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There were guides, and then there was Angus MacDonald.  

In his twenty years as a guide into the New Territory he had never lost a charge.  A mountain man’s mountain man, he was a skilled tracker, scout, and a sure hand with medical attention as well.  He did not hurry stragglers beyond their abilities, nor did he abandon the weak.

For the past five years, his son, Rory had joined him in bringing migrants across the hill country.  This only added to his reputation, as he no longer halted full parties in order to wait for the dawdlers, but would send his son on with the main party while he awaited the slow movers.

Angus MacDonald began his adult life as a up-land shepherd, and while his flock might have changed, his stewardship never did.




Lessons in Leadership


Much of what I know about leadership dates back to over three decades ago when I was an NCO. But each of those principles has been reenforced over the last couple of weeks when I, in my role as an Area Director for an international speakers’ club, organised and put on a humorous and extemporaneous speech contest.

It has been said that true leaders bring out the talents of others.  If this is the case, I must be one of the most outstanding leaders of this century.  While the first point may well be true, the second is ultimate exaggeration. What I did have in the past few weeks was a group of dedicated, supportive, and already talented people who were willing to give of their time and knowledge, to put together a great programme, and in so doing made me look like I knew what I was doing (even when I was still finding my way).

It is such teamwork, in which each member is working to a shared goal (in this case an entertaining and well run contest) that makes the difference.  Leaders need to remember this above all else, “it isn’t about you!” It is about the goal, and about those going on the journey with you.  Every leader is only as good as those that follow.  If you lord over, if you are “the boss” then they will not so fervently follow.  If one is not followed, then you ARE NOT leaders.

I am thankful and blessed for all who worked with me on this competition.  The success is yours! I could not have done it without you.



Leading From the Middle


While I am a good student, and a competent academic, I have never really been a “high flyer (nor have I aspired to be).  I was a non-commissioned officer in the forces, vice chair of several civic and professional organisations; and when I have held roles such as “President” or “Director” it has always been at a “middle” tier of a larger organisation.

Put simply, I am very experienced at “middle management.” Being in the middle is a challenge, but also a blessing.  Okay, on the down-side you are expected to carry out the plans and wishes of those higher up the organisation. You are limited at times in your own initiatives, by the protocols and requirements of the system.

That said, middle leaders have more of an interaction with the “rank and file.” You get to celebrate in their triumphs and accomplishments, not just the meeting of the “bottom line.”

Middle leaders, when they truly lead, motivate and inspire. They enjoy loyalty and a sense of purpose. But how do you get to that point?

First, is the realisation that true leaders don’t command, but by definition are followed.  It is not “standing behind” or “dictating from upon high” but showing the way.  It is sharing your vision, and taking part in the process.

This balance is often missed by those who aspire to “management” (and often by organisations themselves). I remember when I was in the service, we were putting up a command post tent. It was a windy day, and the canvas was whipping around.  I reached out to grab a pole to help steady it, just as the battalion commander came past. He actually scolded me! “You aren’t a worker bee any more.” Here I was a middle ranked NCO helping to get the job done, and supporting my guys.  This was a great middle management learning experience. Why?  It taught me how to lead from the middle.  I responded “Aye, aye that, Sir.” Delegated someone to take the pole.  Then after he had passed drove some tent stakes.

A second lesson was that “stuff” flows down hill.  As a middle manager I have always taken the approach that (unless it is really bad, or outside my skill base to deal with) the shortcomings of my team are my issue.  I never, unless as noted above, flag the flaws of my followers “up hill.” Yet, I always praise them upwards. In a similar fashion, criticism from above rests on me, not my team. Yet, compliments from “above” always get to those who deserve them.

It in the end is not “about me.” Jesus had said “He who wants to be first, should be a servant.” This really fits the “leader” model. Serve, and you will be followed. I have come across this management advice in the scripture (as above), in union leadership “It is about the “Rank and File,” and in Toastmasters training I received yesterday, “It’s about the members.”

Leaders need always remember this. You are not a leader if no one follows. Position and title are empty without their organisation/cause being successful.


Harmony: A Heart for Worship

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Pastor Joe, our worship leader, asked me some time ago if I could prepare a lesson on worship for the worship team.  So after some delay, here we go.

In the Temple of Jerusalem the devotions and worship of the people of Israel were led by the priests and the Levites. While the analogy is imperfect, we today have a similar arrangement with pastors and evangelists leading the ministry of the word, and worship leaders, choir directors, and worship teams guiding the “praise.”

I will deviate here for clarification purposes. As I have already noted the analogy is imperfect.  While in the Catholic, Orthodox, and “high” Protestant churches, there still is a distinct sacramental role in which “priest-craft” is mandated, most evangelical churches, and those based on the fundamentals of the scriptures hold to a “priesthood of all believers.” It is in this sense that those proclaiming the Word, and those focusing others on praise are all fulfilling the “priestly role” of being a bridge between the divine and the world.

That said, the role of those leading the music, devotional readings, and other outward expressions of faith (dance, drama, and even the decoration and craft of the meeting house) are “Levites” in their duties.

Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, that the believers should “speak[ing] to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).”

Speaking in Psalms is an interesting starting place.  A psalm simply put is a prayer set to music.  The term itself is drawn from a Greek root “to pluck.” The book which bears that name in Hebrew is Tehillim “praises,” [but contains hymns and songs as well]. One of these (number 100) encapsulates this meaning wonderfully, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.  Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing (verses 1 and 2).”

This 100th Psalm leads us to hymns.  These are odes or songs in praise of God. Originally a Greco-Roman concept in praise of the gods of Olympus or the Capitol, its meaning is still clear – “Singing the glory of the Divine.”  While psalms bear a connotation of praying accompanied by “the twanging of a harp” and thus possibly a solo presentation as well as a communal one, Hymns (and chorales) are intended to be communal.

Spiritual songs are as they suggest musical expressions which uplift the congregation either as individuals or a body.  These may reflect on our Christian walk, on our relationship to the family and to God, or to scriptures. Many of these scriptural ones are powerful.  Two of my favourites which illustrate their application are I John 4: 7-8 and Sister Janet Mead’s  rendering of the Lord’s Prayer.

But much can also be learned in reflection of the final phrase of the Ephesian passage,  “make music (melody) from your heart to the Lord.”  This musicality whether skilled or raw is an act of the heart.  It should never become mere performance!

So, whether congregational reciting of psalms (via Psalters, or more modern renderings), hymns and “songs of praise,”  or reflective spiritual reflections – the praises of a church are an uplifting expression of faith.  Those who lead and guide these efforts are every bit as much “ministers” (servants) of the flock as are the pastors, teachers, and evangelists.

King David saw this and applied the skills of the Levites to further the worship of God, In 1 Chronicles 25 we see,

“King David and the leaders of the Levites chose the following Levite clans to lead the worship services: Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun. They were to proclaim God’s messages, accompanied by the music of harps and cymbals. This is the list of persons chosen to lead the worship, with the type of service that each group performed: . . .The six sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah. Under the direction of their father they proclaimed God’s message, accompanied by the music of harps, and sang praise and thanks to the Lord. The fourteen sons of Heman: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel, Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, Romamti Ezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, and Mahazioth. God gave to Heman, the king’s prophet, these fourteen sons and also three daughters, as he had promised, in order to give power to Heman.  All of his sons played cymbals and harps under their father’s direction, to accompany the Temple worship. And Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under orders from the king. All these twenty-four men were experts; and their fellow Levites were trained musicians. There were 288 men in all.  To determine the assignment of duties they all drew lots, whether they were young or old, experts or beginners (verses 1 – 8).

These leaders of worship were also “workers worthy of their hire,” as 1 Chronicles 9: 33 notes, “Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night.” I was talking to a brother recently who seemed surprised that worship leaders could do it as “a job.”  Yet, here we have in the scriptures a sound precedent. Even if unpaid (or merely as an expression of their own devotion) these guides to our praises are worthy of our thanks, and recognition.

The body has many parts (1 Corinithians 12), and each has its role and importance.  For those who are called to be leaders in praise, whether in music, word, or dance, do so making the “melody in your heart.” For those of us who follow, let us share in their melody, and together live and praise in harmony.


When Candles Became Food


There are harrowing tales of beseiged people resorting to the consumption of candles in places such as Londonderry and Leningrad.  Such despiration should be wept at, and the plight of civilian populations in wartime lamented.

This particular account of candles as food, however, is not one of desperation in warfare, but of political expediency and of a civil power struggle. It occurred in Cambridge in 1628, and was one of the most marked clashes between “Town and Gown,” to take place there.

The Vice-Chancellor, Henry Smyth D.D., had set the price of candles at 4 1/2 d. per pound. Four of the town’s chandlers exceeded this price and were summarily arrested. The chandlers had the support of the mayor John Sherwood, and were subsequently freed by the Court of Common Pleas.  The court ruled that while it was accepted that the university had control of the price of food within Cambridge, this power did not extend to candles, as they were not “victuals.” Candles therefore were not within the Vice-Chancellor’s control, and the arrests then were invalid.

The situation was not settled, however, and the university soon petitioned the king on the matter.  The result of this was a ruling by the Privy Council that candles were indeed victuals. By order of the Council, the mayor, civil bailiff, and the chandlers were to publicly admit fault and were to pay whatever fine the Vice-Chancellor set. What was ultimately at issue here was the matter of “University Privilege.”*

Tallow (and to a lesser extent bees’ wax) candles are edible, and as I noted in the opening paragraph, people in extreme hardship have been driven to consuming them.  But what we have here really is the assertion and misuse of power and influence, not a matter of survival.

Such tales of abused privilege are not unfamiliar to us, but does “might make right?” Jesus said that “The greatest among you will be your servant (Matthew 23:11),” and  “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all (Mark 9:35).”

True authority does not come from forcing others to obey your rules, but guiding them to share your vision.  “The greatest leaders” said Ken Blanchard, “mobilize others by coalescing people around a shared vision.” Is our vision today one of power or of purpose? Is it one that makes food of candles, or one that truly serves.


* See J. Miller Gray, Biographical Notes on the Mayors of Cambridge, n.p. 1922, p. 35; and Rowland Parker, Town and Gown: The 700 Year’s War in Cambridge, Cambridge: Patrick Stevens, 1983, pp.126-127.

The historical portion of this blog is from my booklet, A Gentleman’s Guide to Fayre Cambridge

Motivating People

Last night I gave a presentation at Toastmasters on motivating people as an aspect of excellence in leadership. Different people are motivated by various things such as money, personal growth, love, fame, or praise.  For many of us it is money that makes us get out of bed in the morning (well we do have to pay the bills), it is seldom the thing that drives us to “do our best,” however.

In my years as an educator I have learned that the most effective motivating factors have been praise and appreciation. People like to be liked.  Giving praise for their efforts is a great motivator. In education assessment takes two general forms: Formative (that which shows a way forward), and Summative (that which evaluates the finished product).

Praise and encouragement can follow the same pattern. When we see someone beginning to develop we can encourage them by noting it.  These words of praise should be deserved, however.  Praise for praise sake is flattery and really doesn’t advance people.  It is kind of empty.  As a leader we should look for opportunities to congratulate progress.  Formative praise need not stand alone if we want growth to occur, but when instructive criticism is given, it should be sandwiched between points of success.

Summative praise and reward can take several forms.  Recognising the accomplishment of a task is a great reinforcer of motivation.  Success leads to success.  If we acknowledge and reward in tangible ways the successful completion of a project, our team(or charges) will be more likely to seek to replicate it in the future.

Recognition is not the only motivating factor that we can bring to our leadership skills.  We can also motivate by creating challenge.  Most people when given incremental challenges, will seek to rise to them.  It is up to leaders to see the strengths and skills of people in order to best place them for success.

So how do we motivate others?  Encourage and praise developmental successes. Give more challenge as skills and competences are mastered. Position people where they are most likely to succeed. Then reward in a tangible way the successful outcomes.  It may not be rocket science, but it is good people skills.


Nine Great Quotes on Christian Leadership


For those in leadership positions within the church, there are often challenging times, whether from the “pressure of the job,” the burden of care, or loneliness (yes, leadership can be lonely).  Here are a few great quotes that reflect on the role and burden of leadership.

The Role:

Leadership isn’t about titles. It’s about character.

 1. “Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.” Brian Tracy

Leadership requires overcoming the burdens and frustrations we meet.

2.  “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” Publilius Syrus

Leaders need to know where the are going and what their goals are.

3. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

Leadership is about sharing that vision, and reaching the desired outcomes.

4. “The greatest leaders mobilize others by coalescing people around a shared vision.” Ken Blanchard

Just because you are the leader, doesn’t mean you’re “the boss.”

5. [T]he rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Matthew 20: 25b-26

The Burden:

You are not alone in feeling the pressure. The apostle Paul wrote,

6.”Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” 2 Corinthians 11:28

You can’t do everything yourself.

7. “The first rule of management is delegation. Don’t try and do everything yourself because you can’t.” Anthea Turner

Remember even Jesus delegated.

8. “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. …So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.” Luke 9:1-2 & 6

Better still, even though leadership may be lonely, you are never alone! Jesus said,

9. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 20b









Building Those That Build


Ralph Nader has said, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” Okay, don’t get me wrong here, it is an expectation for all the people of God to make disciples (Matthew 28:19).  But for those within leadership, there is a need to lift up and train up new leaders.  Otherwise we have stagnation, and without new generations of leaders – decline.

Pastors, elders, and teachers have a grave duty to guide the church.  This is an awesome responsibility, and I use the term in its true meaning. We should be in awe of the task before us. Paul writes to Titus these words, “Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:7-9).”

These builders and defenders of God’s church are but one part of the body, however.  Their role (worthy of honour as it is) is just one aspect of Christ’s body’s work. I Corinthians 12: 12 reads, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

How wonderful that the body is so diverse. Each has their place, each their importance.  But, with that said, the aforementioned pastors, elders and teachers have the burden of challenging and promoting the growth of others.  They are the builders of others, the nurturers, and the guides.

But, this at times is a lonely place to be.  Yes, leadership teams do help.  They give some relief by sharing the burden, but I well know from experience that it is still at times “remote” to be a leader. Who do you, as the encourager, turn to when discouraged?  Where do you find strength, after strengthening others?  Yes, the short answers are, to and from the Lord.  He is sufficient.  But not only sufficient, He is wise!

The evidence for this (if any is needed) is found in I Thessalonians 5:11-12 “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. But we request of you, brethren that you appreciate those who diligently labour among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction.” God’s word calls us to appreciate and encourage those who labour among us.

We as a body should and do encourage (literally “give courage to”) one another.  But as we enter this new week, let us not forget that our leaders and fellow workers need encouragement as well.  When was the last time you sent a random thank you note to your pastor?  When did you last enquire on their week?  Let us build up the builders.



Connect, Don’t Offend!

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One of the (in my opinion) sad commentaries on our society is the free disregard of conventions of politeness used in comedy.  Many leading stand-up acts are filled with the gratuitous use of profanity.  Sexual swear words abound, and while they elicit a laugh, in many cases this comes from the shock value, and often it is more a nervous laughter than a joyful one.

Even Billy Connolly, whose act include such quips as “I felt as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit,” has noted, “I’ve always been fascinated by the difference between the jokes you can tell your friends but you can’t tell to an audience. There’s a fine line you have to tread because you don’t know who is out there in the auditorium. A lot of people are too easily offended.”

Speakers (including comedians) are in the business of entertainment.  If you are offending, you have limited your entertaining.  This is even more pronounced for informational and business communications.  “To inform and entertain” should be the watchwords.

Many have observed that audiences generally only retain three or four points from a presentation.  Do you want that to be an off-coloured joke, or a main selling point of your proposal or product line? Israelmore Ayivor has said, “Be polite in your speeches. Good information rudely communicated will make no positive difference.” How correct he is!

I am not saying you shouldn’t use humour, nor am I saying you need to present yourself as some sort of mid-Victorian prude.  What I am saying is show respect.  Know your audience. Value them, and they will value your message.


[A side note: While my public speaking posts are focused on oratory (including preaching and business presentations), many of the principles apply to the written word as well.]