Nurturing my Identity

Sundays are not part of my commitment to #40daysofwriting on #lentblog, but nevertheless I find myself musing and writing about aspects of my identity that I’ve become more self-aware of in the last year. Last Sunday, I wrote about identity and how so much of it is wrapped up in my performance in my job. Today I go on to considering what I’ve done to diminish the negative draws on my identity and increase the positive ones.

I consider that I have quite an addictive personality. I get into things with a great deal of enthusiasm and then find myself thinking about them with every thought and doing them with every spare minute. This has often been to my advantage as a teacher – give me a topic that I’m interested in and I’ll throw myself into it wholeheartedly.

Two years ago I got really into developing the school website. I spent every Monday evening often working until beyond midnight trying to make it better, doing things I’d seen others do, making it inspirational. Really the website should have been a long way down my list of priorities. I could have delegated the responsibility, I could have outsourced it to focus on my core role. But no, I worked so hard on it until I actually found myself failing at other things I should have been doing. Finally realisation struck. The obsession had become part of my identity  – I was using it to define myself: “I’m the deputy head who can make great websites”. But the obsession was draining. It was taking time away from more important aspects of my work and more importantly, my family. I had to stop it.

There have been other examples too, sometimes with work, sometimes with gaming, sometimes with social media – getting into something that on its own would be harmless but the depth that I’ve worked at it has been obsessive and damaging. Instead of a computer game being a moment of fun it becomes part of my identity. As Tozer says: “the roots of our hearts have grown down into things and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die.” That’s me with the things I obsess about.

So what I’ve done about it? Well in summary: less of the bad stuff, more of the good stuff.

Diminishing the bad stuff

1. Keeping my phone downstairs, especially at weekends.
2. Having a day each weekend (normally Sunday) when no work is done and the minimum of screens are used.
3. Having an evening each week when I do no work.

Increasing the good stuff

1. Praying more.
2. Spending more time with my wife.
3. Choosing to meet friends instead of playing computer games or working.
4. Reading books (up until last Summer, I hadn’t read a book in 2 years.
5. Blogging to reflect rather than to gain popularity.

Of course, I’m not there yet. Physical exercise – running, swimming and cycling especially –  is something I need to do more of, and have to admit that in the middle of this term, my wife and family were still somewhat neglected in favour of work. I I wrote my “nurturing identity” report, it might say: trying had but could do better.

ref: “The Pursuit of God” by A.W. Tozer: chapter 2 The blessedness of possessing nothing

Truth: it’s a belt not a sword.

I could subtitle this: Never trust Christians (or anyone for that matter) when we talk about the sword of truth.

The 'Sword of Truth' series (Terry Goodkind). Great books; bad metaphor.
The ‘Sword of Truth’ series. Great books; bad metaphor.

It’s a powerful metaphor. Truth shaped like a sword cutting through the falsehoods and deceptions of the current world. One of my favourite reads is the ‘Sword of Truth’ series by Terry Goodkind. It’s a fantasy story where the hero searches, finds, loses, uses and ultimately defeats his enemy with this Sword of Truth. However it is just fantasy. Truth is not sword-shaped in the real world.

But I know that at times I have perceived truth in this way – it’s a tool for the confrontation; a weapon to be wielded to defeat the lies I perceive around me.

Imagine you have a tricky relationship. It might be at home, at work, or on social media even and you suddenly realise you have it: the truth that is going to rock their world. You don’t care how they feel because you know it’s going to vindicate your position. And so you wield that weapon of truth, cutting deeply with its blade. All before you falls, devastation is left in your wake…

I was in a sermon recently and the preacher used this metaphor: ‘the sword of truth’. I paused for a moment, not quite believing what I was hearing. Truth can’t be sword shaped if you’re a follower of Jesus, because it would contradict our main purpose: to love.

Truth isn’t a sword. It’s a belt.

It’s the thing you put on before you arm yourself, not the armament itself. It holds your trousers up. It keeps your clothes in place so that if you do have to put armour in, it doesn’t chafe too badly.

Truth is what makes love authentic – love can’t hurt or cut or bite. No, love only mends and fixes and heals and cures. It befriends and consoles and grieves and laughs.

If you hear Christians talk about using truth like a sword, know this: they have something wrong. Truth is not a weapon of destruction.

It holds your trousers up.

Perfect combinations: Kilhoman and Ignatian Examen

The first day of the new academic year coincided with the rare treat of going out with my wife for food. A very pleasant Thai meal at our local – Sabai Sabai.

But the night was yet young, and like many dynamic couples we opted next to go for Ignatian Examen. A walk up to our friend Sam’s house where he led us through an hour of the Awareness Examen. There’s nothing quite like wrapping up an evening like a Jesuit.

But the night was yet young. I felt energised after the reflection and meditation that Sam had led us through. So on return home I poured myself a glass of Kilhoman (2006).  It’s peaty-ness is unlike the others that I love: Ardbeg, which is like drinking soil; Ardbeg Corryvreckan which is like drinking soil put through a blender with a spot of cream and Lagavullin 16 yrs which, for me is the smoking jacket of Islay malts – relaxed, confident and smooth. No Kilhoman is zingy, like the first crackling of a fire. It tastes like the lighting of the fire on Bonfire night – sparky, with anticipation and the faintest hint of cordite. It’s a drink to match the energising feeling following a good Examen.

I drank it whilst making the sandwiches for the morning and listening to a Podcast from Hack Education. So all in all: time with my wife, Thai food, Examen, Kilhoman and education podcast. Perfect.

Growing Leaders Session 9 – Staying Fresh

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Today the participants have been reflecting on staying fresh in leadership.

What can you put in place to maintain your leadership role without becoming weary and disillusioned?

We discussed 5 stages of training:

  1. Personalise your training
  2. Stretch yourself
  3. Work out a rhythm
  4. Keep close relationships
  5. Complete the course

Each participant came up with suggestions on how to improve in these areas, and hear are some of their suggestion:

Personalise your training
  • Continue to meet with mentor after the course (if they are willing) – to discuss ongoing issues.
  • Is there anything you need to stop doing to give the time to get where you are going?
  • Get more biblical knowledge
  • Focus on God
  • Practice a spiritual discipline
  • Plan rather than simply just letting things happen
  • Regular fellowship meeting
  • Pray and push at doors
  • Listen to Him for my plan
  • Words of encouragement and motivation
  • Be open to new ideas including ongoing discussions with mentor
  • Be prepared to share ideas and thoughts.
  • Write the plan down.
  • Share with people who can support you.
  • Review personal life statement.
  • Discuss issues with mentor.
  • Prayer
  • Use personal life statement to develop priorities.
  • Take stock of what you have.

Stretch yourself
  • Find out from God which areas He wants to grow me in and be prepared to delay others for the 'Greater Yes'
  • Don't stretch myself unnecessarily but trust God to give me the strength to grow.
  • Be open to new opportunities – take risks.
  • Seek God to help recognise areas for growth
  • Seek God to smooth the 'rough' edges.
  • Struggle to remain open to further change.
  • Be willing to step out / try new things.
  • Make time to reflect on day every evening
  • Be open to requests for help from the church.
  • Use journalling to remember the positive experiences and lessons learned from not-so-positive ones.
  • Learn not to be afraid of vision.
  • Be brave enough to practice gifts God has given you in opportunities you have.
  • Share thoughts about gifts / direction your going in with others
  • Pray / ask God for guidance / opportunities.
  • Change and development are part of growing.

Work out a rhythm
  • Put things around you (at home, work, in the car, etc.) that will help you direct thoughts towards God.
  • Keep a rhythm of spiritual discipline.
  • If you don't manage time, then it will manage you.
  • Daily Bible study
  • Prayer at same time / place each day.
  • Have time for myself at work – be willing to delay dealing with non urgent matters, until I have time to reflect.
  • Keep a rhythm of spiritual discipline.
  • Never say "I'm too busy for…" or "I don't have time for…" you always do have time but need to make decisions about how to spend it. (Editor: Gandalf himself said "All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.")
  • Pray
  • Have a plan to follow but be flexible to change if need to.
  • Complete day off – totally away from work – be accountable to this.
  • Meet deadlines rather than seeing them as flexible – don't expect too much – give yourself more time than you think you need.
  • Plan in rewards.

Keep close relationships
  • Increase our openness to being forgiven – it will help us in the area of forgiving others.
  • Keep meeting with mentor
  • Pray for and look for opportunities to serve others.
  • Be yourself with people and don't be judgemental.
  • Value relationships
  • Show others that you care.
  • Learn to make time for others.
  • Seek and take opportunities to invest in others.
  • Be more disciplined in prayer life
  • Prepare more for mentoring sessions.
  • Be intentional in all that I do.
  • Plan time to spend with others regularly – put it in diary so other things don't crowd.

Complete the course.
  • Be honest with God about our good bits and bad bits.
  • Remember how God has blessed me in the past and expect that in the future.
  • Invite the Holy Spirit into my day EVERY day for guidance and strength.
  • One day, we will all be part of the most beautiful worship service ever! For all eternity!
  • Time to reflect / listen to God;
  • to soak in God's presence and hear what he may be saying for the longer term.
  • Be faithful in the things (little or Big) that God gives me to do as I run the race.
  • We are like children going to work with our Dad for the day. He doesn't need us – chooses to involve us because he loves spending time with us. Enjoy it.

The session ended with prayer.

Growing Leaders session 7

Growing Leaders Session 7 began with an activity where participants thought about the groups they are part of and what metaphor best suits their group. Car, Animal, Chocolate Bar were the categories chosen, and participants thought about what type of car, animal and chocolate bar would be most appropriate for their particular group.

Some of the metaphors were:

  • Range Rover sport
  • Old Bus
  • Battered Lada
  • Something that's difficult to get started.

  • Camel
  • Cow
  • Tazmanian Devil
  • catterpillar
  • Octopus

Chocolate Bar
  • Revels
  • Galaxy Caramel
  • Quality Street
  • With Fruit and Nuts

Alison followed on to talk about how teams work together to achieve three purposes – to meet the needs of the task, the needs of the individual and the needs of the group. She used illustrations from the Growing Leaders leadership team (Rob, Alison, Emma and Steve) to demonstrate some of these points and how the different strenghts of these individuals work together to make a team that kind of works.

The participants then split into groups of their own ministry areas to talk about how their teams are working to achieve these goals. The ministry areas represented included:
  • Youth
  • Whole Church
  • International
  • Worship
  • Evangelism / Alpha
  • Synergy (20s and 30s)

Some reflections from this group included:
    • It's easy to focus so much on one of the areas (like the needs of the group) to the detriment of the other two areas.
    • We need to learn the skills of being able to challenge individuals.
    • How do you cope with different individuals having different visions within the group?
    • Often we think it's all about us as individuals, when actually it's all about God – the team can help lift the burden.
    • Using people's individual strengths – play to those that get them done.

We continued to look at the leader's role, with people looking at how leader's develop the individual; ensure the group achieves the task; build and maintain the unity of the group. We proceeded to study John 17:20-26 where Jesus teaches about his heart for community and people work well together.

Question: If only have a few hours left, what would you say to them about their working together.
  • Pray for them
  • Stay focused
  • Keep encouraging / Well done
  • Talk and listen to each other
  • Remember the impact you have on each other's lives.

Jesus, with 24 hours to live talked (in John 17:20-26) about his passion for unity – holding shared belief; passing on the glory of the Father, to Jesus, to his disciples and so on; ministry of Jesus; presence of Jesus through the Spirit.  The purpose of this unity is mission.

Steve followed by talking about the 5 dysfunctions of a team and the participants reflected on these negatives and how they might affect each group.

Effective teams:
  • Trust on another;
  • Engage in healthy conflict;
  • Commit to decisions, plans and vision;
  • Are accountable to each other;
  • Achieve collective results.

The session finished with prayer and reflection.

Growing Leaders – Developing Leaders (Session 6)

Previous Session

In session 6 we spent the first few minutes reflecting on what had been helpful or puzzling from the previous session.

Helpful things included:
  • Diagrams,
  • Lifeboat story,
  • C.S Lewis,
  • Acts 2 comparison.
Puzzling things included:
  • The Quiz,
  • Transition Curve
  • and Planting the seed.
Developing Leaders


Looking at ingredients needed in a leader who can develop others, the group came up with these ideas:
  • God's vision for them;
  • willingness to take risks;
  • commitment;
  • ability to listen;
  • setting a good example;
  • encouragement;
  • prayer.
After a brief reflection on how Samuel debated over Jesse's sons in 1 Samuel 16 v6-13, we looked at the passages in the Gospels that indicated how Jesus chose his disciples. Each group looked at a different passage and then fed back to the main group:


Matthew 4 v18-22: the context was Jesus just returning from the wilderness: He chose ordinary people in mundane jobs; he was inspired to pick them.
Mark 3 v 13-19: Jesus was definite and deliberate, choosing people with different skills and from different backgrounds.
Luke 5 v 1-11: Jesus just did it, choosing his disciples with authority and without arrogance.
Luke 5 v 27-31: At Levi's banquet he gave an open invitation, getting involved with people who were classed as sinners.
John 1 v 35-42: John the Baptist declared: "Behold the Lamb of God" – got some interested and then one gets another to listen. Jesus demonstrated a charismatic presence.
John 1 v 43-51: Jesus says "Follow me" with charismatic confidence. He then used Philip to reach Nathaniel removing skepticism and using discernment.

  • takes intention
  • takes time
  • takes its toll


Why develop leaders?

  • if we didn't then there wouldn't be any more leaders.
  • it encourages church growth
  • because Jesus told us to (Great Commission)

How did Jesus develop his leaders? – Looked at Mark 3-6

Chapter 3 –
Chapter 4 – Exposes them to new experiences + v33 "as much as they could understand" Jesus gave them as much as they cope with. Jesus stretched them, without straining them – he didn't push them too hard. He taught them – taking them aside and giving them ongoing input.
Chapter 5 – Modelled how to behave. Disciples followed Jesus around learning how to deal with different situations. He demonstrated no fixed patterns but modelled dealing with individuals.
Chapter 6 – Jesus gave a lot of authority – casting out demons. He didn't let them be isolated. He gave them the responsibility to fix the problems like in the feeding of the 5000.

What are the blockages to developing leaders?
  • middle-class models
  • basing decision on leadership based on middle-class credentials
  • logic before creativity.
  • not what we know but who we know (PLUs – People Like Us)
  • using only those who've already led. It's self-limitating if we only use the people we always use.
  • Our own insecurity
    • they might not do it like we do
    • they might be better than us
    • they might make a mistake
    • time – it's quicker to do jobs ourselves – but then others won't develop their independence.
    Harvey shared an experience of finding it difficult to lead others without having a relationship with people. Matt J and Dave both demonstrated good coaching by asking open-ended questions like
    • "What would you do differently now?"
    • "Why do you think that that happened?"
    We commented on the quality of this questioning and compared it with how Emma, Steve and Alison had all tried a mentoring approach – giving advice to Harvey. Richard pointed out that just becomes something feels awkward, it's not necessarily wrong.

    Other common blockages include:
    • a critical atmosphere – "failure not success takes you to the core of Christian ministry."
    • limited view of leadership – e.g. David, Gideon, Saul / Paul
    • No sense of call
    • Heirarchy
    We finished the session with time to reflect.

    Why does character matter?

    Bill Hybels defines character as: who you are when nobody else is looking.”

    I’ve been thinking about character a lot recently. It’s mainly because I’m about to deliver a reflection on ‘character’ at my church this morning for ‘Growing Leaders’ session 4. I’m doing the final exercise after the participants have learnt about character. The prezi I’m going to use is here:


    I was struck by a presentation at the UK Education leaders conference at BETT2011 yesterday (BETT is a technology for education conference that happens in the UK every year). Chris Gerry from the Future Schools Partnership talked about how they use IT smartly to get the best value for it. While a tiny part of his talk was about budget and systems, a large part was about emotions and self esteem – developing character in both pupils and teachers. Could developing character actually save money for the UK education system?
    The list that the participants came up with that are ‘essential’ for Christian leadership are:
    • love
    • holiness
    • servant-hearted
    • wisdom
    • encouraging
    • humility
    • perseverance
    • faithfulness
    • integrity
    • forgiveness
    • compassion
    • trustworthiness
    • integrity

    I wonder how much of that list applies to our secular leadership. To the likes of Gove (in Education), Cameron and Clegg. We’ve all heard of leaders who had a great gift, a great ministry, a great mission, whatever you want to call it, yet through some flaw in their character, their great task was cut short. Brought down by media revelations or a crisis in their private life. We all have flaws – the question is: do we brush them under the carpet and hope they go away or do we face them up and do something about them?

    As Christians we look at the character of Jesus as to be our guide for how we should shape our character. Find out more in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible.
    Perhaps the significant characteristic to add the list above is that of authenticity. Jesus was all those things. He was servant-hearted, wise, encouraging, humble and all the rest. But he was authentic too. He lost his temper when he saw injustice. He challenged authority when he saw it was wrong. He became frustrated when his disciples were infeasibly dense. He was real with people.
    Later on this morning we will be looking at tools to help analyse character. One of the best I’ve found is the Johari window – a great tool for delving into who you really are, although you do need somebody to help you with it. To find out more, Google it.
    So, what shall I do with flaws when I find them?
    Augustine said: “Make sure your life sings the same song as your lips.” Authenticity – I think that’s the key for me.

    Life in the Red Zone


    I was really interested in a discussion on #ukedchat last Thursday (#ukedchat is a Twitter group that meets every Thursday evening from 8-9pm to discuss issues in the UK education system). The issue in question was that of work-life balance. Some very interested points were raised, many with tongues firmly in cheeks (although it's often difficult to tell in Twitter). Some included "Question – do you think any less of your colleagues if they don't do the extra hours? <yes" and "Thank god I don't have kids I couldn't fit them and teaching in!"

    Now I happen to think that "Work-Life balance" is a really unhelpful term. It indicates that work is not a part of life. "Work-leisure balance" is a more helpful term because it indicates that work is part of life. And so is leisure.

    However I also think that the term 'balance' is a really unhelpful term. It indicates that things oppose each other, they are in tension with each other. I prefer the term 'blended life'. It indicates that work and leisure and other stuff can all blend together to make up your life. Sometime they overlap, sometimes they are distant from each other.

    The picture used in Growing Leaders is that of rev counters. When you're revving a car, you can under-rev it so the engine is not working as efficiently as it ought to; you can over-rev it so that the engine can get too hot and damages it; or you can rev it just right so that it is working as efficiently as possible. The over-revving is the point of most danger. It is life in the red zone.

    Growing Leaders identifies 5 ways in which this can happen:
    • Physically (red zone makes you depleted)
    • Emotionally (red zone makes you drained)
    • Relationally (red zone makes you distant)
    • Intellectually (red zone makes you stale)
    • Spiritually (red zone makes you disillusioned)
    Of course it is possible to cope with life in the red zone for a certain periods of time. But if you're in the red zone in all areas for a very long time, it is going to be damaging. So blend your life. See it as a blend of different things – sometimes one of those things will come to the forefront, sometimes it won't.

    I've found having a personal life statement a really helpful way to manage your red zones. Through it I've been able to define my life physically, emotionally, relationally, intellectually and spiritually. I've also been able to right down some key phrases that define how I am. One of them is 'Gives Hope to Children' – it reminds me that my calling as a teacher is about giving hope to those children in my school who have little hope. It helps me focus on what I should be doing and what I like to do. It is self-affirming and life-building. It enables me to have a bigger 'Yes' with which I can say 'No' to the worthy activities that otherwise might take over my life and take me away from my core purpose.

    Finally, as Christians, a blended life fits within the context of living a 'surrendered life'. Our first call is to growing closer to Jesus as his disciples. It is to surrender to Him. 'Surrender' can sound ominous and bleak, but Jesus is love – surrendering to Him makes blending life a real possibility. And it's good because He is good.

    Notes from Growing Leaders Session 2

    Session 2, Growing Leaders was entitled 'Establishing Identity'

    The first section was a 'Swedish Bible Study' on John 15: 1-17. 

    Candle (New things learnt from the passage):
    • You will bear fruit
    • Ask whatever
    • Friends with God
    • He gives choice
    • Branches go into the fire
    • Obey
    Up arrow (any things about the nature of God):
    • Rely on God's strength
    • God does pruning
    • He's a friend before being a Master
    • He wants joy for us
    • He chooses us
    • There's an intimate, organic connection with Him
    • He's generous
    Down arrow (any things learnt about people):

    • If separated can't have fully fruitful life.
    • Love each other
    • We're already clean
    • Don't have to seek worthiness
    • People can know God's business.
    Question Mark (any questions the passage has raised):
    • if we don't obey commands do we remain in his love? (In context of God gave 2 commands – Love God and Love others)
    • "God will give you whatever you ask for"… ?
    • How do we wait on God?
    • How do we wrestle with God?

    There was then a section on the cycles: Cycle of Grief and the Cycle of Grace.

    Some of the feedback included:
    • People pleasing vs Spending Time with God
    • Jesus example – the balance to find solitude.
    • How do we achieve people? As achievements? As targets that can be hit (or missed)?
    • Recognise demands on us
    • Reminder of God's grace.
    • Don't judge achievements by how much you do.

    The morning  finished with looking at Spiritual Discipline. Some of the difficulties or barriers to exercising spiritual disciplines include:

    • busy-ness
    • unpredictability of life
    • No accountability
    • No tangible results
    • hardwork
    • Laziness
    • Matching achievability against despondancy
    • Wanting to feel in control
    • Finding silence
    • Problem of distractions.
    It will be interesting to see what participants have to say about exercising spiritual disciplines when we meet for the next session.

    Growing Leaders Night Away

    The Growing Leaders weekend began with the inevitable satnav search for Barnes Close Conference Centre. It's funny how a place so close to a motorway junction should be so difficult to find. Maybe it was just me, but driving through the circular tunnel under the motorway and up the muddy track didn't fill me with confidence that I was on the right track. But as it happened, I was.

    After wine, nibbles and a pleasant meal (including a fantastic chocolate sponge), we sat down to start the course. A brief look at the aims was followed by the intriguing 'bring an object' event. The challenge of this is to present how a random object that you can find represents an aspect of your relationship with God. Many different objects appeared, ranging from a toothbrush, through a polo mint to 'Derek the Badger' – a small statue that a participant had found somewhere in the venue.

    The 'formal part' of the evening closed with worship and a meditation on Psalm 8.

    After breakfast the next day, session 1 started with worship. The participants began by sharing initial reflections on leadership on a grid. In the section on immediate thoughts of leadership the words chosen included:
    • Military
    • Nurturer
    • Set apart from a group
    • Someone who's balanced
    • Someone Authority
    • Someone with Vision
    • Someone who's dedicated

    What makes someone a leader?
    • Authority
    • Risk taker
    • Humility
    • Vision
    • Enthusiasm
    • Empathy
    • Competence
    • Boundaried
    • Opportunities
    • Integrity

    Here's another Wordle that sums up some desirable leadership qualities.

    Leaders from the Bible came next. The list included: Moses, Deborah, Joseph, peter and Lydia. After some study we wrote down what we can learn from these leaders on a flip chart. Here's what people said we can learn from leaders in the Bible.
    • Listen to God and be faithful to God
    • Leadership can be hard
    • God can use our circumstances
    • Listen to God
    • Even when we make our mistakes, God still uses us.
    • God calls and then equips.
    • Take risks
    • Listen to God
    • Build on what went before.
    • Willingness to do do what she was asking of others.
    • Don't judge by appearances.
    • God will make good on his promises.
    • OK to test your calling
    • Listen to God
    • Be courageous – be prudent.
    • Willing to be lead.
    • "God will get you in the end".
    • Humble
    • He responded.
    • Be persuasive and urgent.
    This is summed up in this Wordle.

    In the bible study that followed, each group came up with marks of Jesus leadership and summed it up in one sentence:
    • Jesus always reflects the nature and character of God.
    • As a leader, Jesus took his directions from God; was ice cool when under pressure and had assembled the right team for the tasks ahead and is articulate enough to communicate strong messages in an accessible tone.
    • Jeus is challenging, confrontational, but compassionate.
    • A unique, humble, visionary and compassionate leader, given authority and direction by his Father to respond to needs decisively and empower others.
    The attached pictures show the results of this bible study.

    • Social Slider