Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Both/And of Transformation

Written by: on November 12, 2020

When I was nine years old, I was in Florida with my family on the first non-National Park vacation we’d ever taken. While the theme parks that promised magical memories held up to their end of the bargain, it was something that I observed in the night sky (for free) that changed my life. NASA was to launch a space shuttle at 2:00am and, having recently seen E.T., I was not going to miss it. With baited breath and bare feet, I stood in my grandparents driveway and waited.

We were hundreds of miles away from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Yet, when the boosters ignited, the pitch-black night sky lit up like a sun-scorched day. For nearly five minutes, I watched in wonder as a tiny ball of fire, the shuttle, accelerated out of our atmosphere and into the abyss of outer space. In my boyish naivete, I reasoned in that moment that I could be anything in the world that I wanted to be. The list that had previously included second baseman for the Chicago Cubs and Olympic hockey player now included, “Astronaut.”

In order to achieve one of these three destinations, not only does one require copious amounts of God-given ability, but also resources, connections, distinct opportunities, and a plan. Ask any astronaut, ball-player, or olympian and you’ll quickly discover that one does not become either by accident. There is a path that one walks toward that deistation that many travel and that few achieve. That said, the olympians and professional ball players that I’m acquainted with will also point to the less predictable, unexpected moments as equally potent especially with regard to their mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational formation.

Thus, the both/and of transformation. While it occurs within the disciplined, focused journey, it also happens, perhaps more poignantly, within the unexpected. Why do I offer the designation “perhaps more poignantly?” Because whenever I walk the path, the focused journey, the pilgrimage that another has plotted out for me, I quickly become reliant upon my own intuition and ability to achieve. The unexpected forces me out the predictable, opens the pours of my imagination, and invites me to risk into the unknown.

Today, I am neither a Chicago Cub, an olympic athlete, nor an Astronaut. The journey of my life that was once plotted out for me has meandered in and out of some very unusual spaces. It has often been the case that moments of my deepest transformation have occurred within the most unexpected locations, experiences, and relationships. Spirit has consistently invited me to take detours that both focus my calling and redirect my trajectory.

I’m curious. Which invitations into transformation have I accepted, which have I dismissed, and which have I missed altogether? Having penned this post, do I still think that my future is up to me to figure out or have I been reshaped into believing that I am not in charge? (Renner & D’Souza, Not Knowing, 131) The thoughtful leader understands that the future is shaped by how s/he responds to the present.

About the Author

Jer Swigart

10 responses to “A Both/And of Transformation”

  1. Dylan Branson says:

    Jer, I’m reminded of how transformative the Journey really is and how it rarely plays out exactly how we imagined it would be. Never in a million years did I – or my family – think I would be in Hong Kong. If anything, it was my BROTHER we would have expected to be more likely to leave and I would be the one to stay behind. Somehow along the way, we swapped places.

    But while I think that experiences are transformative, for me personally it’s the relationships I’ve made that have been the catalyst for my own personal transformation. Growing up as the super shy kid, isolation was the theme of my life. It was difficult for me to take the step into relationships with people, but I found that when I did, there was a sense of comfort.

    But even in that comfort, one eventually begins to stall out. I’ve found that the moments when I’ve become too comfortable with my community is when someone new – someone never in a million years – I thought I would become friends with. I’ve found this happening more and more since coming to Hong Kong, but these relationships have ended up being some of my most treasured and transformative.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Thanks Dylan.

      This is really insightful.

      Your comments are making me interrogate whether an experience void of interpersonal relationship carries transformative power. I imagine it does to some degree, but I agree with you that it seems that its in the context of the relationship (frequenlty the unexpected one) that transformation is most stimulated. Evidence for incarnation, I suppose.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    Childhood dreams are the best- I was going to be a fighter pilot, and a race car driver, and an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. Obviously, none of those dreams came to be. But that seed to be a doctor has grown, just not in a way I could have ever imagined.

    Listening to that quiet whisper takes intention in the here and now. When we do that, it leads us into the next…if we are willing to say yes. If you had to pick one of your Yeses to step into the unknown that was your favorite or most transformative, what would it be? What transpired that you could have never predicted? What was one takeaway that is woven into your being from that experience?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      I’d point to the “Yes” that brought me to tribal villages of Northern Pakistan as the most unconventional decision with greatest impact on my life.

      What transpired is that my dominant culture theology was challenged and couldn’t hold up. A new, more spacious theology was needed that, in turn reshaped my practice and leadership.

      A core takeaway for me has to been to listen for the whisper, discern it in community, and, when “Yes” is the answer, enter into that next step with pours open for transformation to occur.

  3. John McLarty says:

    I still daydream about what I’d like to be when I grow up! Astronaut was definitely on my list when I was younger.

    I had an experience early in my ministry where I saw an alignment of the path I was on with a path I had chosen not to take. At the time, it was a powerful confirmation and confidence boost for the work I was doing. I can think of others where I probably forced the issue.

    But I think you’re right, our response in the moment shapes the future. This is the part in which we are co-creators, not just living from one page to the next in an already written story. It’s how we strategize and dream, as well as how we adapt and adjust to each new opportunity that makes us who we are.

  4. Greg Reich says:

    I can totally see you as an astronaut or professional baseball player. 🙂 I am reminded of many of the heroes of the bible discussed in Hebrews 11. By faith Noah, by faith Gideon, by faith Abraham, etc. Someday in each of our family legacies our chapter will read, by faith Greg, by faith Jer. I find it interesting that at the end of the chapter we are told; “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.(39,40)

    We all walk by faith pursuing what we sense the spirit calling us to. Sometimes we see a glimpse of what it is we are called to accomplish for God. But like the others we may not received all we are trying to achieve. Until Christ comes again none will see the fulness of God’s promises. Today we live in the now and not yet serving Jesus and our journey is to become like Christ. Of all the lofty goals and dreams I have had for God, embracing Jesus and becoming like Him is my highest calling. This calling to become like Jesus is seldom convenient and I have yet to see a plan that hasn’t been detoured by what I call “the school of the spirit.” Those lesson times that only come when we step outside of our personal agenda and allow the holy spirit to lead us along the path. Each one of us can express a lesson learned along our path that took place when we allowed the Spirit to lead us and we got out of Gods way. What would it be like if we all learned to be a bit more flexible in our agendas and more open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit? How would this effect our expectations of life?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Such a great final question. What if?!

      My sense is that the postures of flexibility and openness (adpatability) are so critical for the faith leader. I think we see these postures in Jesus…thus, as we grow in grace and in the image of Jesus, perhaps we become imitators of these postures. It’s like that those within our spheres of influence will be inspired more by the modeling than the instruction.

  5. Shawn Cramer says:

    Your multiple uses of the word “invite” sparked a realization that we could use more of this language. Instead of a defult of “challenging” growth, there’s something that rings true about the offer of an invitation.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      I agree. The last few years have taught me much about holding in tension disprution/challenge with invitation/accompaniment. One is not better than the other…both are important. It’s learning when to embody each approach that seems to be an art of excellent leadership.

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