Great Scott…

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Jim Collins was on top form at the Global Leadership Summit this summer. He summarised his new book, ‘Great by Choice’, which I strongly recommend. But at one point he did something disturbing for a Brit – he attacked one of our national icons.

Robert Falcon Scott is one of our heroes. Undeniably brave, and loyal to his men, he led the dash to the South Pole, was beaten there by Roald Amundsen, and died on the return journey.

I was brought up on the legend of his Stoicism and self sacrifice. The famous line from his diary was held up as a model of beautifully balanced prose: ‘Good God, this is awful place.’ He’s a very British hero. He was played by John Mills in the movie – how much better does it get than that?

But Collins is right – Scott is not a model to follow.

This is no cheap shot – both Scott and Amundsen were unimaginably brave and tough. Scott rightly deserves to be remembered for that.

Nevertheless, the record shows that Scott was rash, ill-prepared and erratic. Amundsen was careful, rigorous, and stolid.

Scott was a failure, and Collins alleges that, notwithstanding the courage, his failure was largely self-inflicted, and then inflicted on his team

What can church leaders learn from this tragic comparison?

  • Be like Amundsen, and do your careful preparation – it’s not cheating. Read the books, plan the meetings, know the plans and analyse the risks. Amundsen took risks – and so will you. But he had evaluated them first. Scott took risks without the evaluation.
  • Be like Amundsen, and do your dogged work – that’s not cheating either. Collins recounts Amundsen’s regime of a twenty mile walk, in whatever weather, rhythmically getting to the goal. Scott raced, and died. Are you slowly, daily, reading your scriptures, praying through your people, checking the contacts, teaching the Word?

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I am squeamish about Collins’ ‘greatness’ language. Maybe it doesn’t fit with me as a Brit, or as a Christian. Maybe I need to think about it more.

But Collins is right about the need to have the big plan, and slowly under God, to work with it. Here’s Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians, which I think is the better way to approach our plans:

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With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess. 1:11-12)

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