Growing Leaders

Leaders in the Metropolitan Chicago Synod are growing. They are growing as leaders and they are growing others to lead. Or you could put it like this: the evidence of their own leadership growth is found in an increasing commitment to cultivating new leaders—and doing so through relationship.

It’s difficult to say whether the value of reproducibility, which has risen to the fore across our synod, is a new value to us, or simply one that we have begun to take seriously by joining the value to concrete strategy and practice. Perhaps it has been a value crowded out in the past by other values (how special the pastoral office is, the pleasure of being a recognized expert, a belief in the inherent difficulty rather than perspicuity of scripture). Whatever the case, it seems we are recognizing more and more that we cannot take God’s mission seriously without taking leadership development seriously. That is, when we are investing deeply in others as potential new leaders, we are declaring an openness to the growth that really only God can give (1 Cor. 3:6).

In this issue, we feature dispatches from the front on leadership from a handful of lay and ordained leaders who have partaken in a six-month training process provided by Brian Zehr, Bruce Hanson, and Genea Browne of the consulting group Intentional Impact. Héctor Garfias-Toledo, MCS Director for Evangelical Mission, explains in his article “Taking Leadership to the Next Level” the origins of the Synod’s relationship with Intentional Impact, and describes how the approach Brian, Bruce, and Genea have commended to now three, soon four, successive cohort groups is representative of a leadership paradigm shift in our synod “from recruiting people to investing in people.” The who, why, and how questions addressed in Pastor Garfias-Toledo’s article are preceded by some important framing reflections by Bishop Wayne Miller on just what Christian leadership is. In Bishop Miller’s words, leadership, at its core, is a vocation, “a sacred calling…defined by its ability to CALL, to PREPARE, and to RELEASE others for their sacred vocation.”

The testimonies that follow cover a wide range of applications of this reproducing leadership model. These are stories not of leaders who have instantly “figured it out,” but rather who are daring to experiment and take risks in ways that often cut against the grain of our existing cultures. Adam Varner, a seminarian currently on internship on the northwest side, confesses in his piece that even those still in their formal preparations for ministry can carry with them some “bad habits,” like program-focused models of ministry that leave little time and space for actual relationship-building. Trudy Stoffel tells about how Intentional Impact training challenged her to move away from a do-it-yourself model of leadership (as old as Moses!) to one grounded in the practice of mentoring, just as she was transitioning into a new call. Pam Voves, an Associate in Ministry in Glen Ellyn, recounts her experiences of intentionally accompanying, through periodic one-on-ones, two children’s ministry leaders in her congregation, while infusing the same emphasis on relationship into all the volunteer and parent interactions involved in family ministry.

Still other leaders in our synod are carrying their learnings beyond the confines of established congregations into efforts to plant new ecclesial communities. Fred Nelson in his article describes the findings of a “leadership audit” Intentional Impact provided for Redeemer Church in Park Ridge that revealed personal and congregational growing edges that would need to be addressed before launching a new Redeemer worship site in the city. Dan Beirne, a missionary engaged in developing a pilot Affiliated Missional Community called Urban Acacia, tells about how this emerging ministry is “bridging the gaps” for young adults in the city who are living serious spiritual lives in the spaces between organized churches. (Bishop Miller outlines the concept of Affiliated Missional Communities, including the support system for their Intentional Impact-trained leaders like Beirne, in Let’s Talk 18.3.)

Columnists Ben Dueholm and Frank Senn add their ruminations on leadership as well. Pastor Dueholm brings the subject decidedly down to earth with his account of just how challenging it is to be anything close to strategic in one’s leadership when the demands of ministry are so all-over-the-map and the ground so swiftly changing. Pastor Senn reminds us of the pastoral leader’s most primary relationship of all—his or her relationship with reality made known in the gospel—and, via the example of his parting sermon to the people of Immanuel, Evanston, maintains that genuine leadership is embodied by projecting this reality, or worldview, for a congregation.

Finally, in the way of acknowledgments, I have three I would like to mention. First, Betty Landis solicited and guest edited three of the articles in this issue. Pastor Landis participated in the third Intentional Impact cohort with me, and I am grateful for her contributions to the issue.

Second, the fresh design of our webpage (which debuted with issue 19.1) is attributable to Clare Parkinson of Green Bee Web Consulting. Clare has been serving as our Web Manager the last few years and has helped the Board immensely in thinking through how to make the most of being a web publication. I hope you enjoy the new look, and encourage you not to be shy about using the response fields at the bottom of each article to lend your voice to the conversation.

Third, I wish to thank Wayne Cowell for his heartfelt remembrance of a consummate church leader—and longtime chair of the Editorial Board—Tom Knutson, who died last year. There has been a notable “changing of the guard” in the Editorial Board of Let’s Talk over the last five years or so, but relative newbies like me as well as the veterans who remain recognize that we only enjoy the privilege of facilitating the conversation that goes on in these pages because of the vision, dedication, and leadership that went before us in the person of Tom Knutson.

Mark D. Williamson