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    • Living Leadership | Training, Support, Resources for Christian leaders

      Encouraging leaders to live in Christ joyfully and serve him faithfully Find out how we can support and encourage you today View our ministries Training Training leaders in character, knowledge, wisdom & skills Find out more Support Supporting leaders to live joyfully and serve fruitfully in the grace of God Find out more Resources Equipping leaders with quality biblical tools to help them thrive Find out more Upcoming Events Refresh Network Online Find out more Gospel-shaped Pastoral Care Course Find out more Latest news and resources The Vision Thing False Modesty Being the Bad Guys (Book review) Listen to our latest podcast episode Listen online

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      Our Associates - by region Back to all Associates Republic of Ireland View on a map Select Region England Northern-Ireland Republic-of-Ireland Scotland arrow&v Cassells Morrell Republic of Ireland Ministries involved in: Refresh One to One, Refresh Groups, Refreshment Days, Formation Seminars Find out more ​ If you can't find assistance in your area, do and we may able to connect you to other support. get in touch ​

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      Our Associates - by region Back to all Associates Scotland View on a map Select Region England Northern-Ireland Republic-of-Ireland Scotland arrow&v James Crooks Scotland Ministries involved in: Refreshment Days, Refresh One to One, Refresh Groups Find out more ​ If you can't find assistance in your area, do and we may able to connect you to other support. get in touch ​

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    Blog Posts (76)
    • Competing During Covid

      Editor’s Note: The following post is based on a short talk by Richard Underwood at PRC At Home 2021, developed and expanded by Richard Collins. Competitiveness in the church. The very idea is distasteful. ‘Surely not,’ we say, ‘aren’t we all on the same team?’ Of course we are. And yet . . . During lockdown, who knows what’s going on out there? It’s enough to get the mind buzzing. Perhaps when we return to the building, the churches we serve will be half the size they were before. Where have all the people gone? Who will pay my salary? Why is the church down the road filled with my former church members? Was this because my Zoom services weren’t appealing enough? (See my post called Coveting during Covid.) Today, some wonderful (expanded) reflections from Richard Underwood to address our insecurities. From the first moment I considered the subject of competition, my mind immediately went to John 13 – the foot-washing incident. It is well known to many Christians, and communicates so much about service and humility. But, as with many of the things Jesus did and taught, there are deeper truths to be mined. Three things struck me . . . Jesus serves out of a sense of his identity. I’m struck by the way that John emphasizes what Jesus knows. In verse 1, we read, It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. (John 13.1a) Jesus’ knowledge surfaces again a bit later. In verse 3, we read, Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal . . . (John 13.3 & 14a) The conclusion we should draw? Jesus acts in the light of what he knows. About his future. About his Heavenly Father. About his calling and destiny. In the gospel of John, we see Jesus’ relationship with his heavenly father most clearly, climaxing in his prayer in chapter 17. It’s tempting to conclude that Jesus, in his divine nature, just coasted through life. He was God after all, we say. But that’s not how he lived at all. Instead, he provided a model for us of what it means to trust God. And he trusts because of what he knows about his Father and himself. What about us? What do we know about ourselves? Our identity, to the very core of our being, is ‘in Christ.’ So we must learn to serve out of our identity ‘in Christ.’ I love the way Jesus describes his disciples as ‘his own.’ We belong to him. We are his. We are safe. We are treasured. How reassuring that is. When we see ourselves that way – ‘his own,’ we’re released to serve without strings. We have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. Competition is based on winning and losing. In sports, this is celebrated; in business, it’s the way of the world, but in the church, it has no place. Because we ALL belong to Jesus. We are secure and safe and our service is for him, and for his glory alone. That’s liberating. Don’t for a moment think that this self-knowledge insulates Jesus from the pain of his circumstances. John tells us that Jesus was ‘troubled in spirit.’ So . . . Jesus serves even when he’s under pressure. Here is the Lord Jesus on the threshold of his own torment. And yet he’s the one who gets up from the table and washes dirty feet. This virus has called us to serve others even when our own hearts are breaking . . . to comfort others even when we feel desperately in need of comfort . . . to strengthen others even when we feel pitifully weak. We must learn to serve even when we’re under pressure. 2 Corinthians 12 immediately comes to mind. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12.10). This is the way of God. In his upside-down kingdom, he lifts the lowly and humbles the proud. Here’s another gem from St. Paul: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him (1 Cor. 1.27-29). Serving God under pressure is impossible without complete reliance on his strength, his grace, his mercy, his life-giving Spirit. Pressure illuminates the heart. If we rely on anything but our God, pressure will show us up for who we are. So who are you? Whom will you trust? Where will you go when you’re struggling? It’s really okay to be weak. For when you are weak, then you are, in fact, where you should be – in a position to depend completely on your Lord. Last one . . . Jesus teaches us to receive as well as give. Perhaps this is the hardest lesson of all. It certainly was for Simon Peter. As Jesus is working his way along the line, we can almost see him drawing his legs up under his cloak. But he’s got a lesson to learn—he needs to receive as well as to give. In the biblical narrative, this incident leaves a lasting impression on Peter. In his first letter, he writes, And all of you must put on the apron of humility, to serve one another; for the scripture says, “God resists the proud, but shows favour to the humble” (1 Peter. 5.5). You can imagine Peter as he writes. He’s remembering Jesus as he was moving down the line, a swirl of conflicting emotions filling his heart and mind. He hadn’t wanted to be washed at all. Not me, Lord! But Jesus had insisted. And so he had learned to submit; he had learned to receive as well as give. Leaders are so bound up with their identities as servants, sometimes it can be hard to receive. But leaders are no different to the rest of the body. We all need each other. Indeed, we were created to need each other, to receive from each other, to pray for each other, to love each other. Love calls for openness and vulnerability; love is humble, it is not proud. In acknowledging need, we do not cease to be a leader. We become a leader who’s prepared to let others in. That’s good and right. So learn to receive as well as give. I wonder which of these lessons speaks to you today? What is God saying to you as you read and reflect? For these lessons are timeless and true. At a time when leaders are weary and under pressure, let us look to Jesus who serves . . . Out of his identity. Even when under pressure. And teaches us to receive as well as give. To him be the glory.

    • The Vision Thing

      What is vision? What does it mean to cast vision? Pastor Dave Ferguson describes it this way: Vision is the distance that exists between the reality of ‘what is’ and the possibility of ‘what could be.’ Let me start with some history. In the late ninth century, England was filled with warring Danes. They were everywhere. At one point, only Wessex in the south remained to be conquered. One leader stood alone: King Alfred*. He lost Winchester and was chased into a swamp. Alfred was a man with a vision. He believed that one day the Saxons would be united, drive the Danes from the land, and a country called England would be born. He believed this while his son was on the point of death in a swamp, and Wessex was overrun by Danes. Some might call that wishful thinking. It is not. It is vision. It sets Alfred apart as a great king. That’s why we call him Alfred the Great. Vision is communicated through our language and that language must concisely convey – in very few words – the reason why we exist. Where there is no vision, we are all just turning up and completing tasks and ceremonies. Where vision is weak and poorly communicated, our church members lose touch with the ultimate goal of their lives. Step forward what I call ‘the shapes and numbers.’ You’ve probably seen these. The Triangle. In. Up. Out. Our 4 values. Our 7 goals. There is nothing wrong with shapes and numbers. There is also nothing wrong with slogans – short, punchy statements which encapsulate what the church is about. There is a problem, however, when you need five minutes to explain your vision. That simply won’t work. Try telling me about the shape while pointing at a chart you’ve created, and we’re all looking at each other, wondering what’s going on. The reason is that the church has been around for two thousand years and the vision of the church hasn’t changed. It’s always been the same. Your job isn’t to come up with a whole new way of thinking. It’s to express the two goals of the church in precise language. Those two goals haven’t changed. YWAM managed it quite successfully when they came up with this one: Know God and Make Him Known. Six words. There isn’t anything else. You’re either equipping your people to know and love God better (discipling) or you’re equipping them to share the gospel (mission). That’s it. Your people are either getting to know God or sharing the whole gospel. That’s it. Perhaps you say, ‘well, Christ isn’t mentioned.’ You’re right, he isn’t. Shouldn’t we use the word ‘disciples?’ Sure, why not? YWAM hasn’t solved the vision thing. You too can have a go, but it must be clear and concise. Every extra word that’s not needed complicates and confuses people. The Three Musketeers are fearless, brave and united. Their motto is ‘all for one and one for all.’ Concise, clear and focused. Superb. The U.S. Marines have a two-word motto: Semper Fi. Always faithful. Its meaning? We fight for those who fight alongside us. Every Marine is committed to that value. Vision is embedded in the culture of the church you lead. All organisations, including churches, have cultures. A culture is ‘the way we do things around here.’ Cultures are the shared values, beliefs and behaviours of a group. The behaviours of the group are driven by the beliefs and values. Italians eat large meals with the family. Why? Because Italians value family above all things. So a new person joins your church. How quickly do they become aware of the culture, the expectations of what it means to be a part of the group? The vision statement, the words you use to cast vision are critical in creating that culture, because cultures are top-down. Your words – and how you communicate – will do this. You will either do it well or badly, but make no mistake, it will happen. Your vision – weak and ill-defined, or strong and clear – will come across to your people. Casting vision is an essential task for a leader because it helps create the culture of the group. Cultures are either strong or weak, depending primarily on the leadership. Top-down. Armies have strong cultures. The Sargent-Major says ‘jump,’ all the soldiers jump. Sadly, many church cultures are weak. People turn up on Sunday, shake hands with others, sing, pray, and leave. Others attend a mid-week Bible study, but that’s about it. Is that what you want? Because I guarantee you, your vision statement will never say: ‘Come to church on Sunday and talk to other people during the week.’ Sometimes all it takes is a little imagination. We’re just so swamped, we don’t have the energy to do any more than what’s in front of us. I get that. But there are things we can do to inspire our people. Have you thought about mission as a form of Mission Impossible? We’re going deep into enemy territory, courageously making contact with prisoners trapped by a wicked regime, which holds them captive. We are liberators, inviting them to take the hand of a Saviour who will free them, restore them to life and give them meaning and purpose. The importance of the mission cannot be overstated. It’s dangerous work at times, it takes sacrifice and dedication. Are you up for it? It’s the difference between life and death. If you want to get stuck in, you must be committed, and obey orders. Let’s go! Vision needs to connect people with the grand vision of why the church exists. We exist to make disciples. Now let’s go out and make some (conversion being the first step, of course). Discipleship and Mission – the two great tasks of the church. Let’s do it! Clear vision connects people with the why. It motivates them to live for Jesus. When your people lose the connection between their service and the why, they lose heart. The woman who still serves coffee, but constantly complains about everyone who leaves the sink dirty, she’s lost her vision. She’s still serving, but she’s forgotten why she started doing it. The man on AV, who doesn’t take direction and has become passive-aggressive, he’s just plodding along. He doesn’t know why he started in the first place. If you want to create a strong culture, in which everyone is inspired to live for Jesus with passion and energy, then think about how you’re casting vision. It won’t solve all your problems, but it is a vital first step. Creating a strong culture will take a lot more than just vision, but without it, the people will perish. They will lose heart. They need constant reminding about why they do what they do. Fortunately, churches have a culture of Sunday worship. Once a week, you have an opportunity to communicate vision, to inspire people with the why. The why for Christians is always Jesus. Show them Jesus, inspire them with how glorious he is, and you won’t go far wrong. Shapes and numbers will only help if they clarify the message. If they don’t, then ditch them. A leader with true vision equips the people to grow in knowledge of God, share the gospel, and do so right where they live. In Leicester, Perth, Swansea, Belfast, wherever you live. Give your people a vision of why your church exists, inspire them with a vision of Jesus, and . . . well, I as I said . . . You won’t go far wrong. *You can read his story in Bernard Cornwell’s wonderful Saxon series books, or watch ‘The Last Kingdom’ on Netflix. Cornwell’s books are, of course, fiction (Uhtred is a fictional character), and he moves some of the historical events around, but this series has a great deal of historical accuracy. Let’s just say I’m a fan. We are always updating our library of articles to equip you with resources for your ministry. This week we have added an article by Stephen McQuoid on Church Discipline.

    • False Modesty

      This post is for leaders with a tendency to exhibit false modesty. Me? Surely not. I rest my case. Let me start with a quote: Leadership has nothing to do with rank. Leadership is a responsibility . . . I know many, many people who sit at the highest levels of organisations who are not leaders. They have authority, and we do what they tell us because they have authority over us, but we wouldn’t follow them. And yet I know many people who have made a choice . . . to look after the person on the left of them . . . and the right of them. And we would follow them anywhere. And that’s what leadership is; it’s the responsibility to take care of the people around us, the people with whom we work. - Leadership guru, Simon Sinek What is leadership? Is it accomplishing a set of tasks? Is it casting vision? Does it involve serving people? Is it all about power? If you’re a leader, then it’s critical that you have a clear idea of what leadership entails. If you don’t, you’ll probably just wander along accomplishing a set of tasks. Sermons. Meetings. Public prayer. And that’s not really leadership, is it? In fact, ‘just doing the job I was given’ feels very much like the man who was given a talent and buried it in the ground. ‘Hey, I just held onto what I was given.’ A bit harsh? Perhaps. Take another look at that quote from Simon Sinek. He’s not writing about the church; he’s writing primarily for those in business. Isn’t it fascinating, though, that he sees leadership in terms of service and care? Serve people. Care for them. Two fundamental Christian values. (For more on servant leadership, see Paul Coulter’s article.) They underpin so much of what we do in the church, and they are vital if you want to be a leader. So far, so obvious. But there’s something in there you might have missed. It’s this sentence . . . We would follow them anywhere. Leaders inspire. They provide a model for how to live. We follow leaders. Your people follow you. Because you’re the leader. This is good and right. At times, however, I sense an awkwardness in some quarters about taking on the role of a leader. It leads to false modesty. Me? I wear the fancy dress but I’m just part of a team. I’m not even the most important part. Excuse me, Uriah, but this isn’t working for me. Not all leaders are like this, of course, but some are. I’ve met them. (If you’re a power junkie, this post isn’t for you.) In fact, it looks like there might be a biblical precedent. When Paul warns the Corinthians against following him or Apollos, it almost looks like he’s downplaying the role of the leader. We’re all servants, aren’t we? We’re all the same: I'm just revved up and sometimes wear a fancy mic/sport a funny collar/grow an evangelical beard, but I'm – false modesty here – no more important than anyone else. True and completely false. At the same time. Seem odd? It is true that we’re all servants and God does indeed value us all equally. We are all loved by God, all the recipients of his grace. But it is NOT true in terms of the influence we each hold within the community. As Peter Scazzero writes, As go the leaders, so goes the church. The head of the church is Christ, and our people ultimately answer to their Lord. However, it doesn’t follow that because all in the church answer to God, and all are called to be servants, the leader ‘is therefore just the same as everyone else in the community.’ Churches, like most organisations, are usually top-down cultures. St. Paul knew this. That’s why he wrote these words to the Corinthians: Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. 1 Cor. 11.1a Bold words. It takes courage to be a leader. Many people are watching you, because the culture is top-down. And in the church, people have high expectations. Perhaps you’re terrified of being seen as proud. Imitate me? That’s pride, isn’t it? Isn’t selfless humility the template for Christian service? Was St. Paul proud? I don’t think so. I believe he was bravely taking on the mantle of leadership. If you want to be a servant leader, or rather, as Paul Coulter puts it, ‘a servant willing to fulfil the task of leadership,’ then you must bravely step forward and lead. Accept that your life provides a model. That’s part of the job. Acknowledge that not just your expertise but also your character is under review all the time. Who you are is reflected in the life you lead, and that life, while observed by many, is laid down in service to your Lord. The only way to cope with the pressure which arises from a community’s expectations, is to walk the path of humility followed by Christ. Humility isn’t saying ‘oh don’t look at me. I’m just the same as everyone else.’ It’s being faithful with the tasks laid before you, honouring Christ in all you do. Self-deprecation can be very funny, but it’s not always honest. At times, it can even be disingenuous – ‘not me,’ which really means ‘please love me.’ So be honest. Stand up and be counted. Lead your people to their Saviour. Help them see him afresh every time you teach or preach. Be a leader whom people want to follow, because they see their Saviour’s Spirit living within you. As you imitate Christ, your people will see him more clearly, follow him more nearly, love him more dearly. You got it . . . day by day. We are constantly updating our library of resources. The latest addition to our library of articles is Is My Church Homophobic? - detailing lessons learnt about being part of the local church by a same-sex attracted christian.

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