What do you get when you walk into a room and mingle with a former barrister, a councillor, a children’s entertainer, two Christian radio DJs, a provider of GP training, a nutritional therapist and an eclectic member of the General Synod?
Well – apart from the opportunity for endless, enlightening conversation – you discover that these are only half the fascinating men and women of different ages and diverse backgrounds who’ve also signed up to attend a Public Leadership media training weekend. If you’re a more ordinary mortal like me, who dabbles in education or writing while juggling life as a parent, or someone who might hesitate to consider such an event – even though you can’t resist the calling – then you need to think again.
After first reading about the weekend, I was hooked. The central theme of being ‘a voice for good’ has resonated with me ever since I had my first article published in a local New Jersey paper back in 2000, through to the time when I began a blog or when I delved into PSHE teaching (an unusual option for a Christian) several years ago. And yet, I felt inadequate. I’m not at the top of my field(s) like many who would be going to the event. I’ve purposefully avoided some opportunities to lead as it conflicts with family life and have often taken on voluntary roles in the last several years alongside part-time work. So, what right did I have to even apply? I don’t know, but I finally shut out that fear and went ahead with the application. Still, I had my doubts and considered pulling out.
I’m so glad I didn’t. My mind remains in overdrive after taking in all that was covered at the conference – which managed to successfully incorporate high quality talks, devotions, discussion, group activities and role play into a worthwhile, challenging weekend. And still allow time for eating and drinking! (And a few dips in the pool for some.)
The content covered current political, theological and practical issues pertaining to the development of Christian voices in the media, with much opportunity to think, reflect and share a timely and vital conversation. And yes, the name of Trump did crop up in that context! All the speakers, who included a communications director and a former Radio 4 journalist, were incredibly engaging and motivating. The potential for influence through engagement in public life was highlighted in different ways as each contributor shared their knowledge and experiences, including pitfalls and lessons learned along the way. I would have readily listened to every single one for twice the length of time that they were allotted. No mediocre talks here whatsoever!
A standout feature for me at this event was definitely the interactive nature of the programme. We weren’t just talked at but were continually encouraged to take part, to contribute our experiences and to ask questions of ourselves and others. For instance, one group task involved examining the day’s newspapers and discussing the content, and to look for any positives (a distinct lack of which was found) as well as the story perhaps not being reported.
I also learned so much from the other attendees, each of whom brought a unique dynamic and perspective to the sessions. The focus throughout seemed positive and boundary breaking – in the sense that we seemed to be caught up in something momentous. There were several injections of humour, too, along with chances to chat over meals that fostered unity and common vision, despite our disparate interests and occupations. The spiritual dimension was intentionally at the core of this weekend, drawing our minds repeatedly back to biblical concepts and examples of godly leadership throughout Scripture.
We discovered practical ways to play a part through learning to communicate better and how to engage well with the media. The language we use, for example, is a crucial part of whether the things we say will be well received. Neill Harvey-Smith talked (via video link) about how Jesus had extraordinary insight into people’s lives. “We need to become people who are brilliant at insight…experts at what motivates and interests people,” he said. How can we “reach into the culture in which we live?”
The weekend has given me the kick I needed to take that next step and be ready to speak up, and I’m sure that I’ll be better equipped as a result of the training. The role play session was particularly challenging and enlightening and I’m so glad I had the chance to take part in such an activity (with a professional radio interviewer). I discovered the importance of injecting personal story and avoiding focussing on the negative. Christopher Landau advised us to “be alive to the context, the audience you’re trying to reach.”
My main thoughts by the end of the weekend encompassed the sheer wonder at all the potential in one place, and the names and faces of people I know who would equally benefit from attending a future event. Dr Dave Landrum’s final encouragements included “Taking responsibility for where God has called you” and “leading change intentionally”, while emphasising the need to be resilient and to take a long view into the future.
I may be biased, but as far as weekends or Christian conferences go, the Public Leadership weekend is a cut above the rest. Look into it here.