7 Questions to 7 Mentors: Miles Toulmin
Miles spent 10 years working for a consumer goods multi-national company before getting ordained and becoming the Associate Vicar at HTB. He is now Executive Director of Alpha Asia Pacificand Vicar of HTBB (Holy Trinity Bukit Bintang), an Anglican church in the centre of Kuala Lumpur that is home to the Alpha Asia Pacific Hub. He is married to Sarah and they have three children.
What is your morning routine? Or do you have certain daily habits which keep you productive?
I put my alarm across the bedroom so I have to get up and out of bed when it goes off. I tend to get up early and try to have a productive start to the day. The first thing I do when I get up is drink something long, say water or a large cup of pandan tea. Living in the tropics means you can easily dehydrate overnight and so must get rehydrated quickly. I don’t eat breakfast for some reason, I never have, and my Mum is the same. However, I do try to always feed myself spiritually by reading the bible, praying and all accompanied by a short coffee. The children catch a bus to school by 7am. Then I respond to emails that have come in from other time zones on account of my Alpha work. But then I have a quick power nap before I get ready to go into the office. Not everyone can nap but if you can, it’s a gift. In just 20 minutes you can get a real power boost and feel like you’re getting a second start to the day whilst it’s still early morning. I know a leader who takes a 15-20 minute power nap in the afternoon and swears by it. However, some people feel awful if they nap, it really depends on your body.
Can you pinpoint three books that have greatly influenced you in your life and work?
Apart from the Bible I would say ‘The Cross of Christ’ by John Stott. I think it’s the best book on the cross I have read. ‘Asian Tigers for Christ’ by Michael Green caught my imagination as to what God was up to in Asia a few decades back, particularly in the Anglican church. It had a profound impact upon me. Someone needs to write a similar book today. And then ‘The City of God’ by St Augustine gave me a brilliant framework in which to understand how our ministry and service and can play a part in God’s unfolding salvation plan for the world.
If you could tell people one thing to do or one thing not to do in the first year of a church plant what would that be?
Start Alpha as soon as you can. It is a brilliant engine for growth and at the start that’s what you need. By placing it front and centre you will communicate to your core team that the values of welcome, hospitality, respect and dependence upon the Holy Spirit are key. It will also communicate to other local churches that you are interested in reaching those outside of the church and not focused on reaching their sheep. It will help you make friends with other pastors faster! When people start coming to faith in Christ, are filled with the Spirit and healed, it will boost morale, faith and build momentum. Once you have momentum early on, it will just keep building.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess or try to cultivate?
Perseverance. So much of success in life is about keeping going, not giving up. Leading a church can feel relentless, it’s astonishing how frequently Sunday comes around! But if we can keep going, it’s amazing what can be achieved. Bishop Sandy Millar used to say that we overestimate what can be achieved in a year and underestimate what can be achieved in 5 years. But we have to keep going. Living in Asia also makes you think longer-term as people here plan for the long term. The father of a friend of mine used to say, ‘perseverance is genius in disguise’.
What do you do if you feel temporarily unfocussed?
Go with it. Brilliant ideas, new connections, serendipitous discoveries are often found on an unfocussed path. Distraction can lead to inspiration. Unplanned doesn’t necessarily mean unproductive. That said, you still have to attack the to-do list at some point in the day! Let the diversions recharge you if you can. Research is now suggesting that humans have a limit to the number of effective decisions that they can make in any one day. If you feel very unfocussed a lot then maybe try to add in more routine to your life. Routine reduces the number of things you have to think about, it literally reduces the number of decisions you have to make on the mundane. That way, it leaves more of your daily decision quota to be used up on the really important things in your work.
Can you describe a failure or very difficult time you’ve been through and how you dealt with it and learnt from it. Perhaps you have a 'favourite failure?’
I was taking a wedding recently where the bride’s family didn’t speak any English at all so I tried to do a good chunk of the liturgy in Chinese. However, when I tried to say ‘Who gives this woman to be married to this man?’, the father of the bride just stared blankly at me and the congregation all burst out in hysterical laughter. I still don’t know what I actually said!
What is a new realisation you’ve had in the last year?
In Asia relationship is very important. If we focus on task then we will go faster in the short-term, but we will go much further in the long-term if we prioritise relationships. And unity is strength. Whatever size of church we are, whoever our friends or family are, if we stay united together then there is nothing that can’t be achieved. Whilst the motives of those building the tower of Babel might have been questionable, the fact that they were realising their dream of building to the sky was on account of their unity. Division is weakness, so invest in relationship and remember that the Spirit always brings unity.