A Tale of Two Leaders

doctor-who-tenant.jpgAbove – Doctor Who

doctor who matt smith (2).jpgBelow – Also Doctor Who

Among my early experiences of leadership in the church were the ministries of two young leaders in the UK city of Bath.

Mike was the president of the CU (Varsity Fellowship) when I arrived as a fresh-faced undergraduate. He was a dynamic, confident, alpha-male kind of guy who exuded personal confidence and confidence in the Gospel. He embodied the sense of mission that the CU aspired to. Anyone visiting the CU would know his name by the end of their first visit. He was always present “on the stage” to give us some pep and encouragement. And the CU grew under his leadership.

John Fisher, CPAS patronage secretary

John Fisher, Patronage Secretary, CPAS UK

John, who succeeded Mike the year following was a different proposition. Like the successive Doctors (in the Doctor Who series) there was some important spiritual DNA that the two guys both carried. But John’s was a quite different personality and a different approach. John was not loud. You could attend the CU of an evening and  not remember if he had been there. Newer members might need reminding occasionally who the president was.

John was a humble, gentle and quiet person. One of the reasons that growth and fruit attended his ministry was that as well as having an acute eye for strategy and direction John was a phenomenal nurturer of emerging leaders – with all their needs and complexities. He just had a great knack for identifying people’s gifts and getting alongside them to affirm and encourage them in the right way. And, equally importantly, John’s calmness and steady approach gave others the confidence to accept the learning journeys of the small team of fledgling leaders taking their first steps in ministry.

Nelson Mandela’s advice regarding leadership was “Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.” John really exemplified that model. Even as an undergraduate student he had grasped the wisdom encapsulated in a famous saying of Lao Tsu: “When the best leaders have done their work the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!'”

A mark of John’s ministry is that when I chanced across him the other day online I felt a spontaneous feeling of warmth and gratitude accompanying his picture!


What I learned from John and Mike is that the question of leadership is not a binary – you are or you aren’t – kind of proposition. Leadership is not a job-description that passes unaltered from one incumbent to the next. Indeed Jesus taught his followers not to call each other “leader” at all. Rather, each of these guys SERVED with his own UNIQUE set of GIFTS. Mike and John served authentically to their own personalities and gifts and in so doing gave the rest of us permission to serve in the same genuine spirit.

Sometimes we in the churches import ideas of leadership that are secular and not rooted in the teaching and practice of Jesus and the Apostles. We can fall into binary questions such as “are you a leader or a follower”? A question I have heard put in some circles. (Clearly one is understood as better than the other.) A better question may be, what has God brought you to this place for? What has God given for you to bring to the party?

passing the baton

In my intersection with Bath University Christian Union I am thankful to God for the personal integrity of two young exemplars who had the confidence to approach our young community of faith in such a healthy and authentic way. I am thankful too for a community of faith which, though young in age, had the maturity to embrace the distinct and unique set of gifts offered by two very different leaders. Individual and collective modelling that has stood me in good stead ever since.