I would not say I entered my first year in Portland Seminary’s Leadership & Global Perspectives (LGP) program timid, as those who know me know I’m certainly not that. But rather, perhaps, tentatively, not quite sure where I wanted to go with the program, but certain that, wherever I went, my LGP studies would be assets. What I knew as I ventured into the program was that it would stretch and strengthen me.
Heading into the fall module and Advance, I was at a place in our family’s life where we were perhaps relocating within a year. I was working in a university library and serving as a volunteer team leader in our local church. I’d been wrestling with the trajectory of my future, questioning my ordination and work in full-time ministry, and wondering if I should use my gifts in ways other than vocational ministry. During the Advance, meeting my cohort and our leaders, sitting with key people having hard conversations, I left England with a determined desire to return to full-time pastoral ministry. Now, ten months later, our family has just moved across the country, and I’m in final conversations with a quirky church that is actively invested in the community around them; and I’m excited to join in with what they’re doing to transform the neighborhood with the vibrant love of Jesus.
The Advance in London and Oxford also gave me confidence that what I study can impact the way churches respond to the world around them. Listening to the stories of practitioners who have sought creative ways to engage in a post-Christendom context inspired me to imagine ideas as well. Together, these practitioners showed me that there is not one particular model or “silver bullet,” for engaging the world, but rather, the necessity for understanding the specific context of service and looking for innovative ways to intersect the wholeness of Jesus with the lives of the hurting.
Our assigned texts from the past year covered a range of topics: the fall texts primarily prepared us for the robust nature of doctoral work and laid the foundation for our personal research and study. The spring texts provided an invaluable arch of history context to our current western, postmodern context. How does our past shape our present? While cultures are dynamic and always changing, they are built upon what’s come before and the previous structures are not easily dismantled. For followers of Jesus seeking to lead and guide others through transformation of the Holy Spirit, the texts that we read this spring gave us a richer understanding of the contexts in which we work. Our summer module’s texts introduced us to African theologies and, specifically, prepared us for the South African context where we’ll spend our next Advance. These texts were helpful for me because, while I’ve significantly studied African theologies and lived in East Africa for many years, the South African context is largely unknown to me.
Interspersed throughout the semesters were texts specifically geared toward leadership. I’ll be honest and say those were the texts I was least interested in, at least initially. Books on “the twelve traits to being an effective leader” or “how to make the most of your team” or “develop the leader within you” make me feel like they’re attempts to manipulate the system. But thankfully, we instead dove into heroic, sacrificial leadership; leadership as art; and listening and learning as a leader. I’ll attribute these wise choices to the perception of our mentor leader.
Finally, what surprised me about this first year? Hands down it has to be The Sevens. Our mentors and advisors have guided us through this journey and I greatly value their wisdom and… leadership. But honestly, I expected wise leadership from our guides. What I didn’t expect was the relationships we’ve built as a cohort to be as enriching as they have. We have encouraged one another to persevere. We’ve pushed each other to think about things differently, though I believe we can push each other a bit harder next year, because we’ve learned to trust one another. And the wide variety of our theologies and church backgrounds, our vocations, experiences, ethnicities, and locations—all make for a deep learning experience. I’m grateful for the stretching our different perspectives have given us. Further up and further in!