Book Review: The Heart of a Servant Leader

This is the first Book Review I’ve done this year, largely because this is the first book I’ve finished since I started blogging again! In doing these, my aim is not to provide a critical “good or bad?” analysis, or to puff myself up by showing how many books I’ve read (it probably won’t be that many!), but rather to give an insight into what I’m learning this year. I’ll be focussing therefore on the key things that stood out for me from each book and helped me in my walk with Jesus, in the hope that they might be helpful for you too.

Having read a couple of excellent Christian books over the past few years with a number of guys from the CU, but not done much outside that, it was admittedly a struggle at times to keep going without the structure of a “one chapter a week, then gather to discuss it” model. Alongside this, The Heart of a Servant Leader has quite a unique style; it’s a collection of letters written by Jack Miller (I hadn’t heard of him either) to individuals he was mentoring, arranged into quite broad sections and covering a huge range of pastoral issues. As someone who feels wholly inexperienced in this area, I found myself reading just one or two letters a night in order to try and absorb as much of it as I could. That’s not a bad thing, but it does mean that it took quite a while to get through! Ultimately though, the truth is that I could never remember his exact response to each individual pastoral situation anyway, and even if I could, my experiences in real life will necessitate so much more of a personal response than any copy and paste answer, no matter how good it seems. Instead, here are a few helpful principles that stood out to me as I read the book:Heart of a Servant Leader

Prayer
Jack’s reliance on prayer comes through time and time again in his letters, as does his high view of its importance for Christian life. So often, it’s the starting point for dealing with the most difficult issues and the fuel to keep going during the toughest times. Jack is particularly bold in asking how specifically he can pray for those he is writing to, and for humbly asking for prayer from them too. I know that’s definitely an area I need to grow in.

Humility
Alongside asking for prayer for all kinds of different struggles in his own life, Jack models a gospel humility throughout his letters. He’s honest about his own faults and failures, but doesn’t dwell in misery, using his weaknesses to give the glory to God and demonstrate how God has moulded and shaped him through them. In speaking challenges to sinful behaviour, he never fails to offer up examples of where he too has fallen short and needed the truth to be spoken in love to him; alongside recognising that he could be mistaken and asking his recipients to simply prayfully and honestly consider whether changes were required in their own lives.

The Power of the Gospel
In the midst of such a wide range of pastoral issues, another highlight is Jack’s belief in the power of the Gospel to change any life and transform any situation. From missionaries struggling with the fear of violent oppression to fellow pastors whose churches have split apart, Jack remained convinced that the gospel was sufficient to provide hope in the darkest situation. For me, this was a real challenge for the Church to raise our eyes and raise our expectations of what Jesus can do with any person or situation; to reject a watered-down Jesus and embrace the crucified yet conquering Saviour.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Heart of a Servant Leader. Despite most of the letters being written at least twenty years ago, they addressed issues which are real and relevant for us in the Church today, and Jack Miller brings a lot of wisdom to what are often difficult and complex situations. I’ve certainly learnt a lot from it, and from him.

Regards,

Richard

Leadership Foundations 1

On Friday and Saturday last week, I visited Milton Keynes for the first time to attend the first training block of Leadership Foundations; the leadership and theology course that I’m doing this year as part of my Pastoral Internship with Oasis. It was a really great couple of days spent looking at the Theology of Scripture and Hermeneutics – or in other words, why the Bible is important and how we interpret what it says. In a topic like that, it would be easy to get lost in the multitude of complicated words and concepts, but Andrew (the course director and speaker for the two days) was excellent in ensuring that things remained accessible through creative illustrations, had real practical applications, and heavy theology was broken up with humour and frequent Q&As (and coffee breaks!).

Leadership Foundations 2014/2015

One thing that really struck me was the variety of people there. Some, like me, were freshly graduated and involved in part-time work with their churches, some had just arrived from different countries to move to the UK, some worked with UCCF helping students reach students and some had full-time jobs in all sorts of areas. There were even a few people who had been Elders of their churches for 20 years, and wanted to go deeper in undertaking a more practical theological course! From 20-somethings to Grandparents, men and women from all over the country, all united by a desire to hunger after Jesus; to seek more of Him and learn to love Him more with all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their mind, and all of their strength. Meeting such a mix of people was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to spending the next year working through some big questions with them! I also met a lovely couple called Martin and Ros, who I’m staying with on the Friday nights of the course. I definitely didn’t expect to be greeted by a full roast dinner (very tasty indeed), but am exceedingly thankful for their warm and generous welcome!

There’s fortunately a whole month now to chew over everything I learnt over the two days, along with a few assignments to complete, but I’m already looking forward to being back again.

Regards,

Richard

Unchanging

Having been back in Birmingham for nearly two weeks now, the roller-coaster experience of my year working with Oasis has well and truly started. Already, there have been ups and downs; times of great excitement, planning and dreaming for the future, tempered with the realities of personal struggles and the difficulties of adjusting to a brand new situation. In that, it was truly wonderful to be able to get some time this week to pause and refocus on what’s important. For a couple of days, I was able to join my Mum and Dad on holiday in North Devon – a 4 hour drive away, but definitely worth every minute. The company was (of course!) excellent, but more than that, the experience of being able to hit pause on the rush of starting a whole load of brand new things in Birmingham was just invaluable. In the past, on family holidays, we would often spend the time building sandcastles and ‘sea defences’ that would eventually wash away. For some reason, a foot-high wall of sand never proved enough to keep the tides at bay! Yet, in the years since I had last been there, so little had really changed. Certainly, a few of the shops were different and perhaps something of the cliffs had slipped into the sea, but the timeless quality remained.

Barricane BeachWoolacombe

The sheer beauty and scale of the natural world, so starkly illustrated by the Woolacombe coastline, brings with it a genuine sense of perspective. Though I might change, He won’t. Though my situations and locations and feelings might change, He won’t. An unchanging, eternal God. One who was here long before the coastline was formed and will be here long after the sea itself has ceased to exist either. Psalm 90, Verse 2 puts it very simply:

Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
       from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

So as I return to Birmingham again, and prepare for the influx of students about to come and join the city once again, I rest anew in the one who is unchanging, and return refocused and refreshed. My past, present, and future is wholly secure in Him. Look to Him, gain some perspective, and continue on knowing that I am loved by the one who reigns from everlasting to everlasting. Father, Saviour, Lord.

Regards,

Richard

Mountaintop Experiences

Last Sunday, my last day back at home in Waterlooville before I moved up to Birmingham for this coming year, I had the very great privilege of leading the morning service at Waterlooville Baptist. If I’m being honest, it didn’t start particularly well! As someone who isn’t yet very confident in the ‘hosting’ aspect, it was easy to become slightly flustered by the five or six notices handed to me to read out before the start of the meeting, and coupled with a difficult first song meant that ten minutes in, I was not feeling too great about what was ahead. Thankfully though, the next section of the meeting had a time scheduled in for a couple of people to come and share their testimonies of what God had done at festivals over the summer (including my Mum!). As I listened to the stories of God moving in some incredible ways, through prophecy, conviction, visions, the building of community and loads more, it was as if the weight lifted; I remembered the awesome nature of the God we serve, and allowed myself to return to Him, lean on Him more fully, and rest in Him. It’s a rather freeing thing.

The theme for the morning was Mountaintop Experiences (Based on Mark 9:2-19), and the talk is available to listen to here with the supporting Powerpoint found here. As a little taster, here’s the Word Cloud. Any guesses who the main focus of the talk is?

Mountaintop Experiences

If you get a chance to listen, I would really appreciate any feedback you might have – so please do feel free to leave comments here or drop me a message. This is all still relatively new for me, and I’m always looking for ways to grow and develop my speaking for the future. Thanks!

Regards,

Richard