Friday, December 25, 2015

on sailing, leadership and preaching

Yachting in New Zealand has always turned my mind towards leadership and preaching.

Ever since I read that Peter Blake's secret of success with winning the America's Cup was 'spreading leadership throughout the organisation', and wished that we leaders could adopt this mantra more often. Ever since I listened to Peter Montgomery's radio and television commentaries, and wished that we preachers could exhibit that same manner and skill more often...

The other day, as I passed through Palmerston North airport, my eye rested on Bill Francis' Peter Montgomery, The Voice of Yachting ... and I thought 'why not?'. The book was finished before I reached Sydney. Not so much because it is particularly well-written (the author's John Graham biography is much better) - but because it took me back to leadership and preaching.

Leadership is still there. Woven into the narrative are reflections from Montgomery himself on the prominent 'yachties' with whom he worked: Chris Dickson (91-93), Peter Blake (131-133; see also 117, 152), Russell Coutts (164-167; see also 152), and Dean Barker (197-199). The raw material for a captivating study on diverse Kiwi leadership styles is all there, especially when you add in the chapter about Grant Dalton (168-182). If it hasn't been done yet, there is a doctoral thesis here  - or, at the very least, an engaging seminar on good and bad leadership. After reading this book, my opinion of Dickson and Blake stayed the same. My opinion of Coutts and Barker rose. My opinion of Dalton dropped.

Preaching is still there. So many features of 'PJ' as a man and as a commentator transfer across to preachers and preaching - both with his manner and his skills.

With his manner...
There is his passion. He had 'the ability to bring (the America's Cup) to life through his enthusiasm and sense of excitement' (78). If mere yachting could do this to someone, why not the gospel? There is his warmth. 'It was like talking to someone with a smile on their face' (210). There is his rapport. He was 'totally relatable' (211) to his audience, willing to pitch his words to 'the little lady with the blue rinse in Riverton' (26) - the very lady most preachers wish to overlook in the pursuit of some sort of shallow relevance. There is his wisdom. He had the ability to win the trust of the central players (often at odds with each other) and build friendships with them, maintaining confidentiality always. There is his composure. I remember well his awful gaffe at the end of an Olympic rowing final. He stuffed it up completely. So embarrassing. He was vilified mercilessly by the New Zealand Herald among others - cartoons, editorials etc. But he saw it through (with the television authorities helping out by editing the gaffe out of the official version!).

With his skill...
In Montgomery's commentaries, we see the power of words. As a kid, Russell Coutts listened to PJ's commentary: 'What it did was create a dream' (152). We see the value of imagination. He created pictures with his words. People did not just hear things, they saw things as they heard them. Referring to the waves of the Southern Ocean as 'liquid himalayas' is one that comes to mind. We also see the importance of preparation. The cult of spontaneity is not the answer. His great line - 'The America's Cup is now New Zealand's Cup' - was totally and carefully rehearsed. 'He brought to his work not only the artistry of a rich vocabulary, but was able to complement his outgoing natural flow by the studied aside' (211). Ahh, the 'studied aside'. We could do with more of that ingredient in preaching.

One more thing. There is the signature opening line which Montgomery used as he contacted yachties in every distant corner of the oceans of the world: "How are you? Where are you?" (67). What great questions for the preacher-evangelist, probing to find a resting place for the gospel in every restless human heart where that gospel can live and transform.

Here is a piece of commentary from Peter Montgomery. It is from one of the dark days in the history of yachting: when One Australia sank in a matter of seconds...


nice chatting

Paul

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