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

A Prison Blanket Perfectly Folded…9855 Times

Written by: on March 15, 2023


My one-minute gaze into Nelson Mandela’s prison cell had a profound impact on me. That neatly folded prison blanket represented the dailyness of Mandela’s life for 27 years.  The consequence of not folding a blanket to perfection in the prisons he was kept in would produce a severe beating. A leader who had already fought apartheid with force and valor for many years and had led the battle cry for freedom with perhaps a shaping leadership ego was forced to fold a prison blanket every day. It is here in the very dailyness of his horrific circumstance, in his crucible of suffering, that his leadership was formed in greater ways than anyone could imagine. “Waiting, wondering, hoping, despairing, living without ever knowing whether he would be released or done away with…”[1] A crushing occurred that refined Nelson Mandela into a “courageous moral agent” of compassion and hope.[2] A defended leader became undefended.


As I entered the pages of Simon P. Walker’s book, “Leading out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership,” I was brought face to face with my own leadership journey. I am not Nelson Mandela. My trust wanes with others. Left on my own, there is always a higher bar to jump over[3] and failure is an arch enemy.[4] My journey has been one of the “Defining Ego”.[5] Disappointment is handled in secret on the backstage…alone.[6] I have found myself in the pages of this book and see how it resonates with how my NPO is taking shape. For it is in the mid to later years of life and leadership that we are often called to greater depths of self-awareness. If a leader has led in unhealthy ways, this season can be daunting.


It is often daunting because there is a lack of personal acceptance. Walker shares that what motivates moral authority, and an undefended leader, is freedom. “Freedom comes from knowing you are approved of.”[7] Approval of someone loving you simply for who you are not by what you do. Romans 5:8 shows that God does this for us: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV).[8] With this solidity, not only can we be undefended, but we can exude differentiated leadership in a world of anxiety.[9] Walker speaks to the trust issues that derail us whereas Friedman addresses a leader’s lack of emotional maturity. Both are important avenues to address in leadership that bring greater self-awareness and growth.


Kathryn Schultz in her book “Being Wrong” states “It takes courage to leave our past selves behind.”[10] She also cites Michale Foucault “The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.”[11] It has often been said that ‘the older you get, the harder it is to change.’ Kathryn Schultz surmises that this is not necessarily true.[12] As I research my NPO, I am finding that the older we get, the ability to lean in and transform into, not only a better version of ourselves but nearer to God’s intended design for us is still an ongoing need.


As I journeyed through this book, I repented as I wrestled with the performance culture I often have promoted in my ministry contexts…critiquing more than celebrating.[13] I am reminded of a book I bought a while ago called “A Work of Heart” by Reggie McNeal. He speaks of David as a man after God’s own heart. It was David’s honesty with God “that held the real currency of heart-shaping communion”[14] because we as leaders can be tricked and misled by our own deceived motivations. McNeal goes on to say that David did not just live a life of repentance but of praise and joy, always thankful for God’s goodness during his journey.[15]

God honors our honesty in coming to grips with our leadership shortcomings.  I am challenged to allow God’s refining work to continue in me daily, to reestablish trust where it is lacking, knowing that “when He has tried me, I will come forth as gold as Job 23:10[16] promises. Not perfect. Just fully human…growing in freedom and extending that freedom to others.


[1] Simon P. Walker, Leading Out Of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership (Carlisle, UK: Piquant Editions Ltd., 2007). 8.

[2] Ibid, 9.

[3] Ibid, 72.

[4] Ibid, 76.

[5] Ibid, 70.

[6] Ibid, 77.

[7] Ibid, 102.

[8] Romans 5:8 But God Demonstrates His Own Love for Us in This: While We Were Still Sinners, Christ Died for Us. | New International Version (NIV) | Download The Bible App Now, accessed March 15, 2023, https://www.bible.com/bible/111/ROM.5.8.NIV.

[9] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: SEABURY BOOKS, 2007).

[10] Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, First Ecco Paperback edition (New York: Ecco, 2011). 294.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid 295.

[13] Simon P. Walker, Leading Out Of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. 73.

[14] Reggie McNeal, A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000). 32

[15] Ibid, 33.

[16] “Bible Gateway Passage: Job 23:10 – New International Version,” Bible Gateway, accessed February 16, 2023, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job%2023%3A10&version=NIV.


About the Author

Esther Edwards

Esther has served in ministry leadership for over 34 years, is an ordained minister, and an ICF and CCLC certified coach and coach trainer. Esther loves hiking, reading, and experiencing new coffee shops. She enjoys the journey with her husband, Keith, their four daughters, sons-in-law, and their four beautiful grandchildren.

14 responses to “A Prison Blanket Perfectly Folded…9855 Times”

  1. Cathy Glei says:

    “Freedom comes from knowing you are approved of.” I find that so freeing in my leadership. I am approved by God. At times when I serve from the motivation of seeking approval of others over the motivation of simply loving as God loves me, I find the task cumbersome and tiring. However, when my motivations come from a longing to love God and others more, I am compelled to love and lead for His glory.

    How have you experienced the freedom of someone simply loving you in your leadership journey?

    • Esther Edwards says:

      Seeking approval from others or from ministry success is truly wearisome and easy to fall prey to in ministry circles, especially for us achievers. You are right, though, Christ’s acceptance comes with such freedom and joy. You asked who has loved me unconditionally in my leadership journey and I have to say, I have been so blessed by several. My husband, first and foremost, loves so unconditionally. Then I have 5 trusted friends that are with me in the thick and thin of life. We don’t do life together per say, but I can call on them at any time with what is weighing on my heart. I feel very blessed in that regard.

  2. I didn’t get into the Biblical parallels in my post this week because I had too much to say, so I’m glad to see you did. Obviously, with Walker being an ordained clergyman it is unsurprising much of what he wrote had much of the Gospel message woven throughout it.

    I was drawn to the several images of children coming to Jesus – his encouragement of them to do so and also Jesus’ teaching that we must be like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

    It’s this idea of innocence that children have and that they still have so much to learn, they aren’t bogged down by their own curse of knowledge and haven’t yet bored of curiosity. They are closer to being truly undefended than adults are, I think.

    It seems like you had a lot of insight from this book. So I’m curious, since it will probably have a lasting impact on you, what is something you think you’ll start doing or thinking about intentionally as a result of having read this book in the next four weeks?

    • Esther Edwards says:

      What a great ending coaching question! Yes. This book impacted me greatly. The one phrase that hit hard was “all her cumulative achievement means nothing to her: it is as if she keeps on winning trophies but each new one is an illusion”. In this season, I am delving deeper into what really matters and what underlying motives still bind me. I desire to truly love Jesus and others well. So all that said, what I would do to move forward in the next 4 weeks, is to stress less about my research and simply write even if I don’t think it is the best. Beyond that…take time to start playing pickleball and take life a little less seriously.

  3. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Thanks for this quote, Esther:
    “God honors our honesty in coming to grips with our leadership shortcomings.” I believe this to be true, and its knowledge is comforting. What a lightening of our burden! We don’t have to be getting it right all the time; we needs to be striving to please Him.

    Perhaps there is a model for us as leaders in this as well… that we need to be honoring the honest efforts of those we lead?

    • Esther Edwards says:

      “Honoring the honest efforts of those we lead” is very important to remember. When I have had to have difficult conversations, it is a self-differentiated approach that is so helpful. Emotions that are out of control tend to have me say things I will deeply regret later and that attack the person. However, being honest, but still honoring to the person brings greater results.

  4. mm John Fehlen says:

    Oh Esther, you had me at Mandela, and you tied a bow with “A Work of Heart” by McNeal. That was such a formative book for me. One that I reference often, and sift through the pages to refresh my memory of all the underlines, margin notes, etc. It’s a threshold book for me and my ministry tenure.

    I want to tell you something that I really appreciate about you (via your writings and class interactions)…I am impressed by how you are allowing this doctoral journey to connect and impact your personal relationship with Jesus. I sense that in your writings and it’s the reason I so often resonate with you. Grateful for that.

    Hopefully this observation won’t be chalked up to “front-stage” performance but is truly being lived out backstage! I trust it is!

    Grace & Peace to you Esther!

    • Esther Edwards says:

      Thank you for the encouragement, John. I glean much from your storytelling ability as well but especially like how down to earth you are with who you are.
      Mutual admiration society…

      Yes. I am impacted in deeper ways than I had anticipated or can articulate through this whole journey… Lol. Then again, if I could just articulate a bit more on paper, I’d be happy.

  5. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Esther, Thank you for this lovely post. I love how you brought our experience on Robben Island into the discussion. You mentioned trust a number of times. I am also wondering about trust and how it plays out in undefended leadership. How do you conceptualize the role of trusting God, others, and self as an undefended leader?

    • Esther Edwards says:

      Good question, Jenny. I think you have to trust greatly to be an undefended leader. Defense is always steeped in mistrust of someone or something. The times I have been able to respond without defense in a tough situation, have been times when I have had to look above the situation to what is really important and how God would have me handle it…the larger mission is in focus. It also comes when I ask the Holy Spirit to guide me and glean his confidence. Not sure if that fully answers the question…

  6. Travis Vaughn says:

    Esther, have you thought about developing a sort of “scorecard” or rubric for ministry leaders to use as they begin to get a bit older…or even something to use for younger leaders…that might help them prepare for their older years of leadership? You wrote, “For it is in the mid to later years of life and leadership that we are often called to greater depths of self-awareness.” I wonder if there is a way to help prepare “younger” (even 51-year olds) leaders to develop a better framework for approaching the latter decades of life and career. I’m just thinking aloud. I know that it’s valuable to capture stories of (real) struggle and loss and to grow in greater levels of vulnerability. But I also wonder if there are some ways to frame things — like…how should we approach our 50s, to prepare for what’s ahead AND consider how to better take inventory of the decade behind us.

    • Esther Edwards says:

      I really like the thought of a scorecard.

      I have been researching a variety of tools and also developing a coaching framework which I have several clients using. It includes the unpacking of strengths, values, life narrative, etc as well as uncovering hidden saboteurs that derail mentally, A pastor who is giving me much input mentioned that I should include a financial piece since many ministers overstay their position because of lack of financial planning.

      Another key issue is lack of relational safety. There are helps that are already developed, but many pastors will not take advantage of what is offered. I feel there is more to discover around this.
      I am not sure how it will all tangibly take shape, but am trusting over the next year, that it will take shape.
      Travis – I value your insight. Thank you!

  7. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    “Waiting, wondering, hoping, despairing, living without ever knowing whether he would be released or done away with…”[1] A crushing occurred that refined Nelson Mandela into a “courageous moral agent” of compassion and hope.[2] A defended leader became undefended. Your title drew me in Esther and beginning your work with Nelson Mandela has so much personal meaning for us. His story being in the book and you connecting it to the humble act of folding a blanket 9855 times was impactful. My question for you as you continue in your leadership as you say “For it is in the mid to later years of life and leadership that we are often called to greater depths of self-awareness”, what has been your metaphorical blanket folding that has brought you to a better place of self-awareness?

    • Esther Edwards says:

      Just pondering your question again makes me realize how faithful God is. We have had a rich season of ministry through the years. Churches grew under our leadership, lives were transformed, our girls gained a love for ministry, etc… However, when we took this church on 12 years ago, another turnaround situation, we thought it too would simply flourish (now I say “flourish” in our sense of the word). However, it has been a hard road of just folding the blanket, daily. The DC area just recently was termed to be the loneliest place to live in the US. As I moved into empty nesting in this area, it compounded that loneliness all the more. Also, our church has not turned around in monumental ways as we had hoped.. Deep disappointment set in. It did not cripple me, but it was an underlying theme. Don’t get me wrong. We love our people and it is not that we have not seen people come to know the Lord and grow in faith, but the Lord has had to reshape my thinking as to what is important to Him. He had me realize that outward ministry success had become an idol of sorts for me…my identity. I can see it as an Emmaus Journey, where I “had hoped” it would be different and yet, Jesus was walking with us the whole time, knowing the greater purpose.

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