After a bit of a blogging hiatus, I am returning to reengage in some conversations stemming from an intense 18 month season of participating in and leading organizational change. Please join the conversation via comments.
"There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'" Abraham Kuyper
"In times of great change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists." Eric Hoffer
In October, I was privileged to attend a “think-tank” like gathering at Laity Lodge in Texas, put on by the Laity Leadership Institute. It was an amazing collection of thinkers and leadership practitioners involved in academics, politics, social sciences and business all coming together to discuss “Trinitarian Leadership”. I was there, in part, to say a few words on the Trinity and how the Trinity relates to leadership. (Of which, I will write in other posts.) But mostly I was just thrilled to learn whatever I could by being part of a conversation on Leadership for the renewal of organizational life.
In many ways, those two themes, “Leadership” and “Learning” have been the dominant ones of this season of my professional life. For years now, my focus has been on learning, unlearning and relearning leadership. I have read a number of fine books, been introduced to concepts that I had never heard before, have had to reconsider my own leadership gifts and approach and been part of leading two extensive organizational restructuring efforts in my church and in our presbytery. (Indeed, I was the moderator for a group that led our Presbytery to recast its vision as a “Missional Learning Community.”) I have started doing some coaching and consulting and have found myself speaking (when I am not preaching at church) now more on leadership issues and especially “change-leadership” than on any other topic (including, my bread-and-butter “community”).
But what has endured since the conference was the lingering power of conversations with people who are the literal embodiment of Kuyper’s declaration. I discussed generosity and fundraising with a former US Ambassador, learned about “employee engagement” from a senior executive for a huge multi-national corporation, and talked about sustainability and environmentalism with a dean of a business school at a leading Christian college. I learned about the writings of Wendell Berry from a psychiatrist and discussed how Wendell Berry reveals some things about Abraham Kuyper’s vision with a guy who knows Bono. I chatted about balancing home and work life with a lawyer for a former presidential candidate over ice tea and homemade bread. I learned about Estonian composer Arvo Pärt from a world-class cellist. I had conversations about global economies and spiritual formation, chocolate candy and G.K.Chesterton, baseball and fly-fishing, the White House and farming.
Since then, I have received letters and materials from my new friends, invitations to speak and well-wishes to stay connected. Some are now even FB friends, too. Which leads me to the two quotes that lead this post and two reasons why after a long-season of “learning-induced bloggers block” I am writing again:
First, while it does take “a” church to raise a Christian, it takes “THE” church, scattered over every “square inch of the whole domain of human existence”, to fulfill the mission of Christ. If Christ’s “Mine!” claims the whole universe, then Christ’s followers must indeed be present in the world participating in the transformation of it for good. We must continue to answer the call to service and leadership in every arena. For every one of us who is called to pastor “a” church, we need thousands of committed, engaged, passionate followers of Christ to go into every sector of society and offer friendship, service, conversation and leadership. In every boardroom, classroom, or courtroom, at every kitchen table or conference table, in every conversation, facing every dilemma, leadership means being present in the “mystery and mess” of God’s work in all the world.
And second, as “disciples” of Christ, we are first, foremost and without ceasing, “learners”. And it is as learners, not experts that we will make the biggest impact on the world as it unfolds and changes in front of us. I fear that we in the Church are too often like those “learned” ones who, as Hoffer says are “beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.” Unlike the gathering at Laity Lodge, we offer ourselves as experts on techniques and programs, we make ourselves into consultants and gurus who give to the world quick fixes and “Ten Steps.” All the while we wonder why so few flock to hear us. But the Laity Leadership Institute gathering was different.
We need to marvel at the generosity of people who will share their lives, experience and expertise with us and as leaders, more than anything we need to figure out ways to bring people together for mutual learning. Peter Block said that “Leadership is convening;” it is bringing people together to learn from each other and around a common mission and discover a sense of community that they didn’t know existed.
Leadership and learning, leadership through learning. Not only does this sound like Christ’s own Kingdom project, but it is exactly what I experienced in October at Laity Lodge (and, I suppose, why I am eager to blog again.)