Monday, March 26, 2007

a first eleven: leadership

Leadership is within the range of a lot more people than we realise. For someone taking their first steps into leadership I'd urge the following "first eleven" to be read - in this order...

#1 Nehemiah
The secret of this book is the way every characteristic of Nehemiah's leadership (and there are so many!) can be placed within a divine frame. This is the first basic lesson of leadership: we are only ever sub-contractors to God, the Leader. God is at work through a disciplined and focused and consecrated leader. No pyrotechnics like in Exodus. Nothing miraculous. Just a lot of hard work under the 'gracious hand of my God.'

#2 Ajith Fernando, Jesus Driven Ministry (Crossway, 2002)
Just what the doctor ordered! A gospels-centered reflection on leadership (and discipleship) from a Sri Lankan who stands aside from the North American adrenalin rush (but is also immersed in it from time to time) - quietly and clearly calling us back to Jesus. And typical Ajith - he does it with such a vulnerability.

#3 Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus (Crossroad, 1993)
Like #2, here is an antidote for the purely managerial/corporate approach to leadership with which we can so easily be seduced today. Based on the temptations of Jesus, this takes two hours to read and needs to be read every year by every leader.

#4 JO Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Marshall Morgan, 1978)
Sure - it is a bit dated now ... but it has been viewed as the classic all around the world for more than a generation. Arguably (and I'd argue for it pretty hard!), the most widely read book ever written by a Kiwi Christian.

#5 Henry & Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership (Broadman & Holman, 2001)
I keep being drawn back to the way this book seamlessly weaves biblical insight with 'secular' wisdom to create a pretty comprehensive book on leadership. Still my pick for a basic 'textbook' if I ever get to the stage of teaching in this area...

#6 James Kouzes & Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge (Jossey-Bass, 2002)
I will be forever indebted to this author combo. A decade ago, as I journeyed towards a job that was well beyond my skill-set and experience-base, a friend suggested the first edition to me. It strengthened my arm. It whispered in my ear that it could be done. The book is now in its third edition ... I rest my case!

#7 Peter Cammock, The Dance of Leadership (Prentice Hall, 2001)
I just find this interplay between 'skill' and 'soul' as the key to effective leadership so compelling. Leadership is not just about filling a tool box, it is about refining a character! He is a professor at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

#8 David Dotlich & Peter Cairo Unnatural Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2002)
A hobby horse I have been riding for a long time is the way a 'spiritual gifts' culture so often provides little incentive to work away at weaknesses - or to hear God's call to do something that we are not good at. Here is a book that identifies ten leadership instincts that are "unnatural", 'going against initution and experience', and which can develop us further as leaders. Its gotta be good for you...

#9 Max De Pree, Leading Without Power (Jossey-Bass, 1997)
Just the title will do fine! In a world where 'power' has replaced 'truth' as the currency of concern, the art of providing influence and direction without displays of power must be where it is at.

#10 Robert Banks & Bernice Ledbetter, Reviewing Leadership (Baker, 2004)
The authors stand back, consider the glut of books on leadership over the past twenty years, and provide a book-length review of what has happened from within a refreshingly biblical framework. It just has to be compulsory reading for every established Christian leader.

#11 Manfred Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique (Prentice Hall, 2001)
Established Christian leaders have been around long enough to discover the 'dark side' of leadership and just how sin and evil seeps into people (starting with us!) and systems. Not since #6 in 1997 have I found a book on leadership so helpful to my own journey...

Gee?! Am I already up to eleven?! There are so many more...

Oh dear - let's pretend that we have a '12th man' and a substitute fielder as well, OK?

#12th man?
Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell, Shackleton's Way (Penguin, 2002)
Just make sure you read it in during a 'drinks break' ... I started it in the heat of battle and the unattainably 'heroic' in Shackleton pretty much sunk me in cold and iceberg-ridden waters. But it is just loaded with insight and ideas to which I have returned for real benefit. The fact that it is a real story helps a lot.

a substitute fielder?
Walter Wright, Relational Leadership (Paternoster, 2000)
Here is a phrase that is as far from being oxymoronic as it is possible to go. They go together - but it is not always easy to put them together from day to day. A bit like #5, I like the way he moves from the biblical material (a heavy reliance on the letter of Jude) into the accumulated wisdom - from wherever - on what it means to be relational.

Well - that's where I am at just at this moment. I'd be interested in hearing what books others have found to be helpful, if you are so inclined! That will ensure that next year's 'first eleven' will be different...

nice chatting


Thursday, March 15, 2007

a first eleven: cricket

This intermittent 'first eleven' series is, of course, a tribute to the greatest show on earth (in what will be the greatest sport in heaven) ... the World Cup Cricket tournament in the Caribbean.

I could never ever try to rank my 11 most favourite cricket memories but...

What about cycling across Delhi to the Feroshah Kotla cricket ground one foggy morning in 1975 to watch Viv Richards hit his first test century (192*), spiced with five sixes before lunch off Bishen Singh Bedi?

What about, as a relatively fresh lecturer at the Bible College of New Zealand, returning very late to a staff meeting because I just had to watch Martin Crowe - that batting textbook incarnate - get a triple century ... only to have him tickle it to the wicketkeeper on 299? Surely God could not be that petty in singling me out for judgement :)!

What about a statistic to cherish? I love cricket statistics. Of all the bowlers from every country who have ever played test cricket since WW2 and of all the bowlers who have ever played One Day Internationals (and bowled at least 2800 balls in tests and ODIs), Shane Bond has the best strike rate of any of them - in both forms of the game. In other words he gets people out more often than any other bowler in history.

What about popping down to Eden Park for the post-tea session (paying just $5.oo for me + three kids to enter) and being entertained by watching Jacob Oram and Chris Cairns pelt ten? sixes in 90min off those poor South Africans?

What about listening, as a lad in the Himalayas, to the dulcet tones of John Arlott commentating on that first World Cup final in 1975, in the company of my cricket buddie on the staff (who doubled as my piano teacher - his name was F Sharp!) as Clive Lloyd thrashed 102 and Viv Richards ran out multiple Aussies with direct hits? Funny how my piano career never really took off... but then I never shared his admiration for Geoffrey Boycott either.

What about sitting in the 'V" in the stadium behind the bowler's arm at Eden Park with my father-in-law and my 6yr old son for the opening game of the World Cup in 1992 and watching the Aussie 'required run rate' on the scoreboard gradually rise out-of-control , handing a shock victory to a NZ team dressed in beige?

What about driving up from Invercargill to Carisbrook in Dunedin to watch the aforementioned (twice!) Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards be the only person in history to hit a hundred and take five wickets in a one day international game - and watch it in the company of 82 year old Henry Gardiner and my 3 year old son? We were quite a threesome that day...

What about those Air Points gained from a family reunion trip to the USA in 1994 ... 'Now let me see, where shall we go?' ... 'ah yes, the Boxing Day test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground' ... with the pilgrimage now completed, need I say more? Oh yes, there will be more! I have yet to watch a game at Lord's.

What about being stuck in a motel room in Queenstown with guests from the USA who have no (cricketing) soul and trying so hard to be sociable while Richard Hadlee was taking 9/52 against the Aussies on the TV in the next room?

What about watching the NZ team chase down 330+ against Australia at Eden Park just the other day - in the most electric sporting atmosphere I have ever encountered? An Aussie steps on the boundary while taking a catch. Was it a six? It went upstairs to the third umpire. Lots of deliberations and replays unseen by the crowd. Every eye fixed on the umpire waiting for his signal. Up went the arms signaling six and the crowd turned Vesuvian and StHelensian and Ruapehian ... and my daughter and I were part of the lahar that covered the ground that day.

What about (ah yes, I have managed to leave the best until last!) taking all my children back to India (25 years later), standing on a verandah in the quad of my old school, chatting with my coach Brij Lal and having him say - in the hearing of each one of my children - that my bowling was 'unplayable'? Ahh - the joy that flooded my soul. Clearly that 6-14 on a green mat laid down on the gravel at St Georges' was fixed in his memory!

if for some strange reason you got this far in the post ... let me tell you it's been real nice chatting


Saturday, March 10, 2007

inspiration vs aspiration

NZ Soccer has started a new magazine. It is called Goal! It is pitched at girls and boys. 12 glossy pages. Plenty of colour and images. No more than a few lines of words at any one time. Cartoon characters Zac and Lisa adorn almost every page. There are interactive quizzes and crosswords and 'spot the difference' exercises.

It is an impressive effort from the marketing department. They have done their homework. Everything in this magazine is designed to inspire kids to play soccer.

But I'd trade in all that inspiration for a single moment of aspiration. Hard up against the left hand margin on page 8 is a tiny photo of a little boy controlling a soccer ball. It could be any boy. But it isn't any boy. It is Ronaldinho, arguably the greatest player on the planet over the past decade. What is he doing there? The text nearby says it well: "Just imagine - if you keep on practicing hard you might be able to be as good as Ronaldinho."

This is more than inspiration. This is aspiration. Something is going on in that photo that goes far beyond the other 11.95 pages. Kids look at that photo and say 'this could be me'. His example seems so follow-able. If NZ Soccer succeeds in this new venture it will have less to do with gloss and cartoons and interactivity and spin and more to do with creating a voice in the hearts of children that says "I could be the next Ronaldinho." That photo achieves that goal.

I wonder if our world is afflicted with too much inspiration and too little aspiration. People are over-inspired. Like balloons we are constantly being pumped-up. We are bombarded with people all too ready to move us in some direction. What we need is more aspiration. More people whose character we admire so much that we want to be like them. More people who have gone up ahead of us and given us a target at which to aim.

I find Jesus to be an aspirational figure long before he is an inspirational one. He draws people to follow him. His Spirit goes to work to make people like him. It is called discipleship. The genius of discipleship is that it plays on our aspirations. And how can we become aspirational to others? I think the Apostle Paul was onto it ... when he said "follow me as I follow Christ." That is a difficult thing for us to say! Maybe we can just focus quietly on living it?

nice chatting


Monday, March 05, 2007

the lightning and the dawn

I remember dates. I just do...

Today is exactly 40 years since I knelt beside the bed of my afflicted-with-hepatitus sister in the city of Chandigarh (India) and gave my life to Jesus. 5th March 1967. I was seven years old. While it sounds like a decisive moment (and it was decisive enough for me to remember) I think my conversion to Christ has been more like the dawning of the day. The understanding and the commitment has been a progressive one.

I never really remember a time when I was in darkness. For years I used to be embarassed about this fact. Why couldn't my conversion be more like a lightning strike in which God moved me from darkness to light in one dramatic event? Whenever I was asked to give my testimony I stumbled around wondering what to say.

But there is an amazing grace associated with the dawn as well as the lightning ...

nice chatting


Friday, March 02, 2007

a first eleven: preaching

Oh yes, master changing techniques - most definitely!
BUT first be mastered by unchanging convictions.

Oh yes, learn to unpack the biblical text - most definitely!
BUT also learn to unpack your listeners, your world, and your self.

Oh yes, long for the Spirit's anointing on your preaching - most definitely!
BUT also acknowledge his inspiring of the text, illuminating of listeners, convicting of the world.

Oh yes, with illustrations, be a surfer - most definitely!
BUT better still, be a habitual watcher, reader, listener, and thinker about life as it flies by.

Oh yes, aim at transformative preaching - most definitely!
BUT not by minimising the role that information plays in the transformation which prevails.

Oh yes, use an abundance of images - most definitely!
BUT not out of a diminished confidence in the power of the spoken word to create something out of nothing in people's lives.

Oh yes, look to improve the eyes and the hands and the voice and the face - most definitely!
BUT nothing beats your own transparent and conversational passion.

Oh yes, aim at note-free delivery and maybe even walkabouts - most definitely!
BUT not at the expense of the clarity and depth which prevents it becoming a rambling waffle.

Oh yes, utilise the powerpoint slides - most definitely!
BUT only as a complement to good structure, not as a crutch for poor structure.

Oh yes, work with story-telling because it reaches where nothing else can reach - most definitely!
BUT don't minimise the role which propositions play as the rational spine to the story.

Oh yes, become an apply-er of the truth - most definitely!
BUT first be an even-handed explainer of the truth - otherwise you will pander to consumerist forces and truth will gradually be remade in the image of listeners.

Oh yes, may God set apart some readers of this to be preachers of his Word in the 21st century ("Please, Lord!") - most definitely!
And there ain't no 'BUT's.

nice chatting