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Needed: Courageous leadership

We’re invited to join in on what God is already doing in our communities

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

the Rev. Stephen Lewis

LOUISVILLE — Speaking last week during a Facebook Live event on the topic “Courageous Leadership Matters,” the Rev. Stephen Lewis, president of the Forum for Theological Exploration, told host the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty that in many ways, “our future is rooted in the labors of those who came before us.”

“I stand on the shoulders of those who went before me,” Lewis told Hinson-Hasty, senior director for Theological Education Funds Development for the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) of the Presbyterian Foundation. “It’s not about my sense of purpose, but I am the answer to my ancestors’ prayers and dreams. We are connected to a long history.”

Together with Matthew Wesley Williams and Dori Grinenko Baker, Lewis is the   author of the 2020 book “Another Way: Living and Leading Change on Purpose.” In general, he said, leadership is the practice of a community, not an individual, in shaping a more hopeful future for the community.

“Management is about supervision,” said Lewis, who was a banker, relationship manager and project analyst before earning his Master of Divinity at the Duke Divinity School. “Leadership is about organizing and mobilizing a community toward a vision.”

Courageous leadership, he said, involves knowing “that something is at stake greater than and beyond your own self-interest.” The goal, of course, is to help bring about the biblical vision of a new heaven and a new Earth, and it’s “about who we are and how we relate to the Creator,” Lewis said.

The kind of leadership Lewis describes “is something we can all play a role in, and we can all play a role in our community that’s exercising courageous leadership,” he said.

“That’s exactly the kind of leadership that matters right now,” Hinson-Hasty responded. “There is a mutuality, an ‘I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper.’ I am because we are.”

“It’s less hierarchy and more circular,” Hinson-Hasty said, “and the circle grows.”

Congregations and pastors “have to recognize that it’s not about what we do on a Sunday,” Lewis said. “It’s about the ways we go about life and do life together.”

God “has been calling us from our ancestral past until now, constantly pricking our conscience to join what the Eternal is already doing in our communities,” Lewis said. However, “it’s difficult to do that when you are on the hamster wheel doing all the things that are vying for your attention.”

“Leadership and communities — they’re exhausting!” he said. “They are not designed for our own flourishing. How do we stop the business as usual and take a break?”

COVID-19 has helped some people do just that.

“In the midst of tragedy and failure of leadership and loss, it is also a moment when the globe has stopped its feverish pitch,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to ask the deeper questions about life and relationships: Why do we gather? What are trying to do as people of faith? It’s also an invitation to do some self-reflection on what God is calling us to do at this moment, and how the Spirit is inviting us to co-conspire with her.”

“The normalcy we were accustomed to didn’t work for everyone,” he said. “Courageous leadership invites us to take risks … and risk comes as a result of facing the opposition, the powers that be, the status quo we all participate in. Many of us already benefit from the way social structures are currently set up. Our livelihoods depend on them.

“But in terms of bravery, it’s also about overcoming, and there are voices we need to hear, voices of people overcoming trauma and fear,” including those overcoming systems of privilege, “male ways of being” and “heteronormative ways of living out life,” Lewis said.

Courage, he noted, comes from the same root word as “heart.”

“How do we exercise our heart for people?” Lewis asked. “I care for the larger community. That requires empathy, and that always lands on emotional intelligence. Do we have the emotional intelligence to lead right now? Do we have the heart to see empathetically what we must do right now, even when our people are not quite ready? We know that courageous leadership really does matter — in government, in higher education and in religious life.”

The Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka, senior associate and director of adult educational ministries at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, is scheduled to be Hinson-Hasty’s guest at 1 p.m. Eastern Time Wednesday. Their topic is “Congregational Faith Formation in a Pandemic.”


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