“Big fish, little pond” is the phrase that comes to mind as I reflect on this first year’s learning alongside my cohort. At the risk of sounding like I have an overactive ego or hyper sized sense of self-importance, due to the environments I’ve always placed myself in, I’ve grown accustomed to being the smartest person in the room most of the time. Whether it be my family growing up, my local church where I’ve taught and made disciples for 20+ years or my denominational circles, I have (most of the time) been the big fish. I like being the big fish. I think I’m pretty good at being the big fish. The problem is, the moment I changed ponds, I realized that this is a relative term. For me, that change of ponds happened September 1st, 2014.
During the first online chat session with the cohort (now known simply as “LGP5”), I received my first glimpse of the impressive scope of leadership experience present in this new pond. But not only leadership experience, more importantly, I discovered within these fellow learning sojourners an unsearchable depth of character, authenticity, abiding love for the church we are called to lead and concern for the communities of man we are called to love. In a relatively short period of time my fondness for these seven has become remarkably strong. They accept me. I love and respect them and view them as implements sent from God to sharpen my world-view. Not only fellow learners, they are apt teachers as well.
Simply stated, I discerned very quickly that I was no longer the smartest person in the room!
Then came Cape Town and my pond got even bigger…
At the Cape Town Advance, we sojourners had the chance, for the first time, to meet each other face-to-face along with our DMINLGP lead mentor (Dr. Jason Clark), Dmin program director (Dr. Loren Kerns), various faculty advisors and senior LGP cohort members. Based on our subsequent conversations (we have become very good friends over the course of this last year by the way), I believe it’s safe to say, all of us realized straight away that we were proverbial Guppies splashing around alongside a school of giant Swordfish. For me, terms like “wide-eyed” and “shell-shocked” come close to describing how I felt at our opening dinner together. However, my fears of inadequacy were quickly erased as these very gracious teachers made it their goal (clearly) to validate us all, calling us to begin the deliberate march upward to heights of critical reflection not previously imagined. Time “in the room,” on the bus, walking the pavement and dirt of Cape Town and Khayelitsha, shoulder to shoulder with all of these brilliant people served to further ignite my passion for inquiry and growth, both intellectually and spiritually. There is no substitute for time spent physically present with others who are on the same journey as you. The Cape Town Advance was critical in my leadership and academic formation. I’m convinced, If not for the launching platform of Cape Town, I would have never been able to take up the challenges that emerged during the Fall and Spring Semesters.
And believe me, challenges were ahead!
Some might say that Jason Clark is an academically sadistic task-master, deriving a strange sort of pleasure from the distress caused by his reading assignments. Of course, I would never say that, but some might. To begin our first semester’s studies, we received voluminous amounts of multi-disciplinary reading, beginning with a book translated from French into English extolling the virtues of not reading books! And so, we began our initial foray into serious academic inquiry with a functional paradox… We were all looking for a little patch of solid ground upon which to plant our feet but were cast headlong into a kind of glorious intellectual disequilibrium instead! Rather than resisting, I chose to embrace this disequilibrium, allowing the resultant tempest to deconstruct the simplistic, western, conservative, Evangelical, Christian world-view that had previously framed my theology. Our shared reading and conversations pressed me to reflect upon matters of global concern from perspectives I had never before considered. As a result, I now view the intersection of the church and culture through radically different lenses. My understanding of my place, as a leader in the church, is also being reformed through guided, personal reflection and the implementation of a personal leadership development plan
I found it refreshing to discover the wealth of diverse perspectives that exist both in current and older texts and, at the same time, alarming how narrow my world-view is. How is it possible that I had never been exposed to intellectual giants such as James Davison Hunter and Benedict Anderson, the Polanyi brothers and Zygmunt Bauman, Ross Douthat and David Bebbington?! I’ve been in church leadership for 22 years and hold a Masters Degree in Practical Theology for crying out loud! I was further surprised to find that when provided with space for dialog, a safe zone where disagreement and affirmation can coexist, my mind can be stretched without breaking.
Through this first year, I’m discovering that I am capable of swimming in these deep waters. But the more I do, the matter of whether or not I’m the big fish is becoming progressively less important.