Learning from women about leadership

I know it’s a little ironic, but I have been asked to lead a seminar about women in leadership. Full disclosure, I am not and never have been a woman.

I have decided to take the opportunity and to look for ways that women’s voices can be heard in the seminar. I am also hoping to co-chair the seminar with a woman. I decided to do the seminar because I believe in the conference that asked me to speak – they have a brilliant heart and a wonderful vision and also because I believe passionately that we need to empower women to lead at every level.

I didn’t always believe this; as a teenager a proofext from 1 Tim 2.11 was all I needed to close down the debate. I have learnt a lot about biblical hermeneutics and reading scripture in its canonical and cultural context since then. So I am leading this seminar from the perspective of someone who is absolutely committed to the infallibility of scripture and to women in leadership in the church.

I really want to include as many women’s voices in my seminar as possible and so I would  love your help. I have had some terrific responses when I asked the question on twitter.

I found the responses very moving and challenging (see below to read all of them) . Here are my reflections on the tweets I’d love to know your views – I am of course open to suggestion and correction. 

Three things I have learned so far…

1. Leadership Humility

I was struck by the gracious and humble tone of the advice. So many of the contributors encouraged patience and kindness towards those who opposed or rejected women’s leadership. I wish I could see more of this evidenced from people on both sides of the debate when they write about this subject – perhaps it is there but I have been reading the wrong stuff. Wherever we stand on this debate we need to approach this subject with grace and humility.  We are family together and  scripture calls us to be exemplary in the way we handle disputes and debates among us.  For those of us that oppose women in leadership we  need to recognise that the tone and language used to express your views can crush someone who is trying to follow God’s call on their lives to use their gifts. Leadership is often lonely and isolating and attacking someone’s honest and faithful response to God’s call is a dangerous thing to do. This is not just a theological issue : someone’s call to leadership is linked directly to their sense of identity. Similarly for those of us who support women in leadership we need to recognise that for those that don’t agree with us – this is often a question of conscience  for those who oppose us. It is a dangerous thing to ask another Christian to act against their conscience and we act carefully as we seek to persuade someone to change their minds. I was moved by the maturity and generosity of those who offered comment on my twitter question as they encouraged other women to be patient and gracious with those that stood against them.

2. Leadership Integrity

I found this tweet and many of the others like it very enlightening.  There were a lot of calls to be authentic, to be true to whom God has made you to be. I found these words encouraging as it is vital for all leaders to understand the right balance between knowing whom God has made us to be and how we live into that calling with the ongoing challenge of resisting the sin in our lives. 


Too often we overemphasise sin to the exclusion of our God given identity or we overemphasise our identity to the exclusion of the sin in our lives. Now some people will say we should find our identity in Christ and not in the role we have received from him and I do understand that. But the New Testament knows about the intertwining of call and identity – Paul writes:

” For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

1 Corinthians 9:16ff

I was moved by so many of the tweets that emphasised the need to be true to yourself in light of the opposition that so many women have faced to taking on leadership roles. It seems that many for many women leaders their identity has been challenged or dare I say oppressed by those that stood against their sense of call as leaders. I remember as a twenty something having a strong sense of call on my life to be an evangelist and a leader in my church telling me I should leave it aside and become a school teacher. I found it crushing that call on my life was being doubted how much worse it must feel to have large groups of the church oppose so vehemently so many womens’ sense of call on their lives to lead.

3. Leadership and Accountability

There were a lot of tweets that emphasised the need for support and accountability. For me that is where groups like Sophia Network have been so helpful . I loved the tone of Rachel’s comment:

I know that when I have felt isolated and criticised I have sometimes responded by  stopping listening to anyone’s advice or critique and to assume that I am always right – to become self-righteous. Rachel’s tweet is rich with wisdom encouraging us to find genuine friends both male and female to speak truth into our lives. Rachel; who has been a family friend since I was a teenager, is a terrific leader and   models the humility this tweet suggests.

You can read all of  the responses below:

(Photo was adapted with text but taken from JustArd’s lovely Flickr account)


Spirit of Paradox

It is not every day you get to meet someone who has helped to start a genuine movement of change and restoration.  So you can imagine my excitement when it came to spending time with David and Mary Pytches – the couple who helped to birth both New Wine and Soul Survivor.

david pytches

David and Mary returned to the UK with four young daughters after serving as cross cultural missionaries in Chile.  Unsure what God wanted them to do they looked for a base in Chorleywood, which offered education facilities for the girls.  David was hoping to learn how to run a parish from the Vicar, but the Vicar was about to leave and David was offered the incumbency.  David speaks about his sense of inadequacy and eventually set up a daily early morning prayer meeting.   From this time saw an increasing number of people added to the church.   Mary recounts how they faithfully retained the liturgy at the same time as being open to the Holy Spirit.

Learning that John Wimber was coming to York David suggested that he call in on Chorleywood on the way.  It was an unforgettable weekend.   Despite very different ecclesiologicol backgrounds John and David hit it off and became close friends.   And soon David was helping John to find organisers for the UK conferences.

I enjoyed being able to tell David how grafeful I was for the Brighton Conference in 1986, where a friend of mine came to faith.  He later stood up in our class at our rough and ready comprehensive school and shared his new found faith in Jesus.  This was Steven Whittington – a key influence in my becoming a Christian.   It was great to learn about a young youth worker from a Baptist church where had run an open youth club, until the local teenagers rampaged the church.  The youth worker was Mike Pillavachi, who later became the youth worker at Chorleywood.

David and I had this opportunity to meet after he had read my book “Paradoxology” –  Why Christianity was never meant to be simple.  David explained to me that it was the title that grabbed him as he had reflected for many years on the paradoxes of scripture which we tend to brush under the carpet, which means our Bible teaching has no real integrity.   David reminded me of Charles Simeon, a great evangelical clergyman and bible teacher who had said

“The truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme; but in both extremes.”

Mary commented on how we tend to cut God down to our size but ‘wouldn’t we rather have a big God’.   Interestingly we talked a lot about the liturgy undergirding our spirituality and both Paradox and Liturgy are things that James K.A. Smith has been arguing for recently.  Sadly many churches seem to opt either for intimacy with God or depth of teaching when there doesn’t need to be a choice.   Depth of true teaching should help us develop intimacy with God and our intimacy with God should drive us towards deeper teaching – it should be a virtuous circle.

David has kindly written a commendation for the reprint of ‘Paradoxology’ which is out soon.  It has some typos and corrections added thanks to those of you who spotted my errors.  The book will be even better  because of you.   David says:  “I have been looking for a book like this for the last fifty years and am so delighted to have found it.”

I came away from David and Mary greatly encouraged.  They are rare people who have experienced so much of God and done so much in His name, and in their seniority are still keen to bless others.

A sofa-isticated faith

With a major row brewing in the church on the assisted suicide bill in the House of Lords, the Evangelical Alliance is encouraging people to pose this and other difficult and seemingly contradictory questions about Christianity. Dr Krish Kandiah, executive director of churches in mission, is tackling the most difficult questions that one can possibly raise about Christianity in the next week when he invites questioners to join him on the ‘paradoxology sofa’.


“The issue of assisted suicide is engaging widespread debate on Twitter and in the pages of the national press. Rather than avoid these tough questions I want to encourage people to bring out their most perplexing queries and questions and have confidence to talk about them rather than hiding them away,” he said.


“Other tough questions being discussed are why God seems to sanction genocide in the Old Testament, why is there so much suffering in the world? Is God an egomaniac that he wants everyone to worship him? Is God racist that he chose the Jews to be his people? Rather than discouraging awkward questions I will be actively discussing them at Keswick.”
These are being discussed during week two of the Keswick Convention (19-25 July), where the his ‘Paradoxology sofa’ has been set up to engage people during his seminar series based on his new book Paradoxology: Why Christianity was never meant to be simple.(Published by Hodder).
He will be sporting a ‘Paradoxology sofa’ (whose upholstery matches the cover of the book) complete with matching cushions (which are printed with quotes of reviewers!). A prize is being offered for the best questions or paradox raised in a photo competition.
“It’s a bit of fun to help Christians begin to sit up and engage with some serious questions. I believe that Christianity is true and so we do not need to fear any questions but we do need to be on our guard against over simplistic answers,” he added.
IF YOU WANT TO TAKE PART IN OUR LITTLE COMPETITION SIMPLY Tweet a picture of yourself with your question and use the hashtag #paradoxology. The best picture / question will be sent a book bundle including a copy of Paradoxology.

Why are our hearts breaking for flight MH

With apocalyptic footage of a Ukranian field now filling our screens I wanted to try and reflect on why the shooting down of flight MH17 has had such an impact on us. I am thinking out loud trying to process what I am feeling and so am happy to have your comments and suggestions re-shape what I have written here.

It’s personal

I have many family members in Malaysia, many of whom travel to and from Europe regularly. My first thought was to phone or facebook family and see if everyone was ok. Our family suffered a terrible bereavement when one of our dearly loved Aunties was killed whilst on business in Mumbai in the Taj hotel. She apparently died of smoke inhalation alone her room when the building was on fire. We are all still haunted by how desperately sad her situation was and she is survived by her loving children who are studying abroad. In the global village with friends and family criss-crossing the globe this is a more common experience that these global events actually impact on us personally in some way.

It could have been us

I was trying to separate out whether it was just this possible personal connection with the events that has put a knot in my stomach. But following the reactions on social media, this awful episode has caught the imagination of so many people there must be more to explain this. I think the fact that most of the people that died on flight MH17 were Europeans who boarded an ordinary flight from a major international hub airport.  As Summer holidays begin today across the UK many families are boarding planes to exotic locations and so the proximity of these events rings true.

In one day 200 people were killed in Nigeria when a bomb exploded in a marketplace – this caused merely a ripple of media or social media interest – but to be honest I think that is because there is too much geographical, racial and social distance between most of us and the kind of people that lost their lives for the same emotional impact to be felt. Few of us are going to go and by our groceries in Joss for this to be impactful. Sometimes global events reach such dire proportions that they transcend the fact that they can’t possibly touch us – for example F16 bombers attacking a beach in Gaza where four young boys were playing or a Tidal wave wiping out whole Japanese cities or a militant islamacists abduct 200 school girls.

Another tragedy for Malaysian Airlines

This fact shouldn’t matter. There is no indication that Malaysian Airlines did anything unusual. It appears many airlines use the same route. Although questions are being raised about why so many other airlines chose to avoid this area and the extent to which economics played a part in determining routes instead of passenger safety. But the concurrence of two total loss disasters to one relatively small airlines makes this story particularly noteworthy. Business people have expressed a degree of sympathy with Malaysian Airlines for this double whammy.

Civilians caught in a War Zone

I wonder if the real reason this event has caused such anguish and will prompt global international outcry is because these civilians had nothing to do with the conflict. But civilians die in war zones every day. In Israel and in Gaza. In Afghanistan and Iraq. But these civilians didn’t mean to be in a war zone – neither do most people caught in conflict.

But you might argues that these civilians were not actually in the conflict zone they were 33 000 feet above it. But that perhaps is the symbolic challenge of the global outpouring of grief and pain towards those who have lost their lives under such terrible circumstances and the families that grieve them. Those of us who make up the minority of global citizens that can afford air travel often behave as if we are somehow detached from the suffering of poverty, injustice and conflict that are a normal part of life for so many people. Just as the terrible events of 9/11 showed the US there is no way to isolate ourselves from global conflict.

As the on board entertainment system displays a little aeroplane to demark our location as we cross the globe the people on the ground whose lives we are passing over are invisible to us. Its interesting watching the countries pass by underneath us. We cruise on by. Similarly the military personnel on the ground that spots a radar blip passing through the airspace above his BUK SA-11 gadfly medium range ground to air missile system. He doesn’t see impact that pressing a button is going to have on the scientists going to try and help end the AIDS epidemic. He doesn’t know that a family that a Malaysian family has already lost members this year when MH-370 went down will grieve yet another loss. He is not even present when the debris falls and the disintegrating plane and dismembered bodies hit the earth. So often the powerful make decisions that mean life or death for the poor and we  think can remain unaffected by the consequences.

Israeli airstrike kills 4 Palestinian children in Gaza

Human beings are not counters in a game of Risk. Passengers sitting on a flight are not acceptable targets. Children playing on a beach or people living in a certain part of Israel are not collateral damage for a political system or even an ancient narrative about land rights.


As a Christian I believe in a God who refused to play power politics like that. Who treated even the most socially marginalised people as worthy of respect and honour. Who showed mercy to the ethnic enemies of his people and indeed used them as positive exemplars. I believe in a God who didn’t look down at the earth as a google map but came and took on human flesh, lived among us, “moved into the neighbourhood” he didn’t drone strike or missile attack his enemies he healed their families and challenged his followers to love them. He didn’t breeze through places ignoring poverty , sickness or social exclusion but was constantly interrupting and being interrupted on his journeys to care for those in need.

At this terrible times our prayer and thoughts are with all those who are grieving the crew and passengers of the ill fated flight and for all those civilians caught in the cross fire between Israel and Palestine and in the conflicts in Ukraine and Nigeria.







Summer Reading 2014

Books are such a wonderful gift and what could be more relaxing and refreshing that using some of the Summer holiday to get some reading in. Here are some of my Summer recommended reads:

Goodbye to All That – Robert Graves

This is a fantastic firsthand account of life as an officer in World War 1. Graves writes very poetically and movingly about the both the horror and the madness of life in the trenches and how he lived afterwards. It is controversial as some parts of the account are contested. On the 100th anniversary of ww1 this is well worth the read.

1913 The World before the Great War – Charles Emerson


This is a very interesting snapshot of life before world war 1 , it’s a strange thing how cosmopolitan and civilised relationships between the various european nations seemed to be before all hell broke loose with the bloodbath of the trenches. This is a fascinating global tour.

The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism – Brian Stanley


This is a very well written and enlightening history of the Evangelical movement in the english Speaking world from the 1940s-1990s. (read my full review here).

Creativity Incorporated – Ed Catmull

Here’s the inside track on how Pixar conquered the world and then turned around Disney. Its an easy read with some great stories from life inside the world’s most successful animation studio.


Canada – Richard Ford



I loved this book it was my favourite novel of last year. It had me from the first sentence and maintained both beauty, depth and intense readability all the way through.

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green


This is a very good teen novel – it wrestles with intense questions such as mortality, disability, beauty and friendship. It is funny, witty and of course tragic. Haven’t seen the movie – am worried it will wreck the nuance and subtlety of the book.  If your teen is reading this – read it to. You will enjoy lots of it and it will give you a lot to talk about with them.

More than This – Patrick Ness


This is a great bit of science fiction – its a quick gentle read with some great ideas floating around. Another good book to engage the teen reader in your household .

Help Needed:

So now I need your help. I am looking for some good book recommendations for my Summer holidays. I’d love some good novels. I am currently planning to read:

To Kill A Mocking Bird- Harper Lee
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Cover Photo by Lightgrapher  CC

5 reasons why Adoption Sunday Matters

Last year we were delighted to have 200 churches take part in the UK’s first ever national Adoption Sunday . This year on 2nd of November we’d love to see 300 join in. Here are 5 reasons we’d love you and your church to take part.

1. Our adoption into God’s family is such a wonderful privilege.

I can think of no higher privilege than knowing that we are welcomed into God’s family through the sacrificial death of God’s own son. Strangely we hardly ever talk about it – here’s an opportunity to remind every Christian that they are adopted and why that matters.

2. The church is called to care for vulnerable children

Caring for the needy is not something that the church can outsource. God told his people what kind of religion he is looking for  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” James 1.27 (cf Isaiah 1 too).  So we the church cannot abdicate our responsibility of caring for those in need – particularly the most vulnerable: children and the elderly. 

3. Our nation has 6000 children who need a forever family

It is a national shame that 6000 children are left behind in the care system and deemed “hard to place” – as the adopted people of God  adoption should be at the heart of what we do as churches. Adoption Sunday is a way to put this need in front of the whole church.

4. We need to change the church’s imagination on adoption

Adoption and fostering is not on the radar for many Christians – its seen to be someone else’s problem. If we are going to help the church get a vision for finding families to step up to the challenge and also to help the rest of the church family to wrap around and support them. We need to expose people that don’t yet know they are interested to the challenge and opportunities. So by taking part in adoption Sunday we help to shape the imagination of the whole church on this issue.

5.  If we say we care about justice we must care about children in care

I am delighted the church is stepping up to engage with poverty through things like Street Pastors, CAP, Foodbank and Prison ministry. This is wonderful. There are wonderful examples of these initiatives leading to deep and meaningful relationships. But sadly sometimes this can be limited to a passing acquaintance with the poor when we serve them as clients at a drop in centre. Fostering and adoption takes things to another level where the poor become family with us. The poor stop being an anonymous passing crowd – but instead become little Jonny that we share our breakfast with, little Shabira who comes on holiday with us, or Ali who we help to find a job when he leaves school.

Here’s what you can do

 look out of the new Home for Good video coming our later in the summer – here’s last year’s as a taster.

– spread the word so that more churches get involved this year so we can find more homes for children that need them.

Will your church be taking part in Adoption Sunday 2014? from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.


This man is a legend

There are some guys you meet and you know you are going to be friends for a long time, Phil is one of those kinds of guys. He is the kind of guy you want on your pub quiz team not only is he brilliant at banter but he knows his 1980s music trivia.

Phil works as a teacher in his local secondary school. He’s an avid music fan and has spent his youth writing to music magazines and going to concerts. Phil helped to set up and run an innovative youth programme called Kidzclub in Liverpool which saw hundreds of children; many from challenging backgrounds coming together for fun, games and to discover more about the Christian faith. Phil’s wife Helenor works as a solicitor and for social services and felt called to make a difference with many of the children she was working with in her job by becoming a foster carer. Phil admits that he had no plans to become a foster carer but initially got involved because of his wife’s enthusiasm. 3 years in and Phil believes fostering is one of the best things he has done in his life so far. He gets a real buzz knowing that the love he is able to pour into the lives of the foster children in his care has such an impact on their lives. Saying goodbye as foster children move on to adoption is one of the toughest parts of the foster carer’s roles but when sadly one of their children’s adoption broke down Phil and his wife have decided to step forward to adopt him. Phil and Helenor are spreading the word about fostering and adoption by running a city wide initiative to encourage more Christians to think about adoption and fostering – called Home for Good Liverpool.

You can hear Phil speaking here:

Father’s Day 2014: You know what a foster carer looks like, don’t you? from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.


Phil is going to be on local radio stations across the UK on Sunday; Father’s Day speaking about being a foster dad and the Home for Good campaign. Tune in and cheer him on!

Local Hero

When I arrived at his house I had to double check the address. This was a very rough part of town and I was going to meet a High Court Judge. But Sir Mark Hedley is no ordinary judge. 

He has lived in a poor part of Liverpool for over 45 years having arrived  in the city i to study law. at Liverpool University.  Mark  became a Barrister in 1969 and right from the start developed a passion to help people who find it difficult to get access to justice. He helped to set up a free legal advice centre in the area and moved his family into the area sending his children to local state schools. He  sought to live out his Christian beliefs by living and serving in one of the less affluent parts of Liverpool.

He was appointed as a circuit judge for the Northern Circuit in 1992 and then he served as a High court judge from 2002 until 2013.

Mark and his wife Erica felt called to become foster carers and now have more than 30 years of experience. They had birth children that grew up alongside the children they fostered and they have ended up adopting two of their foster children who had additional needs.

I was impressed from the moment I met Sir Mark. Here is a man who cares passionately about his local area, who wants to turn his Christian confession into Christian service whatever the cost.

Mark breaks so many of the stereo types that I come across when I mention the words “fostering” to men. People seem to think fostering is for working class people or that it is somehow “women’s work” Sir Mark Hedley, High Court Judge and local hero breaks all of those stereotypes – maybe you should think about changing your views on who can foster? Is it something you are called to do?

Check out this inspiring film of men who are making a difference in the lives of vulnerable children. See here for more information.

Father’s Day 2014: You know what a foster carer looks like, don’t you? from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.

Social Media and School

Had a very helpful and interesting day with TISCA – The Independent Schools Chaplaincy Association.  We were thinking about Redeeming Technology especially looking at Social Media and the lives of teenagers. The teenagers in question are students in some of the most exclusive schools in the country and the chaplains are playing a very strategic role in the lives of these schools.

The day kicked off with an excellent talk on understanding the impolications of our belief in the Kingdom of God for online life from Rev Libby Talbot. I particularly liked her emphasis on the challenges and opportunities of new technologies. Libby had conducted a survey of the students at her school which yielded some fascinating results.

I heard a case study of how Romance Academy came into an independent school and ran a seminar on Sexting for years 9-10. The way they helped young people to navigate this new technology was to explain the statistics that say the average Sext is seen by 7 other people. This had a profound effect on the young people who saw the implications of their decisions making. This kind of common sense wisdom had a more transformative effect that

Survey of 140 students in a UK independent school this week

Which sites or social media apps do you use?
–       Facebook 80%
–       Youtube 63%
–       Twitter 22%
–       What’s App 57%
–       Instagram 70%
[ Notice Black Berry Messenger has disappeared completely!]

88% of those surveyed  use social media primarily for talking to friends.
72% thought that their social life was better when they used social media.
12% have been bullied online (18% haven’t been but know someone that has).
11% had sent or received explicit images from people they knew.

Next up was  a great presentation by Richard Moy who spoke about some of the safeguarding issues around cyber bullying and Sexting etc. Richard showed this video which is a response to the Look Up Viral video as a conversation starter.

I particularly liked the first hand comments that came from young people that Richard works with:

“Doing your homework on the internet is so great because it’s like going to the biggest library in the world right at your desk, but its also hard because the building that has the world’s biggest library also has the world’s biggest game room, the world’s biggest porn store, the world’s biggest casino, the world’s biggest mall and the world’s biggest lounge. Sometimes I don’t make it to the library”
14 year old boy

“Teens don’t want to tell adults about problems because they response from the adults is usually to block a site and then teens don’t have access to the sites they want to use for positive social communication.”
14 year old girl

My talk focussed on a political theology for Christian use of the internet – I am working on a paper on this and will publish it when its ready. I did get some useful feedback and comments from today that will hopefully make my paper more useful.

I began to think about the different ways that we use social media for different roles in our lives. What do you think of the following:

  1. Facebook – a live address book
  2. What’s app – more of a closed group
  3. Snapchat – instant / semi-temporary / personal messages
  4. Twitter – deemed impersonal by younger users but a good source of news and ideas.