on leadership…again

If you’ve hung around here for a while you might recall that this is far from the first time I’ve posted about leadership. This time though, I’m not writing, but talking. And sadly for you all, it’s on video! ūüėČ

Recently I sat down with Ben Rogers, editor of Journey magazine to record a chat about leadership – and specifically about Christian leadership. ¬†Below is the video of our chat, and here’s the article that precipitated the conversation. ¬†And, if you’re a glutton for punishment, here’s some more of my potentially¬†baseless musings on leadership.

Your comments are welcome.

It’s been a while

It’s been a while since I wrote. November 12 2015 to be precise. It was a great story, and I had nothing further to add…so I stopped.

No, that’s not entirely true…and I can’t be sure exactly why I stopped writing, other than that it’s been a very busy start to the year this year, and sometimes in the busyness my words kind of dry up. ¬†In the torrent of organising, thinking, speaking, preparing, dadding, husbanding, riding, I somehow lose track of the time¬†to write, to let my mind’s eye wander, to let random thoughts bubble up into out-loud kinds of pondering. ¬†That’s not to say that all my out-loud kinds of pondering are always worth hearing (for assuredly they are not), but that if I never let writing¬†happen, then (a) I’ll shut off something that I personally have come to value; and (b) the law of averages suggests that if I never write at all, then I’ll definitely never write anything interesting or useful.

I am feeling the tug of the keyboard again, so I’m hoping to resume some semi-occasional posts here. ¬†For today¬†though, I thought I’d share a couple of new media¬†experiments I’m¬†involved in.

Firstly, my colleagues Mardi and Lyndelle and I have dreamed up a little adventure into podcasting. If you’re new to the medium (as I am/was), a podcast is essentially an on-demand radio show. There are thousands out there. Some very professional, some very amateur, and exploring an enormous range of subject matter. Our podcast is called “Church Unchained” and in it we’re aiming to explore innovation and dangerous ideas for the church through a series of casual conversations. If you’re not a church person, I think you might still find some of the conversations interesting. Church Unchained pops out a new episode every second Tuesday (each ep runs about 20 minutes), and you can find (and listen) them over here. The first two episodes are out already and explore virtual reality (and Pokemon Go), and then homelessness. If you use a podcasting app, here’s the URL so you can subscribe.

Secondly, I’ve started writing a regular column for the Uniting Church in Queensland’s multimedia platform¬†Journey Online. The column has a working title of “What if every church…” and explores a few ideas that are a little unusual in church circles, and wonders what might happen if we had a crack at them. ¬†The first column came out this week and asked “What if every church…had a playground?“. ¬†Once again, this column is supposed to be a fortnightly affair, and will continue¬†for a while¬†(or¬†until I run out of ideas).

If you think there’s something we should explore in the Church Unchained podcast, or or I should write about in the column, I’d be delighted to hear from you!

To quote Peter Garrett from his new album….”I’m back!” (oh yes…he totally smashed the live show at the Tivoli a couple of weeks back….can’t wait for Midnight Oil to tour in 2017!)!

 

life is made of moments

NB: Before you read, it might help to know that this is the text of a message I shared at Toowong Uniting Church, August 9th 2015. It refers to a story from Acts 4:26-40. The context at Toowong is that they¬†are preparing to plant a new congregation. ¬†If you’d rather listen than read…skip to the end of this story for the mp3 file.


 

It seems to me that this life that we live is made up of moments.

If you think back over your life, I’m sure you can identify a few of them.

I think of the moment I saw Sheridan walk into a friend’s 21st birthday party and I instantly knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

I think of the moment I made a bad decision and tore up my knee, ending up in surgery just weeks before our first child was due.

I think of the moment I learned a huge lesson about leadership, as I sat quietly to one side during an outdoor education program I was helping to run.

I think of the moment when I woke up one morning and realised that for the first time in 6 years all the kids had slept all night.

Some moments are wonderful, some not so much.

Some are extraordinary, while others are just the moments of everyday life.

Some moments, like my encounter with Sheri at that 21st birthday party, change our lives instantly. And we know it in the moment (or at least, I knew it…you’ll have to ask Sheri about her experience of that moment).

Others take a while to reveal themselves ‚Äď and sometimes it‚Äôs only with the benefit of hindsight that we can see the power of that moment.¬† Such is the story for my learning about leadership on that outdoor education program. The moment actually passed unremarkably that night‚Ķbut the more time passes, the more I reflect on that moment‚Ķthe more it means to me.

This life that we live is made up of moments.  I’m sure you can identify a few of them.

In this passage today, this story of Philip and the Ethiopian (read it here Acts 8:26-40), there’s a lot going on, and we’ll work our way through some of those things over the rest of our time.

But at the heart of it is a moment. A chance encounter. The intersection of two people’s lives that changed both of them forever.

Such is the importance of a moment. And this life that we live is made of them.

Continue reading

on anticipation, christmas and an unexpected jesus

On Sunday I had the opportunity to speak during the morning service at Toowong Uniting Church (our family hangs out with the TUC community regularly). It’s a rare thing for me, and aside from the anxiety it induces, it was an enjoyable experience.¬† The message is based on a reading from Matthew 11:1-11 – read it here. Here’s the words I used on Sunday:

Recently I had the opportunity to head over to New Zealand for a few days to help my brother celebrate what we like to call a ‚Äúzero‚ÄĚ birthday. He was turning 40.

We had been planning the trip most of the year since first deciding to go, and had a pretty fair idea of what it would involve.  5 blokes, a lake house, a big bike ride, golf, great food and drink, spectacular scenery, spur of the moment adventures. What’s not to like about that plan?

I have to tell you that for the last couple of months, thoughts of that NZ trip were never far away for me.  I was excited to go, and would spend completely inappropriate amounts of time looking forward to the trip, imagining what the experience would be like, living out the various adventures we had planned while we were there.

The anticipation was delicious. And unbearable.  I was so excited I could hardly wait. Continue reading

leadership #3: following the leader

Over the last couple of weeks in our leadership class, we’ve been mainly focused on two questions of leadership:

  • What is leadership?
  • Who leads?

Those conversations took us in some interesting directions, but today we found an entirely different tangent to pursue.

Today we talked about followers.

Today we wondered if leadership is actually something that is offered by erstwhile leaders at all, or rather whether it’s something that is sought, recognised, and even bestowed by a group of followers.

We talked about the little known notion of ‘followership’.

When all the attention in our talk about the future is on seeking a higher quality of leadership, finding new leadership theories, developing the leaders within our community, or bringing in wildly brilliant leaders from outside….the theory of followership suggests that we perhaps ought to be focusing our attention elsewhere.

The success of any enterprise, or organisation is largely attributable to the quality of the followers, the community of people who identify as “we” and who collectively seek after common goals. The leader might help to organise and equip, and even to recognise the vision and purpose that is hidden within the group of followers….but it’s the followers that matter most.

Or so my understanding of the theory goes.

And to be truthful, it kind of rings true. It’s hard to be a great leader on your own. In fact there’s no leadership in action at all if its not recognised as such by a group of followers.

Somehow in our world, we’ve managed to bestow negative connotations on the word follower. Say it out loud. Let it roll off your tongue. Follower. It’s hard to say without thinking of sheep, of uncritical, unthinking flock. Followers bad. Leaders good.

The truth could hardly be more different. And as a Christian, I should know that. Jesus didn’t ask us to be unthinking, uncritical, automatons. Sheep-like followers.

Jesus did call us to follow, but in a sense to follow with the best of who we are. To bring all our giftedness, all our talent, all our capacity to reason, to think, to analyse, to critique and to act. To join with God’s purposes for the world with all that we are.

In that light the famous question “what would Jesus do?” is the wrong question. It could be construed as the question of a sheep-like follower. Perhaps the better question (though a little less sexy and not quite as neat) is to say “as one called to bring all I have to follow Jesus, what should I do?”

I’m patenting that and having bracelets made up. “AOCTBAIHTFJWSID”. They’re going to be big sellers.

The question of course, for those thinking about what leadership means, is what to do with this notion of followership. I think there are a few clues, a few places to start:

1. Recognise that within the group or community there is an astonishing capacity, a broad range of gifts and skills, and the potential to transform the world (or at least that part of it to which we have access).

2. Recognise that within the group or community there is (either overtly or tucked away) a vision – a sense of who we want to be, what we want to achieve, how we want our (collective) life to feel and look.

3. The task of the leader is to recognise what’s there and help give expression to it, to sharpen it, to identify as one with the community, to want and work for the community at its very, very best – and to find ways of organising, resourcing and encouraging to release that best within it.

4. The task of the leader is to love followers. Love them.

Maybe it’s time to reclaim the word followers. Followers rock. Followers are the future. Followers (and I’m not even joking a little bit) will save the world.

NB: This is the third in a serious of posts reflecting on leadership, written during a Religious Leadership course with Trinity Theological College

birth and death

Last week I shared some time with my colleagues here who work for the Uniting Church in the Presbytery of Tasmania.

It was partly a retreat day, partly a planning day, and partly a day of building our sense of team.

It was a day in which all sorts of interesting possibilities came alive for us, as we thought, wondered and planned how to challenge, support and nurture the church here.

As we closed the day, Carol read to us, from Romans 8:18-25, and some commentary from Macrina Wiederkehr (Seasons of Your Heart) that contained a poem.¬† In the poem, Wiederkehr describes what must have been her own difficult birth – a birth story in which she apparently nearly didn’t make it, being momentarily pronounced dead.

I’m sure the scripture, the commentary and most of the poem were very interesting, but I confess I stopped listening. I was captured then and since by one line in the middle of the poem.

The doctor placed me aside and announced the sad news of my death, right in the middle of my birth.

Let’s just re-read that again.

The doctor placed me aside and announced the sad news of my death, right in the middle of my birth.

That’s got to be about as difficult as it gets. Right in the moment of new birth, new hope, new beginnings, is death.¬† Just as things where about to get interesting….it was all over.

I kind of wonder if that’s about where those of us who belong to the Christian church find ourselves right now.¬† And for the Uniting Church in Tassie it rings true.

There are well documented challenges facing the church. Buildings. Money. Age. Numbers. Ministers.  Well documented.

It would be easy to pronounce death. Many have (me included).

But increasingly, I get the feeling that we’re not actually in the middle of our death….but strangely, bizarrely, in the middle of our birth.

Not because we’re about to have some explosion of numbers and reclaim the glory days of the past, but because it seems to me that we’re on the edge of discovering anew what it really means to be communities of faith, what it really means to follow Jesus in this time and place.

Somehow, we find ourselves on the edge of a time of new hope.

All over Tasmania, wherever I go, I am encountering stories in the Uniting Church of people trying new things, re-thinking what it means to live together in faith community, worship together, engage in community, participate in God’s mission.

I hear the hope in a Friday night praise and worship gathering in the rural village of Wilmot. I hear it in a lounge-room gathering in Evandale. I hear it in a wild and powerful vision of residential community in Kingston. I hear it in the quiet contemplation of a new garden at Scots Memorial. I hear it in the burgeoning community meals at Wesley. I hear it in the dreams of a first-ever website for the congregations in Hobart’s north. I hear it in the endless stories of community service that are emerging from Uniting Care Tasmania. I hear it in the stories of a cape york visit by students from Scotch Oakburn.

I hear hope everywhere.

Not fanciful, unrealistic hope.

Not hope that ignores the realities of 2011.

But simple hope.  Hope that right in the middle of what we thought was our death, we might just find the possibility (and yes, pain) of birth.

That’s kind of exciting.

just around the corner

I parked yesterday in a suburban street in West Launceston.

It could have been anywhere. Houses, footpaths, cars. Kids playing. People walking. A school at the top of the hill, a shop down the road.

It was so very normal. Suburbia.

And then I walked.

After two minutes I was in ‘First Basin’ where the South Esk River comes spilling out of the upper sections of Cataract Gorge, into a large open pool, before continuing down the Gorge to the waiting arms of the Tamar estuary. The water is surrounded by cliffs and hills, parkland and bushland, a 300m chairlift carrying excited school kids overhead. Peacocks fussing and preening.

It’s anything but suburbia.

And I walked again, following a trail upstream toward the delightfully named Duck Reach.

Not 10 minutes from setting out on foot from my car parked in the heartland of the suburbs I was a world away.¬† The remnant of last week’s floodwaters tumbled down the rocky riverbed. The steep sides of the gorge deep with forest, the atmosphere still and heavy – the river and an occasional bird’s call the only sounds beyond my own footsteps.

It is a beautiful place, and all the more remarkable for being so close to the heart of the city.

At one moment I was in the normalcy of suburbia, and minutes later deep in tbe beauty of the gorge.  It never ceases to amaze me that such a remarkable spot can be so close to ordinary life, literally just around the corner.

As I walked I thought a lot about that fact. I wondered how often we who are caught up in the ordinariness of daily life miss the spectacular, the remarkable, the astonishing that is just around the corner.

And I wondered about the church that I work among, so obsessed with worrying about our daily bread that we miss all the opportunities that lie just out of sight.

It seems an obvious connection. Lift our eyes from suburbia to find the remarkable that is literally on our doorstep.

But as I trod the riverside path on my way back home, something started to stir for me.  I had parked my car in the middle of everything that I know, and gone off to find something better.

And how often, I wondered, is that the case?  How often do we give up on all that is normal and around us to go searching for the something remarkable?  How often do we leave suburbia to go hunting for Cataract Gorge?

The closer I got to my car the more I realised that suburbia is anything but ordinary.  This is where I live. There are friends and family, there are stresses and tension, there is laughter of kids playing in the front yard, heartache as an amublance races to the scene of a domestic tragedy.

This, suburbia, is life. It’s not ordinary, it’s incredible.¬† When I go looking for the amazing that I’m convinced is just around the corner I think perhaps I miss the remarkable that surrounds me right where I am.

The grass is always greener, or so we say.¬† The salvation of my church, the restoration of my soul, the reclaiming of my world as a better place….these things are perpetually just around the corner.

Except they are not. They are right before my very eyes. They are my neighbours, my family, the shop at the end of my street.¬† The best stuff isn’t around the corner, its right here.

Perhaps I’d best start just here.