West Wing Leadership Wisdom S1E4: “Five Votes Down”

1. Personal life can fuel leadership – but the former must always be in a healthy, life-giving blend with the latter.
2. Relationships count. Invest in people who might seem insignificant – some of the five votes down are people who might seem insignificant but feel neglected. In reality nobody is insignificant.

3. The alcoholism which we learn about Leo and Hoynes living in this episode shows us that no one is immune from addiction. Get help, whoever you are.

imdb.com plot summary

When an admittedly weak gun-control bill the White House has been backing turns out to be five votes short of House passage, Josh makes deals and threats to several Democratic reps, while Leo appeals to Hoynes for help. Elsewhere, while working the bill, Leo misses his anniversary, which he tries in vain to atone for, but eventually his wife Jenny decides to leave him.

A series of blog posts in which, after listening to The West Wing Weekly Podcast and then watching the relevant West Wing episode, I suggest some mutually beneficial leadership insights from the episode


West Wing Leadership Wisdom: S1E3 “A Proportional Response”

1. Good friends and colleagues – like CJ and Leo – tell you what they think and then work to protect you, even when they disagree with you. Foster those relationships; make them your first port of call.
2. In your anger do now sin. Anger in itself isn’t sinful, but ut can often lead us to do is.

3. Leaders are held to a higher standard – both by God and by people. It doesn’t feel fair – especially from people – but it’s true.

4. Even righteous anger can be dangerous – listen to dispassionate and trusted people, willing to speak truth about the dangers of your course action.

imdb.com Plot Summary

After being offered “a proportional response” to the Syrian military’s downing of a U.S. military plane on a medical mission (and carrying his newly named personal physician), the president demands an option that will have greater impact. Leo gradually must talk him down, while Bartlet snipes at everyone, including Abby. The president ultimately agrees to the initial option, but is not happy about it. Charlie Young is introduced as an applicant for a messenger job whom Josh decides to hire as Bartler’s personal aide (note: he mentions being sent to Josh by Mrs. De La Guardia, who is later introduced in season four as Debbie Fiderer, who becomes Mrs. Landingham’s replacement)

A series of blog posts in which, after listening to The West Wing Weekly Podcast and then watching the relevant West Wing episode, I suggest some mutually beneficial leadership insights from the episode

West Wing Leadership Wisdom: S1E2 Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Series 1, Episode 2

1. Jokes can backfire – use humour wisely.
2. Your strengths (in this episode, look how Bartlet’s intelligence, specifically his Latin, alientates CJ) can alienate people if you get too absorbed in them rather than using them to the ends you’re called to use them for.
3. All of us have a past which accompanies us everywhere and could trip us up or affect how we see people (even someone as intelligent as Bartlet feels insecure with the Joint Chiefs); get to know how your past dogs you – and get help with it.
4. Personal involvement in a decision – especially in a crisis – can affect you for better or worse. To get to know which, involve people who know you well and whom you trust.

IMDB.com Plot Summary

Josh trumps a potential Democratic challenger in a masterful political move and then hires the challenger’s chief of staff and ex-girlfriend Mandy Hampton. Toby tries to warn Sam away from his friendship with the call girl, but to Toby’s horror, Sam seems intent on reforming her. CJ tries to spin the latest clash between President Bartlet and Vice President Hoynes. After an American plane is shot down carrying Bartlet’s physician, Bartlet’s response leaves Leo worried about the President’s response.

A series of blog posts in which, after listening to The West Wing Weekly Podcast and then watching the relevant West Wing episode, I suggest some mutually beneficial leadership insights from the episode

West Wing Leadership Wisdom S1E1 – Pilot

A series of blog posts in which, after listening to The West Wing Weekly Podcast and then watching the relevant West Wing episode, I suggest some mutually beneficial leadership insights from the episode. 

Series 1, Episode 1

1. When handling news about yourself as a leader, even embarrassing news, honesty and truth is best – especially once the gossip starts. Truth – even about a bike accident – robs embarrassment of some of its power.

2. If you’re in a heated interaction, don’t say what you’re dying to say. It may feel good in the moment, but it may also cost you everything – Josh comes very close to losing his job.

3. Know your audience; Sam looks for Leo’s daughter in the class rather than in front of the class – leading to yet more embarrassment for him.

IMDB.com Plot Summary 

The West Wing staffers are introduced as each learns via phone or pager that the President was in a cycling accident. Josh faces the possible loss of his job after an on-air insult of a political opponent, which Toby tries to prevent by having Josh make a personal apology. Sam’s fling the previous night with Laurie, who unbeknownst to Sam is a call girl, puts him in hot water, which he compounds when ineptly lecturing a class of 4th-graders about the White House and then asking their teacher which child is Leo’s daughter. Leo must deal with the fallout from Josh’s blunder, as well as 137 Cuban refugees who escaped on rafts and are seeking asylum. The president walks in during Josh’s apology, recites the First Commandment, and lambastes three Christian pols for not denouncing a fringe group.

After getting called in early in the morning due to President Bartlet having a bicycle wreck, the staff deals with the problems of the day. Josh faces losing his job after infuriating millions of Christians on a Sunday morning talk show. Sam learns he accidentally slept with a call girl the night before and then accidentally tells Leo’s daughter about it, placing his career in possible jeopardy. Leo works to convince the President to let Josh keep his job as Leo tries to make peace with infuriated Christian leaders.


Shadow sides 1: Frustrated and angry Moses

The first in a series of posts adapted from sermons about some great characters from the pages of the Bible, with weaknesses and frailties that we might find all too familiar. 

Anger and frustration are frightening. They suggest being out of control – either ourselves, or at the hands of others. They speak of abuse and violence, fear and quaking in the corner. Good Christians shouldn’t get angry or frustrated. They should let go and let God.

Or should they? What if anger and frustration, rightly handled, take us closer to Jesus, mean we’re more like Him, not less?

Take Moses, for example.

We know about Moses. Performing signs and wonders in the courts of a despotic ruler; courageously leading a fear-stricken people; not afraid to lead a wander through the wilderness; parting seas and bringing water from a rock; receiving stone tablets of law in the handwriting of God. We know about Moses. Murderer with a speech impediment; often angry and frustrated, dying on the doorstep of his destination. Despite his successes, hardly a model leader. Or is he?

Let’s focus in on Moses, for the time being doing what he should be doing. At the end of Exodus 24, we read about him heading up a mountain with Joshua. For 6 days he watches; on the 7th day God speaks; for 40 days he’s on top of the mountain, enveloped by cloud which signifies the very presence of God, receiving the law which will shape the worshipping life of God’s people. It’s written on stone tablets, apparently by the hand of God Himself (Exodus 31:18).

While he’s doing what a leader of God’s people should be doing – spending time with God, listening to Him, paying attention to Him, God’s people are getting impatient.

Where is he?

This is taking far too long (32:1); let’s do something instead of just wait.

Aaron, left in charge by Moses, is pressured into collecting golden jewellery; it’s melted down and shaped into the image of a calf. This is what the people choose to worship; this, they say, took them out of Egypt. It’s ludicrous, but no less offensive for that.

God can see what’s going on, so He tells Moses. God’s less than happy, on the brink of wiping them out when Moses intervenes and tells Him it would be better for His reputation not to do so, to remain true to His word to make a great nation out of them. Moses’ self-control is all well and good, until he comes down the mountain himself. He sees and hears the chaos around him; in his anger he smashes the stone tablets of the law in pieces; burns the golden calf and grinds it dust, scattering the dust on water which the people are then forced to drink. Stand in leader Aaron shifts the blame to the people in a ducking of responsibility reminiscent of Adam and Eve; Moses allows those still for God to show themselves, and the rest are slaughtered. Even so, there’s still a plague to come as a reminder of such a naked act of disobedience and idolatry.

Where does this leave us? It leaves us, first, with the reality of frustration and anger. Leadership of God’s people is no easy task. Any attempt to do something under God’s authority – especially an act of leadership – will likely be laced with anger and frustration. You  might even say it’s part of the calling; you can see where you, your church, your people, your project is and where they should be – and the distance is great, the blindness of the people on the ground so rebellious, so wilful, that you might just snap. God feels it, Moses feels it, so you and I will feel it.

Even so, in your anger and frustration do not sin (Ephesians 4:26). Do not go on a crusade that God has not given you; in your anger, do not run ahead of God and try to fix His problems for Him. He is more than capable – and just as angry, but not prone to sin.

Jesus does the ultimate Moses: He sees the sin, bears the consequences in terms of the isolation of people and the wrath of God – death, and provides a way beyond it in the shape of resurrection. Now He lives at the right of God, interceding, praying for His people.

So you feel angry and frustrated at the state of God’s people? Well you might; maybe you’re becoming more like Jesus. So leave the crusading and the fixing to Him, the perfect intercessor.

So often we think anger and frustration are marks of weakness. Too often they lead us into sin. Rightly managed they catapult us headlong to the arms of a God who knows only too well how we feel, yet still acts in love towards the objects of His anger and frustration – you, me.

We must be careful; anger and frustration can be corrosive and destructive. But in themselves they are not wrong. One way or another, they will carry us away. It’s up to us whether we let that be away or towards the one whose image we are made.






The gift of not being perfect

I’m tired.

That’s partly because I stayed up close to midnight to watch Arsenal’s inevitable demise to the liquid machine of Barcelona’s sublime brand of football. But it’s not the real reason. I’ll get to bed a bit earlier than usual this evening to make up for it, and all will be well. No, I’m tired in other ways. In no particular order …

I’m tired because I’m a new parent. We’ve been fostering 13-year old Mr K and 7-year old Miss J for around 2 months now. We’re told it takes 6 months-1 year to reorient life to a new reality like this. We’re doing quite well, all told, but  we’re making plenty of mistakes and learning plenty of new things. Learning and making mistakes is tiring. The earlier mornings are tiring. The dealing with the overflow of past traumas is tiring.

I’m tired because I lead a church, and it’s a tiring job. It’s never done, you never stop thinking about it, there’s always more I could do and I work more hours than most people know or believe – and I’m pretty good at protecting my time off.

I’m tired because I don’t live in the country of my birth. I’ve lived in South Africa for 6 years now, and it’s home – in as much as anywhere is ever home in my line of work. But I’d lived in the UK for 36 years before that; it’s how I was born and raised, the air I breathed. Living in a place that’s not that of your birth is always going to be a little destabilising; and especially so in South Africa, where as leader there’s the swirls and eddies of the country’s history and present threatening to sweep you away and grab your attention. The issues are so complex, so intertwined with one another, so hard to get a handle on. Add on that something is coming to the boil here, now; violent unrest is coming the surface once again. anger is surfacing and it needs to be faced, understood, listened to and acted in response to.

I’m tired by all these things, because I don’t do any of them as well as I’d like to. I try hard as a parent, but I fail daily. I try hard as a church leader, but I fail daily. I try hard to understand South Africa, but I fail daily. There’s issues that demand attention, articles to read, conversations to have – none of which I seem able to get to, all of which tire me out by their presence in my inbox, mind, newsfeed, book pile.

Then some words spoken came back to me. My therapist said to me, as I was becoming a foster father, that I’ll feel the pressure to be a perfect Dad. But relax, he said. You can’t be perfect – all you need to be is good enough.

Good enough. I can do that. Jesus calls it grace. I can be a good enough Dad; He’ll do the rest. I can be a good enough leader; He’ll make up the difference. I can be a good enough resident of a convulsing South Africa; He’ll bring the perfection. He’ll call people who’ll give to my foster kids what I can’t; He’ll raise up people within my church, and other churches, who’ll do and be what I and my church can’t do or be; He’ll bring forward people dealing with each issue and conversation that really matters. I just need to be good enough, to be obedient with what I’ve been given, to do what I can and not what I can’t.

Good enough.

It’s called grace, and it will mean I can sleep.


Lessons On The Way 10: On Confusing God’s People with God

Church can be bad for your spiritual health. It’s easy as an attendee to get all comfy and cosy, and to forget that there’s a whole other six and a half days a week for you to live out what you say and sing in those 90 minutes on a Sunday. It’s easy to get cossetted into a holy huddle of false sacred/secular divide, and keep the world firmly out there and us comfortably in here. These, and more, are the dangers of being part of the strange and beautiful bride that is the church.

What’s on my mind today is how easy it can be to allow the actions of Christians to harden my receptivity towards God. It seems to me that this a danger especially for those of paid to lead churches – not that it isn’t a danger for all of us, just that the space of ‘professional’ (much as we might hate what that word might be seen to imply) church leader is where I find myself, and I’m increasingly and acutely aware of the dangers of the job.

In this role I find myself in the centre of a number of odd dynamics. There’s the sense that despite being the one with training and experience and who is paid to do what I do, I have a roomful of ‘amateurs’ (in the best sense of that word – the root of it is ‘love’) who have no training and little experience in what I do but plenty of strong opinions. Like the fans of a flailing football team, there’s plenty of passion, some insight and some ignorance directed at the one full-time manager who’s around. Or there’s the way you become a focus for the projection of issues people have – with other church leaders from their past, father or mother issues, authority figure issues, God issues, other Christians issues and the like. Sometimes one finds that these can be challenged or called out; sometimes they can’t be because the person’s distress is too great or need too urgent. Then there’s the hours you work that aren’t seen, the prayers you pray that the one prayed for never hears about, the casual complaints and the tired jokes about working a day a week and your ‘one busy day a week’. I could go on.

All of that and more stacks up. I suit up my armour – on a good day, that God’s armour – and wade into the world ready for what it brings. However it’s easy for that armour to be a hard carapace that may protect me from hurt but also keeps God on the outside. If I’m not careful I’ve started to confuse God’s people with God; I know we say that I’m here to serve God’s people, but really I’m here to serve God. It’s a crucial distinction. You can’t serve two masters, and if you hang around church long enough (especially as a leader) it’s easy to confuse God with His people, my feelings towards them with my feelings towards Him.

I’d done that. It’s been a tough season in a tough job. I’d put a shell around my heart and soul. It gradually crumbled over the course of a week’s retreat and a good weekend at the church I lead until I attended another church on the Sunday evening (which we do often). I asked someone to pray with me, the shell shattered, exposing me to the loving, burning gaze of God in a way that used to happen regularly but hadn’t happened in years. God looked into me, I blinked back at Him, and the shell was no more. Well, maybe it’s still there a little – maybe it’s a symptom of our default sinful state that we always seek to hide in the garden just a bit; but I’m now graciously, freeingly exposed. Not healed, not sorted, not perfect. Just open.

How many masters do I serve? How many are in the audience? The answer should only and always be: one.


Also In This Series

  1. I don’t have to do it all
  2. How to make sure your church leader doesn’t turn into a psychopath
  3. The dangers and offensiveness of grace
  4. Tables and chairs are spiritual
  5. I’m (a bit) like St Paul
  6. Nothing’s that important
  7. It’s probably me
  8. The hero trap – what if I’m Goliath?
  9. The beginning and ending of spiritual warfare