Around a month ago, I attended the excellent HTB leadership conference at the Royal Albert Hall. I know, I know. It is not a Catholic conference. A few people helpfully reminded me that only decades ago I would have had to go to Confession for attending a non-Catholic church. But, I have to say, a great believer though I am that all we need is found within the Catholic Church, I did gain a lot from this conference. For those who don’t know it, Holy Trinity Brompton is the church led by Nicky Gumbel, the founder of the Alpha course. I really am impressed by them. I’m impressed at their evangelisation, how they draw people into the life of the church, how they disciple and form people. All without any sacramental grace 🙂 I really think we can learn lots from them.
So, for a full two days, the stunning location of the Royal Albert Hall was crammed with over 4,000 passionate Christians (they must be pretty passionate to take two days off work) and the quality of the teaching was, on the whole, excellent. (First of all, a little aside: I think this conference is great for Catholics who are well-formed. I would not recommend it to Catholics who have a hazy understanding of doctrine or of what we mean by the Church, because you have to remember, when all these speakers are speaking about the “Church” – fantastic as they are – they do not mean what we mean by the Church.)
OK, so doctrinal differences aside: What did I learn about leadership?
1. You do not need a position to lead: This is what I want to shout out to every young Catholic who feels a desire in their heart to make a difference, to lead, to serve, to do the things they think should be happening already, but are not. Lead anyway! Perhaps the older people who are doing the things you should be doing by now are reluctant to let go of their positions: that’s their problem, lead anyway! Because through our Baptism we have an intrinsic calling within our lay vocation to holiness, and to evangelise, we don’t have to wait for anyone else’s permission. Do it anyway. Start the prayer group, form the study group, organise a retreat or a conference… Don’t wait for the position. Maybe one day someone will realise, ‘Wow, this person’s leading a whole crowd of people, we should give him a position!’ Maybe they won’t. Let’s just do the things it seems clear God would like to be happening. This was a ‘penny-drop’ moment for me, thank you Judah Smith!
2. Resist discouragement: This is what I needed to hear big-time… Somehow, in the Church, especially when you work for it, several things happen a day which can discourage you if you let them. We hear lots of negativity, a bit of cynicism, complaining… The Lord isn’t making us a “new creation” for this! The devil wants us to be discouraged – let’s not be! There is always something to be thankful for, God’s mercy is new every moment.
3. Do not look for glory: We have to be constantly on the look out for ‘rectitude of intention’… what a murky area. For anyone in a role of leadership, this is something we need to ask ourselves every single day, ‘Are these projects, plans, ideas my will or the Lord’s? Am I truly surrendered to God’s action? Am I committed to working on in obscurity with little or no recognition?’ From experience, it is far, far better for us to be working in obscurity with no one noticing what we are doing. How hard is it to accept that though?! Every part of us rebels against that idea. Rick Warren, author of Purpose-Driven Life, put it nicely: The fruit growing in the shade grows ripest.
4. Have a day of rest: Preferably Sunday 🙂 This is another way of ensuring God is driving our plans, not us. We give him his day, we relax and recuperate, spend time with the people closest to us.
5. Live with integrity: Another great Rick Warren point. We Catholics call this “unity of life” (see Christifidelis Laici). Integrity of life means that how we are with one person is how we are with everyone. I am who I am. I am the same with my Catholic friends, my non-Catholic friends. I am not divided into compartments.
Formation of Catholic leaders is vital for the next generation. How are we doing this? Are we doing it at all? One speaker used the image of the ‘exchange zone’ in a relay race: the baton has to be handed to the next runner within a certain stretch of space, not too early, not too late. Are we preparing the next generation? Are we handing over too early or too late?