Leadership is a complicated idea. For some, leadership can carry a negative connotation. It can imply an abuse of authority, a power that easily corrupts even the best of us. This is certainly true in the church, where the idea of leadership is often conflated with something ugly and abusive and is certainly not meant to be a flattering description. I run into this idea regularly because I am currently in a doctoral program in Christian Leadership. “Isn’t that mutually exclusive?” I was once asked.
Yet for most people, especially outside the church, leadership is an aspirational ideal. Being a good leader, a kind leader, or an effective leader is the highest goal. Leadership is a quality that goes far beyond a simple level of action and speaks more deeply to one’s character. A true leader, regardless of skill or place in life, can affect others in motivational and inspirational ways.
Scripture gives us some excellent models of leadership, but none as inspiring as Jesus himself. Jesus’s life models a kind of leadership that has, in recent generations, been termed servant leadership. The profound idea behind servant leadership is simple: “…whoever wishes to be great among you must become a servant (Mt 20:26).” The spirit of this passage is about strength of purpose and strength of mission. Jesus understood that leadership was, at its heart, a gift of oneself to another.
Leadership is a deep, sacred giving of one’s spirit for the benefit of others, and it is necessary for every group. Leadership is a gift that has been planted deep inside each one of us, and raising up the leader in each of us is vitally important to a community. Raising up leaders is especially important for faith communities like Calvary.
This year, Calvary has focused on leadership in many facets of our life together. Beginning at the organizational top, our vestry has been working for months to clarify the guilds and committees and ministries that motivate and empower our common life. They have worked diligently to identify the health of each group and to make sure the leadership in each group is well defined. It is our hope that this work will now move from definition to support.
In the coming months, vestry members will begin to live into one of their newest roles: recruiting leaders. Rather than hoping that each group will smoothly self-perpetuate their leadership, the vestry will become partners with each group’s current leader to raise up and support future leaders. In this way, the vestry, as the organizational leaders of our church family, will be chiefly responsible for identifying the leaders of each of our vital groups. In this way, their leadership will be defined by the leadership they affirm and develop in others.
Leadership development at Calvary doesn’t end there. In fact, Calvary has embarked on a remarkably ambitious leadership development program that has the potential to touch every one of our members. For years, I have wrestled with my deeply evangelical hope that more and more people will connect with and be transformed by Christ in community with others. In other words, I want more people to join our Calvary family because I believe that their involvement with us will deepen their knowledge of God’s profound love for them and compel them to love others more deeply. Finally, that hope that has been inside me for years is manifesting itself.
In April, Calvary hosted the Discovery Class, a formation class for adults who are looking to connect more deeply to Calvary through confirmation — and we had more than 50 people participate! This class walked people through lots of good information, including the history of Christianity, the history of Anglicanism, and the Episcopal Church. Yet it went beyond information and invited those participating to engage in discerning their own spiritual gifts, their own skills and strengths, truly their own leadership qualities. And at the end of the Discovery Class, the real leadership formation begins.
I have always believed that a church community exists primarily to help those who are not a part of it, but helping people connect to the church community is not easy. Too often, we believe that hospitality and openness is enough, and people will simply flock into our waiting arms. When they don’t, we wonder what we’re doing wrong. Instead, I believe that hospitality is where we begin, but very quickly we have to transition from hospitality to relationship, or else people will not find connection. To that end, some of our church leaders have taken a leap of faith to journey boldly with those who are looking for a true spiritual home in our Calvary community.
You see, the bridge that was missing in our membership process was walking with people from their class moment into a role of active ministry in our community. In order to fill that gap, the Calvary Shepherd Society was created. The Calvary Shepherd Society is a group of carefully chosen leaders who are trained to listen to the Spirit and help members discern how the Spirit is moving in their lives. Each shepherd has made a three-year commitment to the Society and were commissioned into this sacred role during our worship services on May 17.
The Shepherd Society is a visionary ministry created with the faith that deep connection begins with a deep relationship. The gift of time, especially one-on-one, is sacred. Our shepherds will give the gift of their time with love to people looking for a spiritual center and spiritual home. They also will raise up the gifts of leadership within each person. We have been given rich, spiritual gifts by the Creator who loves us, and those gifts can make us leaders who inspire and motivate those around us.
Leadership development is not something I take lightly and is not simply a popular idea that we can buzz around with for a time. Rather, leadership is a sacred quality that has been given to us by God for the benefit of one another in community. As we continue to grow our Calvary family, I am inspired by the leadership I see all around me and am hopeful for the future!