We are entering a period of challenging transition at Christ the Sower. Our strong and compassionate leadership team, motivated by and seeking to live within the parameters of Jesus’ love and kindness to build a learning community, is running in parallel with its successor leadership, motivated primarily by pupil outcomes in core subjects and purposeful commitment to the accepted data proxies as the desirable evidence of that motivation. Expectations, agendas, values and modi operandi are all very different and the challenge of relating one to the other whilst giving to our staff confidence, peace, hope and raised expectations of themselves is a serious one at which we may fail if we do not choose the engagement carefully. Already today some conversations have taken place where it was necessary to be suitably armed and informed. Working together, in a degree of mutual submission, will take a lot of talk, openness and “agreement on our disagreements.” The focus by each leadership team on different teleologies will mean that disagreement will be a feature of our conversation. How we manage that to reassure and support the teams we lead will be vital and a contributor to the common good, a source of grace to our whole school.
It has begun already to feel different, more different than we had expected; for me as leader (for now) there are new challenges as to how to conduct myself in the day to day. It is always good to have new discipleship challenges.
What I feel God saying, repeatedly, is that I should strengthen and reactivate my leadership rather than give up and yield. It is a key part of my pilgrimage, about which God spoke to me on the very first day of my headship here:
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. (Ps 84: 5-7)
Going from strength to strength is part of the commission! During the tense times in April, when our Local Authority first began to voice its dissatisfaction with our leadership – and mine in particular – strength seemed to be the one thing not available! The scripture that began to speak to me then was Psalm 25:
In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. For the sake of your name, Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
Who, then, are those who fear the Lord? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose. They will spend their days in prosperity, and their descendants will inherit the land. The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish. Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. See how numerous are my enemies and how fiercely they hate me!
Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you. Deliver Israel, O God, from all their troubles.
I brought this psalm to our professional learning day gathering on Monday. Although it is a psalm of time and place, it is also a description of the need for humans to take their protection, affirmation, instruction, defence and forgiveness from God and it is in this spirit I read it and shared it. It will remain a key scripture over the summer and doubtless our emotional need will keep us returning to it for sustenance, reassurance and strength.
The scriptures through which the Lord has begun to speak at the moment are from 2 Timothy, a letter written by Paul to his close friend and disciple Timothy of Ephesus, possibly towards the end of his life, when imprisoned and concerned about betrayal by those he trusted.
Paul talks in chapter 4 of the epistle about being poured out like a drink offering, and it is this call to exhaustion, of spending ourselves on behalf of those we love and serve that will make the real difference – not to how we are remembered, for that is of little import, but in what they remember of us to do. It is this calling, to teach and live lives that are worth learning from that are at the heart of what I understand Jesus saying to us at the moment:
Being strong in grace will be vital – a pulsating source of love to those who may not deserve it but who need it nonetheless. Beyond that, we need to embrace the suffering that we are enduring, as small as it is, because that is just what soldiers do, and then beyond that in turn, we guard what God has created here so that it may flourish more fully and readily in the future. The way that this is mediated to others is through re-articulation of our vision (a key piece of work) and the trusting of the work to those who are qualified to carry it forward.
And then there are the songs that sustain us. Two have stood out for me in this season. One is a lament, probably – an astonishing rendering of Stevie Wonder’s Cause we’ve ended as lovers played by Jeff Beck and Tal Wilkenfeld at Ronnie Scott’s about ten years ago. This is just a marvellous piece of beauty – Tal Wilkenfeld was just 20 when she worked here as Jeff Beck’s bassist, and shines. It is full of the leadership of the old combined with the promise and hope of youth. I bought the CD and have listened to this, and other tracks on it, continuously. It seems to define this time for me, and will always belong to this summer, and to this experience.
The other is Graham Kendrick’s great setting of Psalm 25 – To you O Lord I lift up my soul. I learnt this in Spring Harvest in 1997, probably, and heard Graham sing it about 5 years ago at the same venue. I sing the refrain “No one whose hope is in you, will ever be put to shame – that’s why my eyes are are on you, O Lord!” loudly in the car: a reminder that in his eyes, no matter what opinion our Local Authority holds of us, we will never be anything less than honoured.
This is a formidable set of tools to support and guide us on the path toward the end of this term, and represents again God’s commitment to us as leaders, that he continues to speak and to inspire is.