Lessons from Christian Education National’s Developing Leaders Conference
This article was originally published in The Christian Teachers’ Journal, February 2016 Volume 24.1
What type of leader do you admire? What type of leader do you want to be? I’m drawn to those who are pastoral and seem to have it altogether, one with quick wit to resolve anything that comes up. That’s the kind of leader I want to be too – caring but always in control and on top of things. I was looking forward to be more equipped in this way through the Developing Leaders Conference. So what was my biggest take-away or learning highlight?
God calls us to be leaders from a place of brokenness, a place where we’ve seen his great glory and despair at our unworthiness and inadequacy.
Was that what I expected to hear? No, but God knew it was what I needed.
‘God calls us to be leaders from a place of brokenness, a place where we’ve seen his great glory and despair at our unworthiness and inadequacy.’
I know in this day of ‘how to’ articles and lists, my learning highlight probably won’t be deemed useful. It was conversations with friends during another teacher conference where I realized that people want actionable steps. While I felt at home, encouraged and challenged by the teaching in that conference, there were those who felt it could have done with more suggestions for classroom application. So entering into Developing Leaders, I was keen to ask questions along the lines of ‘How does that look like in practice?’, ‘How do we do that?’, ‘What needs to change in my practice in line with that concept?’
Through the focus groups and the variety of speakers, I do have a list of action plans gained from experienced leaders. But I have a longer list of lessons that did not seem particularly ‘actionable’… until I spoke with my husband and God reminded me of Romans 12:2, ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’
Through all the speakers from Developing Leaders, I believe the main actionable step was to be transformed by the renewing of my mind, to re-think my beliefs about leadership because as Chris Prior states, ‘beliefs inform practice’.
I’ve come up with a daily checklist I can look to because every day I’m tempted to lead on my own, from my own strength, with my own agenda. The list is inspired by the conference speakers’ thoughts.
Renewing My Mind: A Daily Checklist
Adam Shoemaker spoke about how we can be tempted to take our titles or positions too seriously. And as actions still speak louder than words, he showed us how this should not be. When asked about what his position ‘Academic Provost’ meant, he humbly listed a few day-to-day tasks involved. Here’s a man with a great position of responsibility who could’ve talked about his scope of leadership and yet he spoke with grounded feet.
Luke Pereira led us on a study of John 21:15-19, where Jesus says to Peter, ‘Feed my sheep’ and ‘Follow me’. He highlighted Peter’s attempts of leadership before the Crucifixion: he walks on water yet sinks, he promises to never deny Jesus yet does so three times. It is in his brokenness, his realisation that his good intentions and initiative always fall short that Jesus calls him to be a leader. He was now ready because he knew he could not rely on himself, but only on God.
Ken Dickens walked us through the context of Isaiah 6 where the prophet declares, ‘Here am I. Send me.’ This was borne not out of Isaiah’s self-evaluation that he was capable of serving God. He makes the declaration after he saw a vision of God’s glory which humbled him to see his sinfulness, his inadequacy. It is after the Holy Lord cleanses his lips with burning coal, painful repentance, that he receives God’s call to serve Him, to speak for Him.
Reverend Ron Woolley reminded us that ‘followership’ is just as important as leadership. Another man who practices what he preaches, the way he encouraged us was not only through his spoken message but more so through how he served us in humbly answering questions and commending those who asked.
All speakers touched on this. Chris Prior said that character, an essential for leadership, ‘is grown to the degree that we love God and others’. In encouraging us to put God first, Kathy Pereira made it clear that leadership is not a time to build our own empire because we have God’s Kingdom to build. Sarah Stahorn, who is part of an amazing story of God’s redemption in Wellington Christian College, shared that the best thing you can do as a leader is to have a deep relationship with Jesus. She sought God to help her promote the school for a sustainable number of students. The answer she got? ‘Promote Me, and I’ll promote your school.’ My first job is to love God and seek His glory.
‘My first job is to love God and seek His glory.’
Geoff Bateman shared many strategies for dealing with difficult situations. Most of them have to do with shifting our mindsets. The command to be transformed through the renewing of our minds is again forefront. Geoff encouraged us to think through these questions in times of conflict: How can I glorify God in this? How can I serve others through this? How can I grow in Christlikeness through this? During a panel session where issues on technology were brought up, Geoff also reminded us that sin is still the problem. The moment we recognise that we are all still sinners, not just our students, is the moment that we remember God’s grace is something we all have in common. Knowing and relying on God’s grace can transform how we deal with sin in our schools.
‘The moment we recognise that we are all still sinners, not just our students, is the moment that we remember God’s grace is something we all have in common.’
One of my favourite passages, Psalm 143, was the subject of Ross Grace’s Devotion on the last day. Studying the verses, Ross encouraged us to do as the psalmist does: to remember God’s faithfulness (verse 5), to be teachable (verses 8-10), and finally, to remember that we are God’s servant (verse 12). I must say I forget that truth too often so it’s a must in my daily checklist. Ross recounted how one great man of God, Harry Burggraaf, lived this out. Before he got out of his car, Harry committed the day to the Lord, that he may do what God wanted him to do on that day. Harry knew who he worked for.
We work for Him too.