Jeff Short chats to Emma Ineson, the Bishop of Penrith, about her new book which offers a critical and biblical insight into concepts of ambition and 'success'.

Ambition; What Jesus said about Power, Success and Counting Stuff

Jeff: It's quite a tantalizing title just when power is in the headlines at the moment. What's prompted you to write the book at this time?

Emma: Ambition and power are provocative words, aren't they? We see so much in the world around us, in politics, all over the place people using power for good or not for good, depending on where you stand on things. I wanted to write a book that is a reflection for Christian leaders, not just church leaders, but leaders in business, in politics, in education, in healthcare; for Christians to think how do we use power well. And if we're going to be ambitious for the gospel, what might that look like for us as Christian leaders? How do we stay on the right side of what Jesus taught about those things?

Jeff: A lot of people come out with the mantra that power corrupts. Does it necessarily always corrupt?

Emma: My argument is that it doesn't necessarily. It depends what you mean by power, it depends what you mean by ambition. Those two words can be used wrongly. We see really bad examples when people use power to exploit others. But on the other hand Jesus says that as his followers we would have the power of the Holy Spirit. We can use that in good ways, to bring about good change in the world. I'm really encouraging people to take a look at both those words and make sure we stay on the Jesus side of them.

Jeff: Ambition: there's a good word. Obviously, it's a good thing to have ambition but sometimes do you think people overstretch in being ambitious?

Emma: The real question is what are you being ambitious for? I think God has made us with a sense of ambition. When he made Adam and Eve he said fill the Earth and subdue it, steward creation. That is an ambitious thing to give people to do. But it's when we use ambition for our own selfish ends and just to make sure that we get ahead, that's when it can go wrong. I think when we use our desires that God gives us for God's kingdom, that's when it can go right.

Jeff: One of the comments made about the book is 'beatitudes for ambitious leaders'. I love that phrase - beatitudes or beautiful attitudes.

Emma: It's my favourite passage in the whole bible, from Matthew and Luke. Matthew particularly 5, 1 to 10 when Jesus sits down with his followers who were a rag tag bunch of people. They weren't what society would call the most powerful people; they were probably those on the margins. And he said this is what it looks like to be blessed: blessed are the poor in heart; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the peacemakers.

If we're going to be ambitious for the kingdom we can do a lot worse than allow Jesus' words in the beatitudes to shape the way we see our work and our ministry and our ambition, to make sure they're focusing in the right direction.

Jeff: Is it something that you've had to deal with personally? I guess if you are nominated and you become a bishop that may appear to some people to be success.

Emma: Exactly. I guess I am, in the book, reflecting on a bit of my personal journey in leadership and being called into more senior leadership positions. One of the things I speak about most in the book is the need for humility, the need for church leaders and anybody who's been given responsibility to stay humble and to stay focused on God. As a bishop, my main role is to enable the ministry of others and to speak out for those who don't have a voice. It's when we start getting caught up, as bishops, in fancy robes and rings and crosses and all the bling that goes with that or what the equivalent might be in your own circle of work, that things can go wrong. So it's been an interesting personal reflection as well as writing the book for others.

Jeff: I can't tell you how pleased I am at how you responded to that because one of my contentions has been that the hallmark I'd like to see on any leader is humility. Like Jesus washing the disciples feet he's saying I'm your leader but I'm showing you how you should exercise leadership.

Emma: Absolutely. Jesus is the absolute model of this, isn't he? He came not to be served but to serve. And he was God. He's got all the power in the world but he laid it down for us and that's such en encouragement for leaders to think how can I lay down power? How can I give power to others? How can I empower others? And as you say be more like Jesus in doing that.

Jeff: As I said at the beginning, it seems to be a good book for the time that we are in when we see people jostling for power; in parliament but also there is this sense that to be successful you've got to be seen to be even if it's only winning Britain's Got Talent. It's about overcoming or defeating others or getting to the top of what appears to be a greasy pole.