Fathers and Mothers as Leaders: Shouting Yes!

Whilst I continue to work on a post in which I attempt to describe the transition from son and daughter to father and mother based on Richard Rohr’s life changing book Falling Upward – a task that is proving to be more of a project than I had imagined (why do I do this to myself!) – I wanted to seize the moment and respond to an excellent blog written by Louise Gregg a wonderful friend and fellow traveller with whom Sarah and I have had the privilege of journeying for many years as family.

Here’s a link to Louise’s blog: The Yes of Fathers and Mothers

In her blog Louise does a brilliant job of describing what it feels like to have fathers and mothers in her life, her parents but also others whose presence “shouts yes” over her life. Amongst the beautiful picture Louise paints of what it means to be fathered and mothered it is this idea that so captured my heart.

It strikes me that as children begin to explore the world around them the word they hear most often from their parents is “no!” The emphasis being on “don’t” – don’t do this, don’t do that. Louise’s post reminds me that the Father’s voice over Jesus when he said “this is my son, I love him, with him I am well pleased” was a massive yes!

My point is this, fathers and mothers as leaders may start out with “no” and “don’t” but ultimately they become known for shouting “yes”” and “go for it!” Interestingly Louise suggests this “yes” isn’t just expressed in words but is expressed by their relentless and reassuring presence in the lives of sons and daughters as they journey. Fathers and mothers as leaders communicate to sons and daughters through relationship “whatever risks you take and whatever mistakes you make you are never alone”. The Father puts it this way – I will never leave you or forsake you!

Great blog Louise. You are not only a gifted and anointed singer, song writer and worship leader, you are a great writer! Thank you for contributing to my journey. Keep pursuing your dreams. Yes!

Fathers and mothers as leaders: Scott and Taylor Swift

As regular readers will know I’m in the middle of a series in which I’m writing about leaders as fathers and mothers and fathers and mothers as leaders. In starting this series I had envisaged some guest blogging. This week the opportunty presented itself earlier than expected in the form of a Facebook post by my son-in-law James who joined in the discussion with some reflections on Taylor Swift!

I will resist (for now) the temptation to comment on James’ briliant contribution to the discussion as I want it to speak for itself.

What I will say by way of introduction is that it’s thrilling to me that in writing about generations running together James and I get to model something of what it means for the hearts of fathers and sons to be turned towards one another. In this case, it means dialogue as we learn to understand and appreciate each other’s point of view, contribute to each other’s journey and cheer each other on as we run alongside not against each other.

James thanks for taking the time and making the effort to bring my rather dry conceptual points to life so well. You were right when you said your post should be on a blog page. Thank you for allowing me to fix that.

Over to you and your Facebook post  ….

This is a completely random status and possibly should be on a blog page, but at the moment I’m not prolific or consistent enough to be in the same bracket as Mark – with a proper page and everything, so Facebook will do for the moment!

It will come as no surprise to those of you who know me well that I’m somewhat of a Taylor Swift fan (perhaps a surprise to those who don’t). My wife and sister mock me endlessly when I try and protest that it’s because I really appreciate the song-craft and production values (which is actually the truth of it) but they don’t seem to take that as given – unfair! I do, however, think that she is one of the far more talented and authentic songwriters of recent years to have achieved a very high level of success.

I recently read a really interesting article about her background, and more specifically her Dad. Her father is named Scott Swift, who is a stock broker and formed the ‘Swift Group’ – a very successful financial advisory group that are part of Merill-Lynch.

This information in itself isn’t really what impressed upon me, and it’s even possible to feel a little cynical about her success knowing these facts. What most impressed me was what Taylor herself said about her Dad in a Google interview – that when she was 8 she wanted to be a financial advisor, whilst her friends wanted to be “ballerinas and astronauts”.

She elaborated further;

“My dad is so passionate about what he does, like in the way I’m passionate about music…He’s so gung-ho for his job, and I saw how happy it made him and I just thought, like, “I can broke stocks.’”

There is also an affectionate line in one of her songs in which she sings;

“I have an excellent father; his strength is making me stronger.”

I also found this telling quote from someone who worked alongside him (although I haven’t managed to verify the source);

“I learned three important points about Scott Swift. First, he’s a remarkable professional – managing millions of dollars for powerful and important clients. He’s an example of a pro who creates ‘the Ultimate Customer Experience.’ Second, he’s one of the most creative and imaginative people I’ve ever met. His mind is engaged non-stop; yet, what makes him even more special is that his ideas are grounded in reality… Finally, and most important, he is a true “connector.” By that, I mean that he connects with people in a highly meaningful manner. When he told me that I could change the world, I just knew he really meant it!”

It’s also worth noting that her Dad relocated his business to Nashville so that Swift could move there at age 14 and pursue her dream of being a musician, though her parents told her that they were moving because they loved the area, so that she didn’t feel any pressure to succeed and it’s clear that they constantly sowed into her dream.

Now I’m certainly not trying to suggest that the goal is for us all to become Taylor Swift the second, but ultimately this got me thinking about the power of Fathers and Mothers as leaders and influencers and nurturers. As mentioned, this is presented beautifully (and probably more thoughtfully) in Mark’s blog about Leaders as Fathers and Mothers. This just seemed an interesting practical example that I came across and it’s good to consider how these things look in practice (though I’m the first admit that relocating on the premise of pursuing a 14 year old’s dream might still be a stretch for me).

I think there is a lot to be said for the apparent influence of Scott Swift in the different spheres that he operated within; there seems to be clear value for communication and a championing quality he carries that isn’t just restricted to his own children. I have no idea of his religious views or personal ethics, but I was really challenged and moved by what can become a reality when we dare to dream and are led and nurtured by powerful Fathers and Mothers, or maybe more accurately, when we dare to dream together. I think there is also an illustration here that powerful parenting isn’t restricted to a one-dimensional influence, but actually is something that will culturally seep into every area that a Father and Mother give themselves to.

I’m not suggesting that fame or fortune is what we should all be aiming at, because it clearly isn’t, but maybe the success of Taylor Swift is, in part, a shadow of what can be achieved through powerful parenting.

Leaders as fathers and mothers: defining and debunking fathering and mothering

In the context of this series I’m not talking about fathering or mothering in the biological sense I’m using the terms to describe the nature of the relationship that might exist in a community between one generation and another where that relationship has attributes that would collectively be associated with the role of fathers and mothers. I appreciate at this stage I’ve not described these attributes so you’ll have to bear with me on that but in the meantime having defined my use of the terms father and mother there is some debunking to be done.

  • You do not have be married to be a father or a mother in the community.
  • You do not need to have children to be a father or mother in the community. 
  • You do not have to be old to be a father or a mother in the community.

Being married, having children of your own and being older may help you to lead in the community as a father and mother but they are not prerequisites.

The question is if these are not prerequisites then are there any? 

My answer is yes and in my next post I intend to fill out that answer borrowing heavily from Richard Rohr’s wonderful book Falling Upwards (a must read for all ages but particularly anyone aged 30 or over) in which Rohr describes the transition from son to father, daughter to mother as a journey from “first half” to “second half”.

Rohr extends the journey from orphan to son to embrace the journey from son to father, in the process complementing the wonderful writings on sonship of Jack Frost, Mark Stibbe, Brennan Manning and Henri Nouwen who I may well use to season my description of the falling upward journey from orphan to father.

This next post is going to take some work so it might be a while! It feels like it will be one of the most important posts of this series because I think it makes an important point and answers an important question. The point being: the goal is not sonship its fatherhood. The question being: how does a son become a father? 

To keep things simple for the rest of this post I’m going to use solely male terms, for son read daughter, for father read mother.

You may not have to be married, you may not have to have children, and you may not have to be older to be a father but you do have to have transitioned (fallen upwards) a journey from orphanhood to sonship and fatherhood. Worth saying at this point sonship and fatherhood coexist meaning we don’t journey past sonship to fatherhood, sonship is the foundation on which fatherhood is built. To be a good father is to have learned to be a good son. 

In closing out this post I want to finish with some observations about fatherhood and leadership. Someone once said authority in the hands of a man who is not a good father is dangerous. I could restate this as leaders who are not good fathers are dangerous. One of my critiques of the recent emphasis on the transition from pastoral leadership to apostolic leadership is that unless apostolic leaders embrace their own journey from orphans to sons and fathers, and embrace fatherhood as a leadership paradigm, there is a danger that the transition from pastoral leadership to apostolic leadership results in diminishing the influence of a gift mix which is by nature more paternal and increases the influence of those who are at best sons and at worst orphans.

Leaders as fathers and mothers: defining and debunking leadership

Leadership in its simplest and purest form is influence. Everyone of us is influencing someone else and whilst the sphere and scale of our influence will vary greatly between us the fact is we are all leaders. The single mother raising her children at home and the CEO of a global corporation are both leaders because they both have influence, someone is following them. Leaders have followers.

Leaders are are not born they are made. If you study the attributes of leadership you will find.that the vast majority of them can be modelled and caught, taught and learned. This means that not only are we all leaders but we all have the potential to become better leaders within our spheres of influence.

If both of those statements are true then in my mind it follows that the difference between good leaders and great leaders, good parents and great parents, is the extent to which they have committed themselves to personal development and life long learning.
The call to action of these three simple paragraphs is:

  • Recognise that whoever you are you are an influencer and therefore a leader. Someone is following you, watching you and copying you, listening to you and learning from you.
  • Embrace the fact you are a leader. Whilst reluctance is an endearing quality in the selection process (the Bible is full of reluctant leaders!) if we don’t embrace the call we won’t engage with the process and we won’t commit to the challenge to grow.
  • Commit yourself to personal development and life long learning. You owe it to those who are following you to be the best leader you can be.

At this point, a slight aside on the subject of leadership defined as influence.
In his book Developing the Leader Within You, (an excellent book on leadership) John C Maxwell is emphatic in describing leadership as influence but having made this statement he goes on to define 5 levels of leadership which I think are interesting in the context of the discussion of leaders as fathers and mothers and fathers and mothers as leaders. The five levels are as follows:

  1. Position: people follow us because they have to.
  2. Permission: people follow us because they want to.
  3. Production: people follow because of what the leader has done for the organisation.
  4. People development: people follow because of what the leader has done for them.
  5. Personhood: people follow because of who the leader is and what they represent.

Maxwell goes on to say that leaders will not be at the same level with everyone they lead but that they should lead in such a way that moves those they lead from position towards personhood.

I find Maxwell’s five levels interesting in the context of leaders as fathers and mothers and fathers and mothers as leaders for two reasons:

  1. Reflecting on my journey as a father, and without having at the time the vocabulary now gifted to me by Maxwell, my goal was always to have my children follow me from as young an age as possible because of personhood (we share same values) not position (“because I said so”). In other words fathers and mothers as leaders will have already moved through the leadership gears from position to personhood.
  2. These levels help to explain why fathers and mothers are often reluctant to embrace positional leadership. They see it as a backward step, a form of leadership they have spent years growing out of. The last thing they want is people following them because they have have to! Fathers and mothers have also transitioned from first half to second half (Falling Upward – Richard Rohr, I’ll come back to this book later in this series) so they don’t need or want position. To my fellow second half fathers and mothers I would offer this thought. Just because you don’t want or need position doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it if offered. Think of position as recognition. Recognition increases influence, healthy recognition increases healthy influence. It means you carrying on being who you are and leading from personhood not position. As long as the recognition doesn’t change you it won’t change the people who follow you who will simply carry on following you because of who you are and what you represent, not because they have to.

I’ll close out with two poems I believe written by Maxwell himself which together sum up beautifully much of what I have been saying in far fewer words!

For all of us who lead because we influence:

My Influence

My life shall touch a dozen lives

Before this day is done.

Leave countless marks of good or ill,

E’er sets the evening sun.

This, the wish I always wish,

The prayer I always pray;

Lord, may my life help others’ lives

It touches by the way.


And for those of us who lead little ones and not so little ones:

The Little Chap Who Follows Me

A careful man I want to be,

A little fellow follows me;

I do not dare to go astray

For fear he’ll go the self-same way.

I cannot once escape his eyes.

What’er he sees me do he tries

Like ME he says he’s going to be—

That little chap who follows me.

I must remember as I go

Through summer suns and winter snows,

I am building for the years to be—

That little chap who follows me.

Introducing Leaders as Fathers and Mothers and Fathers and Mothers as Leaders

In a series of recent Facebook posts I suggested leadership in the image of God looks like fathers and mothers and that the moment you become a parent, whether you like it or not, and whether you’re ready or not, you become a leader. I also repeated a previous post of mine: “Raise up generals and you can mobilise an army. Raise up executives and you can manage a business. Raise up mothers and fathers and you have family.”

As a father and someone who has led in the context of church and business I am fascinated by the relationship between leadership and fathering and mothering, a relationship that I have been exploring for a long time. Inspired by a recent talk by Banning Liebscher entitled “Better Together” which you can find on the Jesus Culture Sacramento podcast, I’ve decided to re-enter the world of blogging to write on the subject. I’d encourage you to listen to this talk, in fact the “Life on Life” series of which it is a part, particularly if you have a heart for the church expressing itself as family.

Over the years much has been written about leadership. On this blog over the last three years I’ve written three series on the subject: leaders as servants, leaders as gardeners and leaders as people (authentic leadership) in which I’ve sought to express those aspects of leadership I have come to see as valuable and transformational. Three years on I continue to mine these posts for fresh insight as I contemplate a book on leadership.

In a recent series of Facebook posts called “50 lessons learned on the way to 50” I found myself somewhat unexpectedly writing about parenting. In the process I discovered I had much more to say on the subject than I realised.

In this series of posts I plan to write about both leadership and parenthood to explore the relationship between leading and fathering and mothering thinking primarily but not exclusively about leaders as fathers and mothers and fathers and mothers as leaders in the context of the community as opposed to the family. Although I acknowledge there is significant overlap.

In deciding to write about this subject I’m conscious that in recent years in the context of the church there has been an increasing emphasis on the role of fathers and mothers within the wider community, not just the family. There has also been an increased emphasis on Apostles as fathers (and mothers depending on your theology). I think this increased emphasis is right and healthy but I’m not sure it has been particularly well explained or explored. The purpose of this blog series is to make my own small contribution to this explanation and exploration.

Here are some of things I’m planning to cover in no particular order:

  • Some definitions and debunking on the subject of leadership, fatherhood and motherhood.
  • What does the Bible have to say about leaders as fathers and mothers? There are some key verses which shed real light on this subject some of them not so well worn.
  • What’s to say about “spiritual fathers and mothers” ? I’m not sure I like the term!
  • My childhood experience, the way in which this has affected my journey from son to father and informs my perspective on fathering and mothering. Our perspectives on this subject are inevitably shaped by our experience. It’s helpful to be honest about that.
  • Why is leadership expressed through fathering and mothering so important? I think we need to be able to articulate this well if we are going to persuade churches to embark on the journey of transforming their cultures to embrace fatherhood and motherhood as a leadership paradigm.
  • What does fathering look like? What does mothering look like? How does it work in practice? Most of what I have read or heard is conceptual whilst as in most cases the challenge is the practice not the theory.
  • What are the unique characteristics and effects of fathering and mothering? What are the similarities? What are the differences? Fathers and mothers lead differently and we miss out by not being prepared to articulate and embrace these differences.
  • What are the implications of the absence of fathering and mothering in the community?
  • How do sons and daughters transition to become fathers and mothers?
  • What are the implications of this discussion for the world of business?
  • What’s to be done with all of this? Suggestions for individuals and communities who want to pursue the realisation of leadership expressed through fathering and mothering.

Always a bit nerve wracking launching a series! Hope you enjoy it. Please join in the discussion – we were never meant to journey alone.

Back soon.

50/50 Facebook Posts

50/50 11/4
Forest Gump was right when he said “life is like a box of chocolates”. Sometimes the Turkish Delight turns out to be a Coffee Cream and sometimes the Coffee Creams turns out to be Turkish Delights. Life is unpredictable, full of surprises, some to be enjoyed some to be endured!

49/50 12/4
Scott-Peck was right when he said “life is difficult”. Two thousand years earlier Jesus said pretty much the same thing. The sooner we accept life is difficult the better. Until we come to terms with the fact that life is difficult we are ill equipped to deal with it.

48/50 13/4
Several years ago during a difficult season of my life I complained to God my life wasn’t easy. His reply was as swift as it was surprising: “I never promised you life would be easy, I promised you you would never be alone”. Life – not always easy but never alone.

47/50 14/4
Albert Camus was right when he said “life is the sum of the choices we make”. That we die is a certainty. That we really live is another matter. To fully live is to embrace the truth that life itself is a choice. To live well is to choose well.

46/50 15/4
Don’t wait too long to work out who you are and why you’re on the planet. Knowing who you are and why you’re here allows you to transition from life is about “me” to life is about “us”, from what I can get out to what I can put in.

45/50 16/4
When it comes to life there’s no practice run, no dress rehearsal. So be kind to yourself and your fellow travellers. Basically we are all making it up as we go along. The first time you do anything you are most likely going to get it wrong at some point.

44/50 17/4
My heart always wants to mark special occasions like dedications, weddings and funerals with words which ensure that the milestones that chart our progress through life are also altars that mark our thankfulness along what is in essence a sacred journey. Today is such an occasion, hence my next post.

43/50 18/4
Like it or not and sometimes we don’t like it, life is characterised by seasons which mark our passage through time, each with its own rhythm, tempo, challenges and beauty. One of the keys to a happy and healthy life is to embrace our season and find joy in it.

42/50 19/4
Don’t be slow to ask for help and advice from those you trust. Help and advice is far better given and received when it’s asked for. We were not designed to be able to make it on our own yet many of us struggle through life trying to do exactly that.

41/50 20/4
The more I grow up the more I slow down not because age is getting the better of me but because the further I travel the more I realise relationships are as important as results. As the African proverbs says: travel fast travel alone, travel far travel together.
40/50 21/4
Faith does not ignore the reality that life is difficult it transcends it and transforms it. Sometimes faith unlocks miracles in the moment, at other times it partners with hope to sustain us through the chaos and confusion. Faith is necessary because life is difficult. We wouldn’t need it otherwise.

39/50 22/4
Hope is one of the most powerful transformational forces in the world. Biblical hope is certain, it has a voice that speaks “it will not always be this way, it’s only a matter of time”. Always leave your fellow travellers in life with more hope than you found them with.

38/50 23/4
If faith always produced instant results we wouldn’t need patience or perseverance. Patience means I wait well. Perseverance means I stand strong. Waiting well and standing strong strengthen my character which means whatever happens to me I will always have hope because I’m certain of the Father’s love for me.

37/50 24/4
Whoever you are you were created uniquely by God to love Him, love yourself and love the one in front of you. Our capacity to love is limited to our capacity to be loved that’s why “be-loved” is not just a name for the Church but it’s imperative.

36/50 25/4
As parents we think of our children as works in progress. It’s less likely we think of ourselves this way but we are all works in progress. I think now my children are grown up, so have I and perhaps now they are seeing the best me there has been.

35/50 26/4
Kids be kind to your parents. They applied for and got the job of being your parents without any experience or qualifications. They might not admit it but basically they are making it up as they go along which means from time to time they are going to get it wrong.

34/50 27/4
Parents be kind to your children. They didn’t select you following an extensive interview process. Be confident in and help them to be secure in the fact someone much wiser than all of you brought you together and he doesn’t make mistakes. However challenging it gets remember you’re the right people for the job.

33/50 28/4
From the moment they are born children begin exploring the world for boundaries. As parents our job is to help them create, maintain and live within healthy boundaries. Hard work which requires patience and perseverance but absolutely worth the effort. Healthy boundaries means happy children. Happy children equals happy parents.

32/50 29/4
Children grow up shaped by our estimation of what they are capable of which in my experience is more than we realise. Talk to them even when you think they’re too young to understand. Trust them and give them responsibility as soon as they are able to take it. That way they grow up knowing they have something to contribute and you trust them with that.

31/50 30/4
As early as possible give up trying to control your children’s behaviour as a parenting strategy and focus on shaping beliefs and instilling values. The time will come and sooner than you think when control is not an option. At that stage all that’s left is what your children believe and who and what they value.

30/50 1/5
Don’t allow fear and comparison to influence your parenting journey. Fear of what your kids might say or do. Fear of what other people might think or say. There are no perfect parents and there are no perfect children. Fear drives the need to control. Comparison the need to perform. Children reject both because in their hearts they know they were born for love which neither controls nor compares.

29/50 2/5
To fulfil our God given life assignment we must increase our capacity to dream and at the same time increase our capability to handle difficulty and disappointment when it comes. To encourage our children to dream without equipping them to be able to handle difficulty and disappointment is to have them fly on one wing.

28/50 3/5
What we say to our children and what we say about them matters because words change lives. Describing them as being in the “terrible twos” or the “rebellious teenage phase” reinforces unhelpful stereotypes and carves out unhealthy caricatures. Take a leaf out of the Father’s book and speak good things to and about your children and when you say “my kids are great” don’t preface it with “I would say this wouldn’t I but my kids are amazing” just say it because it’s true! Can you imagine the Father saying, “I know I’m his father and I would say this wouldn’t I, but this is my son whom I love, with him I am well pleased”. That would be the Hilarious Version!

27/50 4/5
Bob Hoskins was right when he said “it’s good to talk”. Eat together as a family as often as you can. Our family meal times were wonderful opportunities to talk. An old fashioned concept I know but looking back over twenty years we talked about everything (and I mean everything some of the topics would make your hair curl!) Amongst other things they provided me with the opportunity to educate the kids using my trusty Oxford English Dictionary on the meaning and origin of random words which as you might imagine they absolutely loved.

26/50 5/5
If life is the sum of the choices we make then it’s vital we encourage and equip our children to make good choices. Today it might be what to eat for breakfast or what to wear for school. One day it will be who to marry. Best to give them as much practice as possible on choices that don’t matter quite as much as that one!

25/50 6/5
As your children move through their teenage years into adulthood their most important navigation beacon is their relationship with you so whatever you do don’t let anything they say or do cause you to disconnect and never use that as a threat to try and control them. Let them know however tough it gets or however far away they feel, you are right there when they’re ready. Prodigal parenthood 101.

24/50 7/5
Raising our children was a community project. I would never have attempted it outside of the community of extended family and friends. Welcome other people into the lives of your children. Sometimes your children need someone other than you to talk to. Sometimes others can get away with saying things you never could and sometimes your kids need to talk about you not to you!

23/50 8/5
The most important question you can help your children is answer is “who am I?” Kids who know who they are are never at the mercy of what their peers think or say. Kids who know who they are will make good choices in terms of companions and careers and when the time comes will choose good husbands or wives.

22/50 9/5
The difference between the way in which parents and grandparents parent is that grandparents have done it before. It seems the second time they do it there are far less rules, they are far less worried about tooth decay and E-numbers and more concerned about slowing down and having fun. As parents we can learn a thing or two from grandparents: less battles, less worry, less speed and more play.

21/50 10/5
Disappointment is a choice. The choice to anchor ourselves to what might have been with the question “why?” Hope is a choice. The choice to anchor ourselves to what will be with the question “what next?” To live powerfully is to understand we have a choice and make it, to live hopefully is to transition from why? to what next?

20/50 11/5
Don’t spend so much time trying find available space to occupy in the world. You don’t make your mark on the world by fitting in you make it by being the best and most authentic version of yourself you can be. In the process it’s important to recognise that making your mark can sometimes be a bruising experience for you and those around you which requires us to be comfortable with and good at giving and receiving feedback.

19/50 12/5
Whatever you do take more risks and remember we almost always underestimate the risk of doing nothing and overestimate the risks of doing something. Don’t look back on your life and wish you had taken more risks. Start young and remember “status quo” is Latin for your life at the limit of your willingness to take risks.

18/50 13/5
The size of the rear view mirror relative to the size of the windscreen of a car tells us that whilst it’s important to look back, it’s far more important to look forward. One of the keys to journeying healthily and happily through life is to look where you’re going. Look back in order to learn, look for forward in order to live.

17/50 14/5
Be, still, know – three counter cultural words found in one of the most transformational verses in the Bible. An imperative not just an invitation, these words are the cure to the plethora of spiritual, physical, mental and emotional disease caused by a culture that values doing over being, celebrates the fast, despises the slow, rewards the head and ignores the heart.

16/50 15/5
One of my favourite Bible versus in the book of Proverbs says a house is built on knowledge, understanding and wisdom. I think of knowledge as the “what”, understanding as the “why” and wisdom as the “how and when”. Knowledge, understanding and wisdom are important companions on our journey through life. Good to know where to find them when you really need them. What? Why? How? When? Is a great decision making checklist.

15/50 16/5
One of the keys to a happy, healthy and fulfilled life is to point the crosshairs of your life at the intersection between what you enjoy, what you’re good at and where you find favour. This will allow you to say a big yes to a few things, maybe even one thing, and a lot of no’s to a lot of other things. This creates focus and focus creates momentum without which we risk falling short of some of our greatest achievements.

14/50 17/5
I’ve never viewed life as the seemingly never ending quest to work out what the will of God is for my life so I don’t miss it, as if somehow there is a detailed set of instructions that I must follow or else. From the moment I became a Christian I felt a strong sense of partnership, a relationship where I have options and am free, in fact, encouraged to choose. If you ever find yourself tempted to put your life on hold because you don’t know what God’s will is lean in and listen for the voice that says “what do you want to do?” and choose. And when you do listen out for the voice that says “sounds good to me!”

13/50 18/5
Emerging out of my teenage years it didn’t take me long to realise there was no way I was going to make it on my own! So I went looking for “the one” not the “chosen one”, I don’t believe that’s how it works. Not the one chosen by God for me, but the one I would choose and the one who would choose me. A marriage is two people choosing to spend a lifetime choosing each other. Apart from becoming a Christian choosing Sarah and being chosen by her was, and after 28 years is, simply the best!

12/50 19/5
Marriage, the lifelong journey of choosing and being chosen is beautiful, powerful and transforming but not without its challenges. The Bible describes it as a covenant which I think of as a choice two people make fuelled by love and founded on faith. Love because it’s based on the effect Sarah had and still has on me – married love might be an act of the will but it should affect your heart rate. Faith because in making a life long commitment to me Sarah had no idea what she was letting herself in for!

11/50 20/5
I don’t believe marriages are made in heaven they are made on earth. Whatever else I achieve in life my greatest achievement, joy and privilege will have been to partner with Sarah to make a marriage that withstood the test of time to become the cornerstone from which we built family and extended community. As the so called “product of a broken home” this is unimaginable grace. A gift I didn’t deserve and could never earn.

10/50 21/5
As a child I grew up learning the Green Cross Code: stop, look and listen. Over the years I’ve come to see that stopping, looking and listening is not just good advice for crossing the road it’s the key to loving God, loving ourselves and loving the one in front of us.

Stopping is the antidote to the busy-ness that robs us of intimacy with God and one another. Busyness creates a superficiality that leaves us at best with acquaintances and colleagues as opposed to family and friends.

We have to look if we are going to see into the eyes and the heart of the one who loves us and the one in front of us. We were created for a depth of relationship that requires us to see beyond our skin and into our souls.

I’m convinced in this multimedia multitasking world we have lost the art of listening and in the process we have lost touch with our creator and lost touch with each other. Listening is one of the most powerful things we will ever learn to do. To love is to listen and to listen is to love.

9/50 22/5
As a child I once locked myself in the bathroom. My Dad had to break the door down. He took a run at it because he realised there are some things in life you can only achieve with momentum. Momentum is important. It takes time, effort and focus to create. Once you’ve got it you don’t want to lose it. I believe there is only so much momentum that one generation can create. Which is why generational momentum is so important. As a father and mother Sarah and I are seeking to invest the equity of our lives in, and add strength to, the lives of those who today are running alongside us but one day will run after we are gone. When the hearts of parents are turned towards their children and the hearts of children are towards their parents it becomes a race in which we don’t compete with one another but complete one another. In the process we generate momentum greater than that which one generation alone can create to achieve more than one generation starting from scratch could ever achieve.

8/50 23/5
When Abigail was two years old she once announced to us that she was going to go and sit on the step and sort out her attitude. There have been many many occasions since when I could have done with taking a leaf out of her book. Attitude is important especially for a plane. In simple terms it is the angle of the wings relative to the horizon which makes the difference between ascending or descending. Our attitude is the angle with which we approach life’s ups and downs. It is the difference between us soaring like eagles or flapping around on the ground like chickens and headless ones at that. No amount of flapping will help if our attitude is wrong. Our attitude will ultimately determine our altitude.

7/50 24/5
This morning Sarah and I are off to church. Something I have done thousands of times since becoming a Christian 35 years ago. This morning I’m asking myself why? Think about all those lie ins reading the Sunday newspapers listening to Steve Wright’s Sunday love songs! Every time I go to church I am reminded that my salvation was personal but my sanctification is corporate. In becoming a Christian I joined the family of God, an eclectic mix of the imperfect weird and wonderful. A family which invites me to share in the blessings and responsibilities of belonging. Belonging has shaped my believing and both have shaped my becoming. This morning in going to church I’m grateful for the freedom I enjoy to worship God with others and to celebrate with them the wonderful journey we have embarked on together. I realise church is in fact not somewhere I go but who I am and “I am” because “we are”.

6/50 25/5
I believe Polonius (Hamlet Act 1) gave his son some great advice when he said “to thine own self be true.” I think this is a matter of integrity but also authenticity. Over the years I’ve become increasingly aware of the value Sarah and I have for authenticity. For ourselves and for those around us to be real which in turn allows for the possibility of authentic relationships where no one is pretending or feels the need to have to pretend. Authenticity in a person and especially a leader is powerfully liberating to those around them and expressed though family and community creates a culture where it’s ok to be me warts and all. The Apostle John describes Jesus as making grace and truth real. The Greek word used for truth here is “alethinos” from which the English word “genuine” is derived. Jesus didn’t just come to make us right he came to make us real. I believe the transformational power of his life and ours (to be transformed and to help others transform) lies in the degree to which we are authentic. Put simply if perhaps a little bluntly whatever you do: get real!

5/50 26/5
“How do I get from here to there? I wouldn’t start from here” is something I find myself saying often in the context of leading and managing change because it’s almost always true that there is a better place to start from than the one we find ourselves in. However the keys to making progress in terms of personal transformation or setting and achieving our goals are: be who you are, start where you are and take the first step. The best point of departure for our journey is be authentic, be real and be realistic. Don’t try to be someone else, don’t be embarrassed about where you are relative to anyone else and remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

4/50 27/5
I’ve always struggled with the old Sunday school notion that my heart is a castle. Castles are designed to keep people out and those who build them end up being prisoners in their own home. On the face of it castles are perceived as statements of strength but I’ve always viewed them as founded on fear. I build a castle to keep you out because I am afraid you might get in. One of the keys to personal transformation and living a transformational life is vulnerability which I think of as the willingness to live in such a way that it’s possible for other people to hurt me. That doesn’t mean I live with my heart unprotected. I think about my heart as a walled garden not a castle. A space that I guard and nurture but also a space I allow, in fact invite others into. Radical I know but sometimes it’s even good to allow what’s in your heart out! A wonderful friend and fellow traveller said to me recently that I wear my heart on my sleeve and indeed I do. I wear it to commemorate the surrender of the castle of my heart to the Father who laid siege to it and whose love eventually overcame the walls I had so painstakingly built to keep everyone including him out.

3/50 28/5
Encouraged by the ancient Greeks we have a tendency to slice and dice ourselves into many parts some literal, some metaphorical. Spirit, soul, body, heart and head to name but five. Mind, will and emotions to name another three. My journey has taught me what the Hebrews always knew, that however many parts of me there are they are all connected and I do better when I pay attention to all of them. It strikes me that we don’t always do a good job of looking after the body, that part of us we can see, never mind the rest of us which we can’t. After 50 years of practicing, some keys to living a healthy life: live spirit first, train your mind, garden your heart, and look after your body – your assignment in this world will last only as long as it does!

2/50 29/5
As the whistle for the start of the second half approaches the words of Antonio, “what’s past is prologue” (The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 1) ring increasingly loudly in my ears as a prophetic voice. Reflecting on my “first half performance” I realise I’m planning to make some significant tactical changes:

Worry less
Confront less
Judge less
React less
Compete less
Hoard less
Impress less
Perform less
Do less
Strive less
Less Commandments

Lean more
Learn more
Listen more
Love more
Laugh more
Be more
Slow down more
Stop more
Party more
Create more
More Beatitudes

When I think about why I’m making these changes, at the heart of the answer is the realisation that during my first half I came to realise that God is infinitely bigger and kinder and far less tribal than I thought. He’s a good good Father.

As a result of making these tactical changes I expect the second half will be less about success – achievement and reward, and more about significance – participation and contribution.

1/50 30/5
Walking out of the rubble of a broken home aged 15 my life consisted of the contents of a black bin bag. Accompanying me on that journey, my social worker, drowning out the shouts of an old aunt who was busy disinheriting me, turned to me and said, “this doesn’t need to define you”. When I first met Christians who told me God loved me I used to respond rather angrily, “if God loves me he has a funny way of showing it”. Looking at the contents of that bin bag my issue was I had been given a life I didn’t deserve. Thirty five years later I look at my life and my issue is still the same – I have indeed been given a life I didn’t deserve. The difference is unimaginable grace, in fact grace upon grace – the grace to be able to steward the grace of God and the life represented by the contents of that black bin bag such that I might have the life I have. My life could so easily have been shipwrecked on the contents of that bin bag but by the grace of God It wasn’t. Navigating away from the wreckage of a broken home my life shouts loudly of the grace of God. That voyage causes me to be grateful and to be generous. Grateful because my life is a gift. Generous because in a sense my life is not my own and it’s said it’s easy to be generous with that which doesn’t belong to you. The richness of my life is not reflected in what I possess but who possesses me. In ending this post and this series I’m reminded of these beautiful verses and couldn’t resist closing with them and in so doing encourage you to be good stewards of the contents of your “bin bag” and the grace of God.

“7 Throughout the coming ages we will be the visible display of the infinite, limitless riches of His grace and kindness which was showered upon us in Jesus Christ! 8 For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in Him. Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, not even our faith, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ! 9 So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving. Ephesians 2:7-9 (The Passion Translation)”

If God loves me he has a funny way of showing it – the orphan heart

So apologies to those of you who thought my last post was a bit of a cliff-hanger. I didn’t intend to leave you all in suspense. I just didn’t want to pack too much into one post.

I was 17 and studying for my A levels when I became aware that there were some Christians in the school I attended who were starting to talk openly about Jesus. Somehow I ended up engaging them in a discussion that over time was ultimately to become a heated and formal debate. The more they told me God loved me the angrier I became. My anger fuelled by the thought if God loved me he had a funny way of showing it.

For reasons I mentioned in my previous post my life up until that point had not been a particularly happy one. I was the broken product of a broken home who struggled to reconcile the life I had been given with the message that God loved me. I suspect I would not be the only one which is why those who hear that message often want to “shoot the messenger”. I did, so much so that I decided to take on these messengers in the form of a formal debate with a view to establishing once and for all that not only did God not love me, he was a figment of their imagination. It makes me smile thinking about it now – a broken and angry young man determined to prove God out of existence.

The “great God debate” was a well-attended and somewhat one sided affair with a few “Bible-bashers” on one side and everyone else on the other. I relished the prospect; it was the 1980s equivalent of feeding the Christians to the lions. Not surprisingly I was part of a great victory that day having persuaded the vast majority of people in the room that God did not exist. I headed home after school euphoric that I had inflicted a humiliating defeat on those who insisted that God loved me. The battle was over or so I thought.

What happened to me next is one of the most powerful memories I have. When I got home from school that day I went in to my bedroom, shut the door and sat on my bed at which point I was overwhelmed by what I can only describe as tidal waves of loneliness. I have never felt so alone as I did that night. It was a dreadful feeling. As waves of loneliness crashed over me my mind searched for an explanation which emerged over a period of a few hours from the flotsam and jetsam of powerful thoughts and emotions. I came to realise that if God did not exist, I was alone, I had always been alone and I would always be alone. This feeling of loneliness was overwhelming. It was as if in those moments God removed himself from my life and allowed me to feel what it would be like if he didn’t exist. In those dreadful but wonderful moments I realised that he was real, that he did love me and that he had been with me throughout those dark and difficult years I just hadn’t recognised it. The prodigal Father had been waiting for me all that time. He had heard the cries of a frightened little boy. My life was about to change forever in the most incredible way.

Strange that it took me so long to see it but many years later my life message was to become “not always easy but never alone”.

The reason I tell this part of my story in the context of the Father Heart journey and more specifically the wonderful truth of adoption is that the loneliness I experienced as a teenager walking out of the rubble of a broken home is one of the characteristics of orphan heartedness a heart condition which is only healed through our relationship with God as Father and his adoption of us as loved sons and daughters. In my next post I want to talk more about the orphan heart by reflecting on my own on-going journey from lonely orphan to loved son.