Two more Grand Prix.
Two more brilliant drives from Lewis Hamilton.
100 pole positions.
The records keep on coming.
Today, some final thoughts driven by Formula 1.
Formula 1 is a team sport. Although most people talk about the drivers, it’s really a team sport. And as with all team sports, success comes from each part of the team working to its maximum potential. Unleashing the strengths of the team is what great leaders do. Toto Wolff (Mercedes) and Christian Horner (Red Bull) both manage to get the best out of their teams. They’re very good leaders.
So it won’t surprise you that I will mention, yet again, the importance of equipping and releasing as a principle for ministry (see our previous posts 'Stop Pleasing, Start Equipping' and 'Equip and Release'). What do we see in F1 that sheds light on a leader’s life in ministry?
Encourage and Inspire
If you listen carefully to Lewis Hamilton after he’s won a race, it is a rare day when he doesn’t use these words, “I’d like to thank everyone who’s been working so hard back at the factory.” He instantly and instinctively recognises that he’s only winning because of the work that others are doing. If you ever see him speak to one of the people who work in the lower echelons of the team – admin assistant, pit crew – you see them swell with pride. Lewis Hamilton is not a perfect human being, of course. Some of his choices and beliefs are far from ideal.
But he gets this thing called “appreciation.” He understands encouragement.
It goes without saying that good church leaders know how to encourage. (See our previous blog post, 'The Power of Words'.) But it’s more than just encouragement. It’s about the ability to inspire people too. In business, if a person doesn’t perform, then they will be fired. But fear of dismissal doesn’t draw out the best in people. Inspiration does.
Church is often filled with people who aren’t performing. Many times, that’s because a leader simply hasn’t figured out how to mine the many talents in his community. But it’s also because, in the end, a church member is a volunteer. Serving coffee, turning up for prayer meetings, running Alpha, helping with the kids, it’s all done by volunteers. What keeps a volunteer going? Encouragement, certainly.
But also inspiration.
If a leader doesn’t inspire his people with a vision of who God is, and what he’s done for them, they will lose heart. If a church isn’t full of people growing in their faith, it stagnates. If your people aren’t inspired to give their all, then that’s an issue for you as a leader. It takes a strong leader to inspire a church. People need vision and they need equipping. And of course they need encouragement.
They also need to enjoy the successes of the team. At the end of each race win, an F1 team will gather the whole team in front of the garage for a team photo. If they’re a middle-order team, they do this if they’ve over-achieved. P5! Yes! Right now, a Haas in the top 10 is a miracle. Let’s celebrate P9 with a team photo!
What is a church’s success? Success is such a fraught, disputed word in Christian circles. It isn’t the latest book by the pastor. And it isn’t about numbers, though a church should be encouraged by thriving ministries. It might be new Christians. It might be testimonies which inspire. But mostly, we find inspiration when we catch a vision of how truly awesome our God is.
So, inspire your people with a vision of God that fills their hearts to overflowing.
He is our first and last source of life-saving inspiration.
A good leader leaves a church body saturated in the wonder of God. A leader who draws me to my Saviour is a leader who inspires me. A church in which a whole load of nonsense is going on . . . division, mistrust, lack of vision and leadership . . . this is a church which fails to inspire. So ask yourself,
Are you inspiring your church with a vision of Jesus?
Formula 1 is a dangerous sport. It’s risky. So trust the tyres.
Drivers die in Formula 1.
Most famously, Ayrton Senna lost his life at Imola in 1994. As recently as 2019, in Formula 2, Anthoine Hubert was killed in Belgium. Last year, Romain Grosjean ran into a barrier at 160mph. His car burst into flames. It was over two minutes before he managed to emerge; a miracle that he only sustained minor injuries. One of the F1 commentators this season is Billy Monger, who injured both his legs in an F4 crash in 2017. He is a double amputee (left leg above the knee). He is also an inspiration.
Church leadership seems tame by comparison. It isn’t risky, when perhaps it should be.
In fact, I see a trend among church leaders to be fear-driven and extremely risk-averse. A while back, I wrote about people-pleasing. (Pleasing People Part One and Part Two). There is a corrosive aspect to people-pleasing which I didn’t address. Let me do so now by offering this question:
What will they think?
Indeed, what will they think if you take some risks? After all, those people sitting in the pews/chairs pay your salary. You wouldn’t want to upset them. So let’s just play it safe. Let’s just do the same thing over and over again, because some people might be upset by trying something new.
I’m not asking you to preach a sermon in your underpants this Sunday. And I’m not suggesting that you do reckless things for the sake of “being edgy.” What I am saying is this. We talk in Christian circles about living for one Person, and one alone. In Os Guinness’ immortal words, we say we live before an “Audience of One.” But I’m not sure that we live freely before our “Audience of One.”
We may not admit it, but many of our choices are driven by fear. We’re nervous about what people think, so we play it safe. We know what people expect, so that’s what we give them. A certain respectability is more important than authenticity, let alone vulnerability. It’s more important than listening to God’s Spirit and following where He leads.
I happen to be someone who enjoys risks. So I will concede that my personality informs my view. You may be risk-averse, so you’re breaking out in a cold sweat just reading this. But when you think of serving your God, it’s worth asking yourself this question:
Am I leading out of my relationship with God, led by his Spirit, or am I playing it safe because of my fear of offending certain people in my fellowship?
Only you can answer that question.
Trust your tyres
Finally, tyres. Hards, mediums, softs, super-softs.
In Formula 1, tyre management and tyre degradation are intrinsic to the sport. At the end of the Bahrain Grand Prix, with five laps to go, Max Verstappen caught Lewis Hamilton. He should have won the race, but he couldn’t quite keep the car inside track limits. His tyres didn’t have the grip, and in his eagerness to pass his opponent, the car slid just a little too much. By contrast, Hamilton had preserved enough grip so that he still had some left to fend off Verstappen in the final four laps. Verstappen is a master at overtaking; one day he will almost certainly win world championships. He deserves to because he is a phenomenal driver. But to do so, he will need to manage his tyres.
Four pieces of rubber that connect the car to the driving surface. As an F1 car goes round a corner at 160mph, it’s only by the tiniest margin that the car still remains on the road. One small mistake, and it flies off into a wall or barrier.
Drivers trust their tyres. They feel them. They can feel them degrade and they know how much grip is there, because as they turn, the car drifts. It drifts . . . but not too much. Great drivers have an innate ability to feel their way round a circuit. When they’re at the top of their game, they describe it as being “in the zone.” That’s when the great drives are done. Sebastian Vettel is no longer the driver he was. It is sad to see. But back in 2008, he drove one of the great wet weather races at Monza, winning in his Toro Rosso. He was “in the zone.”
No driver can win without trusting his tyres. No leader can succeed without trusting God. Great faith is the hallmark of a great leader. In Luke 9, Jesus sends out the Twelve. Here’s verse 3:
He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.”
Why did Jesus do this? What parent tells his child, “don’t bother taking anything with you for the journey. No lunch, no clothes, no bag, there’s the door. Off you go.” How irresponsible! What’s going on?!
Faith. Trust. Risk. Yes, risk!
Who will clothe you? Who will feed you? Do you want to lead a life in which you arrange things so you don’t really need God? Ask Corrie Ten Boom and Jackie Pullinger, two women who launched themselves into the world with nothing but their Bibles and their faith in God.
You want to talk about inspiration? That’s inspiration.
So trust your tyres. Trust your God to lead you, to be with you on the journey. A life like that is inspirational. It points to Jesus who took the biggest risk of all – giving up his life. No wonder St. Paul describes the actions of his God as “foolish.” (1 Cor. 1)
Risks often look foolish.
Unless they’re underwritten, inspired . . . driven by a Saviour who recklessly gave himself up for our sakes.