Americans love British leaders. Even as his popularity declined after the Iraq invasion, Tony Blair remained many Americans' preferred leader in the "special relationship." We cast one of our most acclaimed actresses, Meryl Streep, to play the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. We're still celebrating the legacy of John Stott, remembered strangely by Americans as above the controversies that divide evangelicals stateside.
Maybe it's the accent that we associate with profundity. Maybe it's the dry wit we pretend to think is humorous. Or maybe it's the history that shames our boasts of universities founded as long ago as 1636. Try AD 1096, Oxford dons retort between puffs from their pipe. Maybe only Jesus and Paul are quoted more frequently by evangelical pastors that that don turned patron saint, C. S. Lewis.
- If pastors love Lewis above all other Brits, then Winston Churchill comes in a close second. Chances are the ministers you know have read a Churchill biography or two. And why not? Ministry feels a lot like war sometimes, and Churchill played a major role in the two biggest conflicts this world has ever seen. If the pulpit sometimes feels like a vulnerable place to stand, at least the congregation doesn't boo and hiss as they pepper you with questions, as MPs do in Parliament. Criticism can be harsh in a church, but it doesn't hold a candle to bearing the wrath of a nation watching its sons, husbands, and fathers die helplessly and pointlessly on the beaches of Gallipoli.
Pastors can identify with the ups and downs of Churchill's career. His quips inspire them. And his triumphs and tragedies can even teach us a thing or two (or five) about leadership. I've deduced these lessons primarily by reading Max Hastings's book Winston's War: Churchill 1940-1945.
(1) Your rhetoric matters.
The British army never stood a chance of matching the Germans. Without help from the Soviets or Americans, Britain was likely to fall to the Nazi juggernaut, as did the the European continent. So Churchill took to the floor of Parliament and the radio airwaves to do what he could: rouse the British people to meet their moment. One day following France's surrender, Churchill told the House of Commons, "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"
It was. The Royal Air Force fended off German bombers ahead of an expected invasion. The shell-shocked public would not bow to German aggression. Probably no one but Churchill could have roused them to make this stand. Armed with little more than eloquence and the British Channel, Churchill led Britain through their darkest hour.
We live in a show-me age that values deeds over creeds, actions over words. But public speaking remains a powerful tool in the pastor's kit. Good thing, too, because God's Word gives pastors this command: "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (1 Tim. 4:2). If Churchill could inspire a nation with words, how much more can we do when armed with the only divinely inspired Word?
(2) You will make mistakes---lots of them.