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01 July 2009

Tomorrow's leaders

Tomorrow's leaders

Daniel Webster writes about an important opportunity for young people...

Every Friday in a corner of Westminster, just a stone's throw from the Houses of Parliament, 20 young graduates try to develop a Christian mind. And no, this is not some strange exercise in eugenics. It's the Care Leadership Programme.

"Care is privileged to be involved in preparing the leaders of tomorrow for a lifetime of Christian engagement," said Nola Leach, Care's chief executive, who gets visibly excited when talking about this subject. "When talking to the 190 who have graduated from the Leadership Programme, it is clear that this was a life-changing year for them, which resulted in their being in positions of influence around the world."

The programme offers young graduates a range of placements for four days a week, which is supplemented by teaching and visiting speakers on a Friday and occasional study weekends. A few years ago I took part in the programme and had the privilege of working for a Member of Parliament from Monday to Thursday each week. Then on Friday I had my opinions and views rigorously tested - and often found wanting.

At its inception the programme focused purely on the political realm, but it now also works with media and non-governmental organisations to offer a breadth of experience, reflecting the need for a Christian presence in all aspects of public life. Stephen Timms MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, notes that it "provides recent graduates with great hands-on experience of working in politics, as well as the opportunity to connect the realities of public service with their Christian faith."

Addressing the gap

Regular Christian activities sometimes leave a gap, meaning that we often struggle to articulate what our faith has to say about the world outside the stain-glassed window. That world, oriented on values and priorities rarely in tune with Christianity, provides us with the challenge of matching the faith that we espouse and the society that we are engaged with. The Care Leadership Programme is one way of addressing this gap.

"We often struggle to articulate what our faith has to say about the world"

Communicating a Christian worldview in the public square is no small task. But building on the conviction that our faith should not be sidelined, the programme provides an opportunity to address how our values can be communicated to a world that does not understand the reasons for what we believe.

A critical first step for all of us is simply to be present, because at a time when politicians are tainted by allegations of sleaze, it would be easy to duck out of politics altogether. But Jesus came to heal the sick, because those who are well don't need a doctor.

The programme focuses on how Christians can have an impact on a culture that doesn't place Christ at its centre. Interns gather together to take an intensive look at what and how Christians think about the critical contemporary issues in the world. Whether this is the justification behind going to war, or considering the ethics of when withdrawing treatment from a dying patient becomes assisting suicide, the difficult questions are not dodged.

Tom Quinn, currently an intern in Parliament, said, "It has been wonderful to be surrounded by like-minded Christians, all passionately committed to making a difference in the world, and consider together how an active faith should influence all of our values and choices, from the small to the eternally significant."

Although for each one of us our involvement in public life will take on a different form, it is often the small, seemingly insignificant, actions that are of eternal value. Paul Woolley, Director of Theos and a senior lecturer for the programme said, "The course challenges students to really think about what they believe, why they believe it and how their beliefs should shape the way they engage in society."

Lessons learned

On one occasion during my year, we were discussing the establishment of the Church of England. I thought my views on the matter were quite firm, but during the course of the debate my arguments just did not hold together, so I switched sides. I'm still not sure that I've got that particular subject nailed, but the lesson I learned was more important.

The society we live in - our family, our culture, our education - all create a frame through which we see the world. If I am not careful, my viewpoint becomes static, centred on these influences, and I forget that my experiences are peculiar to me. Everyone will have a different perspective on just about every issue imaginable. It is just not possible to articulate a coherent view of the world when we take as our starting point the world around us. This is why developing a Christcentred mind and a worldview based on the Bible is so crucial.

"My faith is an important part of who I am, and it affects the way I interact with the world around me," said current intern Tanya Srokosz. By engaging with many complex issues and how the Bible can help us understand them, the Care programme helps young graduates develop a biblical worldview and enables them to see all of life as within the reach of faith.

Reflecting on the programme, Tanya continued, "My understanding of what active Christian engagement can look like in public life has increased during the year. It has highlighted to me the importance of Christians being actively involved in all areas of culture and society to ensure that the Christian faith is not privatised or sidelined."

Personally, I still do not have all the answers to how Christians should engage in the public square. In fact I probably finished the programme with more questions than when I started. But I am absolutely certain that disengagement is not an option.

Daniel WebsterTowards the end of my year I found myself walking into Parliament astonished that this had become a mundane exercise. It shouldn't be mundane, but it also shouldn't be exceptional to see Christians active every day in Parliament, the media and in all areas of public life.

  • The application deadline for the 2010-11 Care Leadership Programme is 7 December. For a prospectus, visit: care.org.uk or tel 020 7233 0455.

Daniel Webster is the Alliance's parliamentary officer.

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