Public Leadership: lessons from Justin Welby

By JubileeCentre 09 Jul 2014

by Philip S. Powell, June 9 2014

Justin Welby recently delivered the keynote address on 'Global Christianity in the 21st Century' at the 2014 National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast. No Archbishop of Canterbury had addressed the prayer breakfast before, and it was the first time that the event was attended by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. It was significant to hear the head of the Church of England address the political and cultural leaders of our nation, given the recent debate on the influence of Christianity in Britain.

WelbyWelby’s appointment as Archbishop came as surprise to many. The official announcement by the Crown Nominations Commission brought genuine excitement amongst Christians across the board that he might provide the kind of leadership the church currently needs.

Educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied history and law, Welby enjoyed a successful career in business before ordination. He brings wisdom and authority to the role because of his intimate knowledge of both the secular and the Christian world. He pioneered and led reconciliation work, especially in Africa, before becoming Bishop of Durham. As a member of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, he has publicly spoken out against payday loan companies like Wonga.


One of the challenges Christians face in public life is working out what it means to live the Christian faith in a secular society. Sometimes this can be straightforward: making known I am a Christian and what I will and will not do. But in other situations this can be tricky. Few Christians working in the City of London felt they were doing anything morally wrong before the 2007-08 financial crisis; only later did many of them realise the degree to which the whole financial system had become corrupt.

Welby was familiar with the world of finance, having been group treasurer of a large British oil company. This experience shaped his understanding of what it means to live out his faith in the ‘real’ world. One of the lessons he learnt during this time was that everyone has a vocation, and every Christian has a calling to leadership. Leadership is not primarily about position; in a work context this means Christians accepting the responsibility to become spiritual leaders for their colleagues, influencing and leading the people around them towards Christ. It is about becoming a pastor to others and praying for them.


Another aspect to leadership has to do with taking risks and embracing suffering for the sake of Christ. Leadership is never easy and for Christians leadership is really about humble servanthood. No matter how successful a believer becomes in his or her professional career, the cost of following Jesus can never be negated. At the prayer breakfast Welby shared that ‘the heart of being a Christian is knowing Jesus Christ… and we find ourselves renewed and strengthened for the call of carrying the cross and following Him.’

Without a deep commitment to Jesus and being rooted in Scripture, being a Christian witness in the world is impossible. Jesus calls us to honour his name above all else and this often means saying ‘no’ to compromise and walking away from temptation. Such choices might entail missing a promotion or being denied certain rewards, but in the long term Christians are called to measure success based on what is right in God’s eyes.

Jesus was and is the ultimate model of leadership; the Jubilee Centre has just published a commentary by Michael Schluter on ten encounters around Jesus in Mark’s gospel; read The Relational Master here.

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