Leading in a Connected World


I’m tired and jazzed as I wrap-up my week. Eleven of us, all leaders in God’s church close by and far away, wrestled with what it means to lead missionally for five whole days. We came together having read, written, blogged, posted, and wondered about it before we arrived. We entered the conversation having engaged in conversation with other church leaders, people in our congregation, and even people outside our faith communities. And with all of that “pre-work,” say nothing about our years of experience leading in ministry, you’d think we would be leaving with some concrete and well-defined understanding of missional leadership. But we did not.

Instead we left with…

– a renewed appreciation for God’s presence in the world, and in us (personally and as a group)

– an awareness that our similarities and differences are gifts we offer each other

– a curiosity for exploring the familiar and “strange”

– an assurance of the costly nature of leadership and

– a reminder of how connected we are, even as we live in different places.

It was not obvious who played the role of the teacher and who played the role of learner, because teaching and learning was shared and spilled out from our assigned room and scheduled times into parking lots, lunch tables, and evening conversations. It was truly a shared learning experience, gracious and generative, with each person in the room mining the gems they most needed and best suited for their context and leadership role.

In the weeks ahead, other communities will join into this learning, as student engage in their projects, and the learning will flow not only in and through their congregations but also back to the whole. Research will be done and papers will be written, but the real fruit will only be known, truly known, years from now. Thanks to my co-collaborator, Steve Thomason, for doing this organic dance with me. And thank you students for joining in the dance with us.

As I wrap-up my day, I will linger in the music from our closing worship and the stories we shared, grateful for a narrative counter to the one broadcast in society these days. My heart is filled with hope. God is up to something in this world. Thanks be to God.




Thursday mornings

Eight a.m. classes are not my favorite. And 8:00 a.m. classes on Thursday morning are extra tough. Why? Because Wednesdays start with a 5:15 a.m. workout and end hours after I return from helping with middle school ministry at 9 p.m. Then, ready or not, the alarm goes off and Thursday morning arrives.
Randy always gets to class before I do. One by one students file into the Bockman 116. By 8:10 everyone is ready to go. Small talk and an opening prayer start class and we begin to wrestle with the topic of the day. Some days I lecture, some times learning happens in small groups, and some mornings guests grace us with their wisdom. One day I mentioned a song and the class started singing. Another day our conversation led us to learning about church practices in several denominations and countries. Today one of the students had us watching a YouTube video of a guy dancing. Class is never boring, rarely goes as planned, and I always leave more energized then when I arrived.
As I stand in the front of class each Thursday I’m aware of my limitations as a teacher. Yes, I have command of the literature and enjoy crafting learning experiences, but I also have enough awareness of my flaws to keep me humble – and when I forget I look into the student’s faces and remember how much they are shaping me.
Eight different countries are represent in Bockman 116 on Thursday mornings. Two-thirds of the students are international, born outside the U.S., and most have lived in more than one country. One morning a student shared her experience of fetching water everyday, carrying it on her head. Another shared how he is responsible for leading major initiatives of the national church office in his home country. Another talked of her concern for elderly Chinese adults whose one and only child have died and they have no one to care for them. What do I know about these issues? How am I qualified to teach them how to lead in their communities? None of this was taught to me in my studies!
Gone are the days of expert-driven classrooms, at least for me. If I had to be the expert I would have failed years ago. And it is clear to me being an expert would not do justice to enhancing the learning of this group. Expert of what? In order to impress whom? Yet having let go of this expectation, I’ve had to reimagine what role I do play in the classroom. And suddenly a series of question surface: What’s the goal of our time in the classroom? What’s my goal for this diverse group of students? What are we learning? How are we learning? What impact will this class have on their overall learning at this school? Oh no, I’ve opened a whole can of worms and find I’m having to look at teaching from many new perspectives.
This class, this semester, marks the first year of a new curriculum at our school. I’m excited about the curriculum and the class, yet know it is, and will, push me as a teacher. So Thursday mornings I come open and ready to learn, hoping to figure which of my gifts, skills and perspectives are an asset and which are obstacles.
Today, I am captivated by what it means to cultivating communities of learning. So far I have found cultivating communities of learning harder than teaching content, but it is much more fun. Anyone who has taught knows each class, be they gathered in a classroom or online, has it’s own personality. Listening and waiting for that personality to unfold takes patience (sometimes lots of patience). Teaching in this mode often means holding back my voice, and creating space for student voices to be heard. Content, be it reading or videos or lectures, is still important but how much and for what purpose? Teaching as a shaper of community comes with no guarantees. And I can’t predict when, or if, the class personality will emerge. But when it does it, and when the class becomes a community engaged in the subject matter, it is a great joy. This, my friend, is why I teach. And this challenge, as a educator and leader in the church, is what gets me up every morning.