This week in the classroom, I was not facilitator but participant. Sitting with a group of my Pastoral Leaders, as I call them. Women and men interested in leadership, whether for the sake of ministry in the church or, beyond, in the marketplace. For five or six double sessions each year, I hand the classroom over to them. Give them reading lists and a topic and then complete freedom to guide the rest of us in our learning.
And every year I experience again the freshness of this, the joy of learning together. I may now be Dr Lynch, the official letter of conferment having arrived, dated the very day this week that I wore my white silk hood for the last time! I may now technically be an academy-approved expert in the theology of leadership in the church. But still… Still, this week I learned more about this topic. Still, it was joy to sit under the teaching and guidance of my students.
As they led us in conversation about the development of emerging leaders, prompted by their interactions with material from Bill Hybels, my heart wandered to the place it sometimes goes. A place of regret, of sadness. For this was what I always did. Raised leaders. Prayed he might let them stay. Then released them anyway. For ten years, I gave what I had in that little church which is now my past and not my present.
Some days I think I failed. For despite tireless efforts, we did not raise up successors. We raised up kingdom ministers, yes. I saw men and women go out from our community, men and women whom I’m proud to know, proud that we had a small part in their story. But there were none whom he permitted us to keep. None who would take on from us the building of our little outpost. And then he called us out too. To release an increasing freedom to serve the wider church. That was all he really said.
As I sat there this week, my heart felt that sadness again. The might-have-been of it all. The disappointment no longer to be investing so relentlessly in emerging leaders. My heart felt that sadness again.
Until in a moment, a new thought washed over me. It came upon me almost, I am ashamed to say, as revelation. For I should have known it. Yet I had been blinded to it.
What do you think you are doing right now in this classroom? What do you think you did with the two year groups which preceded this one? What do you think you are doing when you find yourself, in the corridor or in Costa or crammed into your little office, talking and praying with yet another student?
And then I saw it, as if for the first time. It looks different now. It’s more often in a classroom than a coffee shop. (Although…Costa does benefit from its status as unofficial extension of our campus!) It’s often communal more than it is one-to-one. It has me standing up the front more, holding forth far more often than this don’t-look-at-me introvert would choose.
But it is still the same thing. Just bigger now. Because the ones I am infecting with my ecclesiology and spirituality and my theology of leadership will themselves scatter wide this June. The DNA of asking questions and refusing to accept that we have to do church this way, that DNA will go with them. And each one will land in a different place. They’ll fight their own battles to integrate what they believe with their context. Their solutions will likely differ wildly. And they’ll continue to emerge as leaders beyond this place. Time will come that I’ll long again for this classroom time with them – although this time I will wish to spend most of our time with them doing the teaching.
As I sit with this today, on one of my Fridays-are-for-joy days, I smile. For some threads of the call are never lost. Raising emerging leaders, says Hybels, that’s what leaders do. And, yes, this leader has to admit it. That thread? It is not gone. It has only moved. In his wisdom, he has me still do what I always did.