Alpha leadership conference encourages Christians to put Jesus before celebrity

Nicky Gumbel speaking at the 2022 Global Alpha Leadership Conference.

It's OK to have role models but there is only one true leader and that's Jesus, says Alpha pioneer Nicky Gumbel.

That was his message to over 130,000 people taking part in the Alpha Global Leadership Conference this week.

The conference was held online and hosted by churches in 173 countries around the world.

Gumbel said his ambition in life was "Jesus only" as he challenged participants to put Him first.

"There are many things we could put alongside Jesus in our lives - Jesus and money; Jesus and our career; Jesus and our freedom," he said.

"I am certainly not there yet. There are plenty of 'Jesus ands' in my own life. I'm on a journey but I want it to be Jesus only."

Gumbel cautioned Christians against being too attached to an individual or a church leader.

"How can I make that my ambition? Jesus only. No more Christian heroes [or] celebrities. Only one leader: Jesus," he continued.

"We can feel OK because we're connected to a leader or to our friends around us, and all that is really important, but if you're not connected to the rock, to Jesus, if something goes wrong, quite quickly everyone can fall.

"It's good to have friends and role models but ultimately only Jesus is a secure model. Jesus is ultimately the only leader."

The conference also heard from actress Tracy Ifeachor, who starred in BBC's Showtrial and who will soon be appearing in the upcoming movie, Wonka, alongside Timothée Chalamet.

Ifeachor spoke of turning down high-paying roles in the past because she did not feel called by the Lord to do them.

She said that being a leader takes strength and resilience, and that it can sometimes feel lonely.

"I remember being at drama school and thinking, I don't see anybody who looks like me leading shows, and a visiting lecturer said, well maybe you're the one to change it," she said.

"Everyone is the one to change something and I think that's what it is to be a leader. Everybody wants to be a leader but there's still that temptation to look to your left and to your right and think why don't I have company? Why don't I have this or why don't I have that?

Showtrial actress Tracy Ifeachor said she had turned down a lucrative role because she didn't have peace about it.

"Sometimes God is calling you out into deeper water and you are going to feel like you are the first or the only, and you're not necessarily going to have the support structure you need because it isn't there, they've never had you there before.

"So you are the one to help build it and that takes a different kind of resilience and faith and compassion and strength that only God can provide."

Another keynote speaker at the conference was A21 founder and author, Christine Caine, who said that after some difficult years during the pandemic, it was time for Christians to look to the future with confidence and hope.

"If we, in this hour, spend all of our time longing for what was, how it used to be, longing for what was left behind or burnt up or lost in that last season, we are going to miss what God has for us in the future," she said.

"I wonder whether the Lord is saying to us: don't look back. It's time to look forward, it's time to move on."

She encouraged Christians to "drop the 'if-onlys'" from their vocabulary because God is not limited by personal circumstances.

"Church, this is a time to stop looking back, to remember Lot's wife, and to remember the promise of God is forward-looking, the purpose of God is forward-looking," she said.

"God doesn't want us to spend all our time looking back at what was, longing, lingering, wanting to go back. The promise is forward. Our purpose is forward."

She added, "We talk about revivals of the past. Why not the revivals in the future?

"There are still people to be saved. There are still people to be delivered. There are still people to be restored.

"So I want to encourage you to prioritise your future over your past, to say: we're going to start looking forward in a world looking back."