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

Let’s Blaze!

Written by: on September 4, 2019


I hear my children scream in delight as we hike along the Leatherstocking Trail in Southern Westchester County.  We are hiking a stretch of the trail that is new to us, so we are keeping an eye out for a blaze – the trail markers that indicate that we are on the right path – and both children seem to spot one at the same time.  The Leatherstocking Trail has a very distinct trail blaze, and the imagery is one that my children remember from previous outings on the trail, even though we are in unfamiliar terrain.

Unfamiliar terrain is the landscape many church leaders often find themselves in as they navigate parish, denominational and community ministry.  Though there are many models of leadership, the theology of leadership “still needs to be developed”[1] Russel Huizing writes in the introduction to the inaugural edition of the Theology of Leadership Journal.  And though many of the submissions in the first issue support the “development still needs to happen” motif, one in particular demonstrated a pedagogically sound model of training leaders with a theological worldview, this being the article written by Stephen Woodworth.

Woodworth delves into the concept and “use of metaphors in leadership training for its ability to bridge gaps in contextualization and establish global leaders for the Church who are strengthened by foundational theology that grants them a core identity from which to lead.”[2] In particular Woodworth aims at utilizing this strategy for pastors that will work in the area he deems the “Majority World” which he defines as “regions of the world which have historically been referred to as developing countries, third-world, or the global south. Current shifts to the term Majority World demonstrate a more accurate perspective on these regions as many reside in the north and exist along a continuum of varying stages of development.”[3]  Woodworth argues that this strategy will work best in these regions mainly because of a lack of two key resources – funds that can be spent training these church workers and the time spent to train, and maintain them.

The use of symbol and metaphor will ideally help pastors not only teach, preach, care, and “pastor”, but will also help aide in their own discovery process of finding their pastoral identity.  The interpretative work of symbol and metaphor is found throughout the hiking world in unique trail blazes, those trail markers that help make sure each hiker is headed on a similar path.  A few are listed below:

This is the blaze of the Leatherstocking Trail, located in Southern Westchester County, New York.

Internationally known, this is the blaze for the Appalachian Trail.

Running through my home state of Michigan, this is the Blaze for the North Country National Scenic Trail.

And since we all attend Portland Seminary . . . here is the blaze for the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.

No matter where you are on the trail, the image of the blaze is the constant, but the terrain (the “terroir” as Percy calls it) always changes.  The North County Trail blaze is the same no matter where you are on the trail, however the trail terroir is much different near Youngstown, Ohio, than it is near Boundary Waters National Park in Minnesota.

“Biblical writers clearly understood this same principle and went to great lengths to portray leaders through a myriad of metaphors including shepherd, ambassadors, witness, athlete, architect, father and mother.” Using my children as an example again, we were blessed enough to explore the Biblical leader metaphor of “athlete” many ways this year.  We were able to see my son’s favorite basketball player, Miles Bridges, play a game against the Brooklyn Nets.  My family was also blessed enough to see the Women’s World Cup victory parade in Manhattan.  My daughter is a fan of Megan Rapinoe, while my son’s favorite player is Alex Morgan.  All three of these athletes are incredibly gifted, hardworking, skilled, and inspirational.  And each of them has abilities the other athlete’s merely do not have.  One could say they each have a unique athletic terroir.

So too is the case with many images and symbols in the life of the church.  The cross as a symbol of Jesus’ death and resurrection; a shell as a symbol of baptism; loaves and fishes as symbols of communion and mealtime gatherings.  I wonder what new symbols and metaphors the church can implement while she continues to develop the theology of leadership?  Perhaps these will include metaphors and symbols that honor the voices of people not often heard in church history.  Perhaps these will include metaphors and symbols of an “ecozoic” worldview. Perhaps these will include metaphors that lift up mercy, forgiveness and charity.  What are the metaphors or symbols you would like to see utilized as the church blazes a new path in the field of the theology of leadership?



[1] Huizing, L. Russel, “Do We Really Need Another Academic Journal,” in Theology of Leadership Journal ed. Russel Huizing, Volume 1, (Issue 1), 2018, pg 4.

[2] Woodworth, Stephen, “Prophets, Priests and Kings: The Use of Metaphors in Training Global Leaders Toward Pastoral Identity,” in Theology of Leadership Journal ed. Russel Huizing, Volume 1, (Issue 1), 2018, pg 79.

[3] Woodworth, Stephen, “Prophets, Priests and Kings: The Use of Metaphors in Training Global Leaders Toward Pastoral Identity,” in Theology of Leadership Journal ed. Russel Huizing, Volume 1, (Issue 1), 2018, pg 80.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

5 responses to “Let’s Blaze!”

  1. Jenn Burnett says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Jacob! I loved Woodworth’s Article as well. I also appreciated his recognition that we have to be aware of context to understand much of the nuance in metaphors. For example the differing conditions and social standing of shepherds. Perhaps one of my favourite metaphors we’ve explored is Emma Percy’s alignment of pastoring as mothering. I wonder if perhaps pastor as gardener might also be a valuable contemporary metaphor—willing to engage the manure and dirt up close in order to plant a seed, and then tenderly and persistently nurture it into growth. Finally, stewarding the fruit to nourish the kingdom of God. Perhaps as a counter balance to your question of what metaphors we embrace moving forward is what metaphors ought to be sidelined/benched? I think of the image of the Christian soldier in an era of militarism. Well contextualized it is still useful, but much caution much be exercised when using it. Any others you can think of?

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Jacob. From my response you will know I’m not a hiker. I didn’t know what “blaze” was, thank you! I personally connect with metaphors a great deal and appreciated the article by Woodworth. Often we only have one picture portraying a leader and Woodworth gave us a number of them each representing important aspects of the leadership responsibilities and traits. I believe the biblical metaphors are rich to shape the profile of a godly leader.

  3. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks for introducing me to the concept of a “blaze” symbol. You ask the question, “What are the metaphors or symbols you would like to see utilized as the church blazes a new path in the field of the theology of leadership?” Perhaps the challenge and blessing of metaphors and symbols are they are inherently highly contextual communication devices. I am always looking for those that connect our ancient orthodoxy to our future orthopraxy, not as another cool fad but rather speaking to multiple generations and across multiple cultures. I wonder what role iconography plays in your thoughts and your research?

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Jacob you reminded me of my walking the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain. The path is marked by hand painted yellow arrows. Generally they were pretty clear, but every now and then a juncture on a remote path or an intersection in a town would see a gathering of pilgrims all stopped and searching eagerly for an arrow. I remember one time some twenty people were gathered on a corner and finally someone shouted, “there it is” and we finally all saw this tiny arrow on the other side of the intersection painted faintly in the road guttering just below the pedestrians. Twenty sets of eyes found what one set may not have discovered. Later on I realised that the way people see is different, and even though we were all looking at the same vista, only one person could see correctly at the moment and time. Metaphors, like arrows, require certain eyes to see. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Mary Mims says:

    Thanks Jacob for your post. I love the use of symbols and metaphors for leaders that you described. I also love that we can change these symbols to remove cultural bias. Thank you for making us aware of these changes.

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