Lessons from a leader clinging on

As I write this, there is currently an exodus going on in government. Boris Johnson – who appears hell bent on clinging onto his leadership for grim death – is seeing wave after wave of resignations from government. First came the double-whammy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Health Secretary, two major roles. Now there is a steady trickle of junior ministers tendering their resignations. There may yet come some further bigger names. As I write this at 10am on Wednesday morning, the Prime Minister shows no sign of going anywhere. What his fate will be by tea time, it is hard to say. Where we will be at by tomorrow morning, when this goes out, harder to say still.

Looking at it, it is difficult to see how any Prime Minister could continue under the circumstances as members of his government repeatedly resign and say they can no longer support his leadership. Eventually, he will have nobody left to promote. But as hard as it may seem for him to stay in post, it’s not like we haven’t been here before. The litany of reasons for him to go to date have failed to materialise in him actually going anywhere.

Of course, Boris Johnson is not the only person to blame in all this. The party had countless opportunities to be rid of him. They even held a confidence vote and, albeit reasonably narrowly, voted to affirm their ongoing confidence in the Prime Minister. That is in the face of numerous known lies being told to the public, a scandal that involved him locking down the country and enforcing rules on people that he and his friends routinely ignored, continual accusations of cronyism, suggestions he gave honours for people to keep quiet about personal indiscretions in office and now evidence that he knowingly appointed someone who had complaints upheld against him of sexual misconduct. Yet the party gladly kept him on because, when it comes down to it, they thought he was a vote winner. All can be forgiven if he might win an election.

Unfortunately for the party, they have played this extremely badly. Now he has the worst polling of any Prime Minister of the modern era, the vote-winner thing is looking pretty shaky. Had the party had the integrity to remove him from post when they had ample opportunity, they would not be in the situation they currently find themselves in. But their vote of confidence in him means that they cannot call another one for at least 12 months. And that would put them within a year of a General Election, which nobody wants to be changing party leader that close to an election. Worse still, they have nobody obvious to take over. There are no real well-known, well-liked big hitters to take on the job with any chance of winning anything. Had they removed Johnson earlier, they could have worked on this and built up the profile of a new leader. They are going to struggle on that front now regardless of what happens from here.

I think there are a number of lessons the church can learn from this sorry affair. Perhaps, chief amongst them, the church must have real integrity and remove leaders who are not qualified for office no matter how apparently, outwardly successful they may be. It is tempting to want to keep someone in office because they draw in lots of funding, they have a big platform, they have amazing rhetorical skill and obvious teaching gifts or they are seeing real fruit in conversions from their ministry. There are any number of reasons we can find as to why we might want to keep somebody who lacks integrity in office. But just like the Conservative Party, if we don’t have the integrity to remove people who have disqualified themselves – even if it seems like they could do so much for the church if we just leave them there – we may find it is too late and the problems we face far worse, more damaging and potentially unresolvable. The gospel fruit and outward success we were justifying as grounds to keep the person in post might well be the very thing we damage beyond repair for generations in our community because we did nothing.

Another lesson we might draw from this is that acting early and with integrity may save far deeper damage later on. If we actively intervene when we perceive small issues in our church leaders, we may just save them – and the church – from running headlong down a path that will cause far greater damage to all involved down the track. If we can put out little fires as soon as we see a small spark ignite them, we might well save ourselves the pain of a whole forest being set ablaze later on. Holding our leaders to account on smaller matters means that we might save them from any need to resign later on if we don’t. Ensuring that there are means to hold our leaders accountable in the small things may well save the church from the damage and devastation that will be wreaked if it is left to grow unchecked. Better to address matters lovingly, kindly and gently when a smaller issue arises rather than ignoring matters and allowing things to grow to the point of destruction.

For leaders, perhaps there is a clear lesson on knowing when it is time to leave. I’m not sure this helps us address the thorny question of exactly when it is best to resign. But I think it does give us a pointer of when it is absolutely, painfully clear that we should leave. We all know that sin blinds us and there may even be times we have disqualified ourselves that we just don’t recognise in ourselves. But there can be no mistaking when the church en masse are all saying you need to go. This is all the more evident when it is not people who have been continual critics or those who opposed your leadership from day one, but friends and loving members who have gladly supported you over many years. When even these folks are saying it is time for you to leave, there should be no doubt that your time is up.