Why Tony Blair’s Leadership Journey Failed

Tony Blair began his British premiership with a huge landslide of support from almost every section of British society. But ten years later he left office under a cloud, with far more popularity in the USA than the UK. At the Harvard Business Review, Gill Corkindale asks where did it all go wrong and what lessons can other leaders learn from his mistakes. In summary:

  • Presidential rather than cabinet-style of leadership
  • Strong control and inner circle that led to factions and polarization
  • Over-reliance on rebuttal and spin
  • Agenda that relied on launching too many initiatives and not seeing them through
  • Breaking a personal pact with the public
  • Dysfunctional relationships and a compromise too far
  • Appealing to too many stakeholders
  • Back-seat driving after leaving office
  • Believing in your own hype
  • Profiting from office and living the celebrity lifestyle

I know some Pastors think they have nothing to learn from leaders in the fields of business, politics, sports, the military, etc. I understand the hesitation. But surely we can at least learn from them how not to lead?

You can read the whole article here.

Preaching without notes (2)

Further to yesterday’s post on preaching without notes (or with less notes), here’s the method I follow to decrease reliance on paper in the pulpit:

1. Saturation
You must be saturated in your material. This is one of the benefits of preparing nearer the time of sermon delivery. The longer the time period between preparation and preaching, the more you will have to rely on your notes. I also find that praying over my sermon, applying each point to myself really helps to embed the sermon in the heart as well as in the head.

2. Scriptural
If your text is just a pretext for some topical sermon with little connection to your text, then you will be much more reliant on notes. But if your sermon points and material flow naturally out of Scripture, then you immediately have a huge help to reducing your reliance on notes. If you blank, as we all do, then you should be able to just look at your text for prompts to get you back on track.

3. Structure
You must have a clear structure for your sermon material. It is much easier to remember five bullet points than a five line paragraph. Use the outlining/indenting feature of your Word processor and use the same lettering/spacing standard each time to train your mind to step through the process.

4. Summarize
Try to summarize your points and sub-points, cutting the words down more and more until your main points and sub-points are no more than 3-5 words, and your explanatory sentences are no more than one line long. I would recommend that you end up with no more than one page of a summary. I’ve attached a sample below from one of my sermons. I may take this into the pulpit in my pocket or inside my Bible as a “fallback” if I blank. But if I’ve properly prepared by following the other steps outlined here, then I usually don’t need to refer to it.

5. Stress
Once you have a one page summary, stress or highlight both your structure and the main word in each point and sentence. Use a highlight marker to color the main points and sub-points. This will help “photograph” the structure into your mind.

Then, using a dark pen, underline the key word in each point, sub-point and line. This word should be one which “triggers” memory of the whole point/line. Write the first letter of each trigger word in the left hand margin. You will then have a series of letters running up and down the left side of your page. Try to memorize one main-point letter and the sub-point letters. Then see if you can recall the word and phrase or sentence related to each letter. The letter should trigger a word which triggers the point (see sample below). 

6. Study
This method does not advocate memorizing the sermon word for word. Instead you are remembering the key points, sub-points and “trigger” words (the skeleton). But you will need to stock your mind with a wide vocabulary so that the “trigger” word will pull in suitable other words to speak. If you don’t you will tend to start sounding “samey.” You should read widely and constantly to build up a ready vocabulary. Read outside theological books and magazines. Read a reputable newspaper or contemporary biographies. This will keep your vocabulary fresh, contemporary, and less cliched.

7. Start
The hardest step here is simply to start. It is like learning to swim for the first time without a flotation device, or learning to ride a bike without stabilizers. It is a large psychological barrier. So, let me give you some helps to starting.

First, start small. Instead of launching out with a full sermon in your head, choose a small section which you are committed to preaching without notes and follow the procedure outlined above. Next time, do a larger section or two sections, and so on. Your mind will get into a groove and you will become gradually more confident in the method.

Second, have a back-up plan. Even though you are intending to preach a section or two extemporaneously, take your paper with you anyway so that if you do “blank,” you have your paper to fall back on. The great temptation here though is that your mind will take the easiest path and so will you. If you know there is going to be no lifebelt, you will prepare much better for the jump!

Third, don’t try to memorize Scripture references or quotations. Have these written down on a small paper so that you can read from them. That will save you a lot of mental work. Also, quotations tend to carry more authority if read rather than repeated from memory.

Download this file


Book Sale (35-40% discounts)

Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service have their ‘Annual Customer Appreciation Sale’ tomorrow and Thursday (8th/9th September). It includes all sorts of different publishers at highly discounted prices (EP, Crossway, RHB, Baker, Shepherd Press, Christian Focus, Hendrickson, Day One, P&R, Joshua Press etc).  In general I believe that the discount are going to be around 35-40% off the retail price.

Preaching without notes (1)

John Broadus was a pastor and professor of preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1800′s. Charles Spurgeon regarded Broadus as “the greatest of living preachers.” According to Wikipedia, the Church historian Albert Henry Newman said that Broadus was “perhaps the greatest man the Baptists have produced.” Brodus’s classic Homiletics textbook On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons remains a must-read for all seminary students.

Broadus identified four basic methods of sermon delivery:

Reading: The preacher takes his manuscript into the pulpit and reads from it.
Reciting: The speaker repeats from memory what has been written and learned.
Extemporizing: The plan of the discourse is drawn out on paper and all the principal points are stated or suggested, but the language is extemporaneous.
Freely delivering: After thorough preparation, the preacher goes into the pulpit without notes or manuscript and without conscious effort to memorize the sermon.

The method chosen will determine how much paper is brought into the pulpit. I do not want to set down rules on how much we should read or rely upon notes. Much will depend on the speaker and the hearers. However, if there is a danger in our days it is probably too much reliance upon notes. We are all horrified at the idea of someone going into a pulpit unprepared and just rambling around for a time. However, the Reformed Church is perhaps in danger of going to the other extreme, of having such over-prepared sermons that the amount of paper required to preach them is increasing more and more -  as is reliance on the manuscript.

This is happening at the same time as the people, especially younger people, are going in the opposite direction. People want to be spoken to personally, directly, and relationally. President Obama understood that before he was President, although since inauguration he has resorted mainly to the autocue, diminishing his appeal. In the UK, the present Prime Minister, David Cameron, burst on to the scene at a Conservative Party Conference when he spoke passionately about his vision for the future of the UK, and what caught everyone’s imagination was that he did it without notes. After the Blair/Brown years of polished marketing and spin, it seemed much more authentic.

We should always remember that while our pulpit paper may contain what we want to communicate, it can also become one of the greatest barriers to communication. Often the preacher’s eyes are more on this than on their congregation.  Pastor Al Martin commented on this:

The issue is not how much written composition is done in the study or how much written material is brought into the pulpit. The issue is how much dependence upon and preoccupation with written material is manifested in the act of preaching. To state the matter another way, the issue is how much mental and physical attachment is there to one’s paper. At the end of the day we are not so much concerned with issues of paper and print, but with the issues of eyes and brains.

And listen to these strong words from Dabney:

Reading a manuscript to the people can never, with any justice, be termed preaching…. In the delivery of the sermon there can be no exception in favor of the mere reader. How can he whose eyes are fixed upon the paper before him, who performs the mechanical task of reciting the very words inscribed upon it, have the inflections, the emphasis, the look, the gesture, the flexibility, the fire, or oratorical actions? Mere reading, then, should be sternly banished from the pulpit, except in those rare cases in which the didactic purpose supersedes the rhetorical, and exact verbal accuracy is more essential than eloquence.

Shedd argued that young preachers should from the very beginning of their ministries preach at least one extemporaneous sermon every week. By this he did not mean preaching without study or preparation – quite the opposite. Extemporaneous sermons require more preparation in many ways. What he meant was reducing your sermon to a one-page of skeleton outline, and becoming so familiar with it, that referring to it during the act of preaching is minimized. Then, throughout your ministry, try to reduce the size of the skeleton, and dependence on it, more and more. Let the ideas be pre-arranged but leave exact expression of them to the moment of preaching.

Shedd gives these requirements for extemporaneous preaching:

  • A heart glowing and beating with evangelical affections
  • A methodical intellect – to organize the sermon material into a clear and logical structure
  • The power of amplification – or the ability to expand upon a theme
  • A precise and accurate mode of expression
  • Patient and persevering practice

To these we might add, prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit for each and all of these requirements.

Tomorrow, I’ll pass on seven steps I’ve followed to help decrease reliance on paper in the pulpit.

Pastoral Picks

Puritan Preaching
Innovative and insightful analysis of Puritan Preaching by Joseph Steele.

Death is not Dying
Most of you have probably seen this but its huge pastoral usefulness was brought home to me again recently. Rachel passed into glory a few months after this recording.

Word Studies
I probably shouldn’t do this…but here is how to do Word Studies without knowing Hebrew and Greek (three steps along the top bar). And for the more gifted at biblical languages, here’s a more detailed article on word studies. I found the summaries at the end of each section extremely helpful.

The Church’s Mission
Martyn Lloyd-Jones quoted by Kevin DeYoung.

Collaborative Sermon Preparation
Well I usually agree with Brian Croft; I link to almost everything he posts. But this article confirms to me yet again that we should call no man Master. I don’t think Paul had collaborative sermon preparation in mind in his pastoral epistles.