship?

For another – and to be clear – this is not a post about not serving coffee in church! Preferably not instant coffee, though: in that case, mine’s a black tea! And if you want to add donuts or muffins, go for it. In fact, why not have the occasional Sunday where you have a meal together?! In fact, do what you can to make sure that the folk who attend your church feel welcomed and valued. And sing songs that are memorable. And preach in a way that is interesting.

There is nothing necessarily wrong the idea of church as a positive experience. I doubt that the person who leaves a church service feeling bored is necessarily more spiritual than the people who leave with a smile on their face.

But I wonder…

Is it possible for leaders – and worship leaders – to become susceptible to a shift where they start to act as though the key to church growth and prosperity lies in how well they create and market an experience?

And it is possible for church attenders to start to judge the value of a gathering based on how it felt to be there and if there is a bigger buzz on offer at the church round the corner, they’ll go there?

And on the other hand, to what extent should churches take account of the cultural climate in order to be relevant?

What do you think?