I continue to refer to my time in London as a trip of a lifetime, and it was truly that. The trip represented a culmination of hard work, transitions and ultimately a new start. I would be lying if I said I was not overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed with sights, smells, tastes and not as much visual but hearing overload. There were new faces, and so many speakers. There were new places, and so many speakers. There were new learning techniques, and so many speakers. There were new relationships, and so many speakers. My heart was content, but my mind was overwhelmed. With so much new information, new creativity, and new concepts, my brain did not have nearly enough time process the goodness. This introvert was left exhausted by each day’s end and retreated to solitude, as opposed to jumping outside and experiencing more of the culture late into the evening. However, with that said, the feeling of being overwhelmed soon subsided, and I was left with one predominant thought.
Over the years, I have come to understand just how important relationships are. From ministry to mission to family to life, relationships are the core of our spirit and heart. God invites us into covenantal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. He provides the appropriate people at the appropriate time to enrich our lives and bring about His purpose for us. It was this relationship piece that struck me most profoundly me in London. The power of relationships and camaraderie in LGP4 is something only God could accomplish. While perhaps I should be writing about the culture and power of London and the British, it was the culture of our classmates, both individually and collectively, that affected me most deeply and sparked my passion and thanksgiving for God. The knowledge, the wisdom, the nationalities, the points-of-view, and the personalities combined for an epic gathering and exchange of ideas and experiences:
- A walk in the park with John to simply hear his story and testimony
- Numerous chats with Bill, hearing his laugh and feeling his authenticity
- Observing Richard’s frankness and confidence
- Adventuring with Clint and listening in awe to his pithy statements and words of wisdom
- Unveiling music videos to see yet another layer of sweet Telile
- Sitting across the dinner table from Miriam and soaking in her encouragement
- Mitch with his fireball energy and enthusiasm for life and God
- Finding a kindred spirit in Michael and admiring his gift of active listening
- Raphael with his Trinidadian accent and Godly perception
- Carol exuding calamity and a discerning voice of honesty and reason
- Julie’s fresh, matter-of-fact leadership and thoughtful presence
- Stefania with her coffee addiction, quiet smile, and real love for her ministry
- Liz’s theological and academic knowledge and seasoned authorship
- The courage Ron possessed when asking the questions we all wanted to ask
- Admiring not only Deve’s dedication as a father, but also his creative analysis and weaving of words to beautifully tell a story
These, my LGP4 cohort-mates, have enriched my life. By spending time with them in London, I know I am not alone. We are a team, and together we will grow and learn. Though we hailed from diverse experiences and cultures, the time in London solidified our relationships. Now each week, I look forward to class time, as I know there will be differing perspectives and honest assessments. Each week, I eagerly await text messages and phone calls to catch up and see how my mates are doing. Each week, I pray for God to draw them close and encourage them to not lose sight of the Kingdom. Each week, they likewise challenge and push me to grow. Through them, I learned. Through them, I continue to learn.
The early days of the London Advance brought new knowledge accompanied by new doubts. After meeting my classmate Clint, I yearned for his pithy wisdom. After meeting Michael, I longed for his worldly experience. After meeting Julie, I envied her interpersonal skills and leadership. In a conversation with Bill at the Mitre Pub, he said one of the most important things he has learned in recent years is to be authentic. While I have long considered myself a responsible and generally effective leader, in this environment, I felt inexperienced, inadequate and much like an imposter! Did I belong in a Doctor of Ministry program?
Steve Chalke, one of the most prominent ministers and leaders in England, spoke to our class at the Advance. I admit I was only half-listening during the early part of his presentation. But, out of the blue, he struck me right between the eyes with his comment that he often felt like the least intelligent person in the room. Steve Chalke often felt like the least intelligent person in the room? Clearly I heard him wrong, but then he said it again. Steve Chalke and I have something in common! We both have felt inadequate and inexperienced. Between Bill and now Steve, I know it is okay to feel this way.
Chalke continued by saying, “BE AUTHENTIC. Be who you are, but be good at it.” I can acknowledge the traits and qualities of others, but dwelling and wishing I had their talents was pointless. God gave me unique gifts. Though I am young, I am who I am. I have experience to bring to the table. I have joy and love to give. I can engage and lead others effectively in thought and deed. I can be who I am. I can be comfortable in my own skin. This was a boost in self-confidence that I sorely needed. If I only learned this one thing from the Advance and from this Doctor of Ministry program, then I would consider this a success.
Upon returning home from the London Advance, I was thrust immediately into my new ministry position. As part of an overall strategic planning initiative at First United Methodist Church (FUMC), Vision 2022, the senior pastor issued a bold mission goal: In ten years, First United Methodist Church (FUMC) will have a mission partnership on every continent, with an annual mission budget goal in excess of one million dollars. As the Global Missions Pastor, I am now in charge of this initiative. My responsibility will be to lead the planning and implementation necessary to cause FUMC to become a church with truly global partnerships.
We needed an action plan to follow and use for benchmarks. Two concepts I learned at the Advance were the “Board You Can’t Afford” and “Merlin Concept”. Utilizing the “Board You Can’t Afford”, I literally took a small group of business leaders, mission leaders, lawyers, doctors, and pastors to lunch to vision. (Because of the diverse members of our church, I was not limited merely to hoping or dreaming for a “board;” those who excel in their fields are actual members of our church!) For three weeks, I met with a group of like-minded, motivated individuals to concoct our Vision 2022 action plan. Using the “Merlin Concept” of reverse visioning, we carefully navigated the steps necessary to achieve the two ultimate goals before us by starting with where we wanted to be in 2022 and moving carefully and methodically backward one step at a time. One group focused on the one million dollar budget, while the other devised the plan for moving forward with mission partnerships on every continent.
The final report of my board has yet to be presented, but I am pleased with the foresight and the initiative the group has taken. The group knows where it wants to be, when it wants to be there, and by what means we will arrive. Changes will be made to the plan as we evaluate and move forward. However, the framework we have built gives us confidence in making the first steps, as we know we have taken the time to carefully think through the vast decisions and steps. Following the London Advance, the group moved forward with intentionality instead of letting the ball roll on its own and catching up later when problems occur. As a result, we have a core group of dedicated “board members” who are committed to seeing the project and vision through to completion.
In keeping with the overall theme of this synthesis, the relationship bond formed within my group has united our presentation to the overall congregation. The group illustrates how people from all walks of life, experiences, genders and ages can come together and unite in a common cause. Instead of being told what to do, their leadership will take ownership of the future of the Church.
Often in ministry and life, I struggle with balancing church leadership and my introverted need for solitude. The United Methodist Church motto is, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” A critical part of my job is communicating effectively with the people who constitute our church. I am expected to be present for those around me and to be inspirational and encouraging to those who walk through my door. It is rare for my office to be empty. On a daily basis, it is filled with staff colleagues and church members. Marking off my to-do list difficult, and by day’s end, my energy is depleted.
Krish Kandiah, one of the presenters during the London Advance, spoke directly to this problem. Kandiah described Jesus’ life as a leader as filled with times of intense ministry followed by times of solitude. Jesus was a sought-after man. If followers recognized him, communities of hundreds would flock to him. Kandiah’s presentation reminded me of the numerous times Jesus retreated to focus on his relationship with God and recharge:
- He withdrew to a quite place before making big decisions, “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles.” Luke 6:12-13
- He found solitude after a death of a friend, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” Matthew 14:13
- When He could not take the big crowds, he prayed alone, “After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” Matthew 14:23
- Overwhelmed with daily life, he found solitude, “However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” Luke 5:15-16
Just as Bill Dobrehen and Steve Chalke urge, Jesus was authentic. He knew he needed time alone and time to refocus on His ministry and His relationship with God. Reminding Himself of who He was, staying connected to the love of the Father, and keeping His mission clear, Jesus was able to sustain himself and his calling. Jesus understood that His first priority was His relationship with the Father. Kandiah gave this timeless example a fresh spin, and it has stuck with me since returning from London. If my connection with God falters in the least, the rest of my life turns to shambles. My mission is poorly focused and my patience wears thin. The best gift I can give to others is a healthy, self-energized me. No one benefits from my leadership or guidance when I am run down and burned out.
Thinking back over the three months since our Advance, I see both the challenges and the personal growth facilitated through the corporate learning of our cohort. The discussions continue to be an intermingling of ideas, thoughts, opinions, and outstanding conversation. The exchange of thoughts through our blogs and online chats greatly enhance my grasp and understanding of the books. Again, it is the relationship and the corporate learning that has transformed theories and ideas into practical applications.
The first book by Elder and Paul, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, enabled me to face my first month in new ministry with its mountainous problems needing quick navigation. Between Elder’s problem solving template, and the wisdom of two cohort-mates who had navigated the mission partnership waters before me, I prayerfully discerned, gathered information, and effectively made decisions with my committee through discuss and consensus building.
Sarah Pink’s two works, Doing Visual Ethnography and Doing Sensory Ethnography, spoke to my introverted lifestyle and touched on my love of observation. If one is the middle of the party, one will never know the full value of the experience. Whether in Haiti, or in a meeting with the Vision 2022 committee, or in our Advance classroom at Lancaster Hall Hotel, examining body languages, the sites and surrounding culture, and the relationships between individuals, gives insight into who people are, their thoughts and beliefs, and how one should go about interacting with them. Being at a new church, in particular, I have found value in observation to understand the priorities in Louisianan culture and the ethics of the church.
Who Needs Theology? by Grenz and Olson was an eye-opener to how I view myself as a theologian. Likewise, Ford’s Theology: A Very Short Introduction gave me confidence in viewing theology through my experiences. By becoming more in tune with my own beliefs, I am able to engage in fruitful conversation and study with others. Previously, I shied away from lengthy discussions, as my history of dinner-table theology was nothing but critical and demeaning. Now, after lengthy conversations with even the conservative members of my class, I encourage conversation, and using critical thinking, engage in questions to facilitate lively discussions. Everyone has a unique point of view, and encouraging an open, safe place to share their theology is vital to our walks as Christians. To end the theological trio of readings, McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction sparked my interested in historical ponderings in theology that have helped shaped our thoughts through the ages.
Nohria and Khurana’s compilation of essays in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice may have been the best work I have read in quite some time. The timing could not have been better. Amid a vast, diverse group of leaders in my church and navigating through the planning of Vision 2022, the essays on innovation, leading across cultures, being the change, and understanding the “it” of leadership truly allowed me freedom in discussion and the opportunity to challenge those around me and facilitate their leadership through their gifts.
Contemplating the visual ethnography assignment and drawing a correlation between ethnography and our Advance, I naturally spent hours flipping through the pictures taken in London. What did I learn? What did I experience? What has stuck with me since the end of September? While I will forever remember the words and presentations of Steve Chalke and Krish Kandiah, the more I reminisced, the more three words came to my mind – relationships, relationships, relationships. Yes, that may be the same word said three times over, but the repetition adds to the meaning. What is ministry? Ministry is relationships. What is mission? Mission is relationships. What is partnership? Partnership is relationships. What is our cohort? Our cohort is built upon relationships. In London, during the eight days of our Advance, we solidified relationships.
Scripture is filled with positive inflections for friendship, and it is Jesus who exemplified what it means to be a true friend. Jesus valued relationships. He took time to listen. He discerned and responded. He spoke honestly and emphatically. He commanded and encouraged us to love our God and love our neighbor. You, LGP4, are my neighbors, and from you, I have learned, and I have felt encouragement. You have challenged me deeply. Whether at the pub over an English brew, or while watching a Manchester United soccer game, or walking through Kensington Gardens to exchange stories, or taking in a musical in Piccadily Circus, or sharing a traditional English brunch, or trekking to find the nearest Starbucks, we laughed, we confided in one another, we challenged each other, and we grew in camaraderie and friendship. Since this time, we have prayed for one another, we have encouraged each other, and we have pushed through the stacks of book together to come to the end of the semester.
I invite you to take this trip down memory lane with our eclectic, ecumenical, encouraging group of friends. As observed in Doing Visual Ethnography, images should be an accurate reflection of who we are, as our outside lives should reflect the inward passion and knowledge we possess. It is from each of my classmates whom I have learned the most. Please click this link and see how God has opened my eyes to new relationships and friendships because of you:
Elder, Linda, and Richard Paul. The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. Kindle ed. Tomales, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2009.
Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction. Kindle ed. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Ford, David F. Theology: A Very Short Introduction. Kindle ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Grenz, Stanley J., and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God. Kindle ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction. 5th ed. Kindle ed. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Nohria, Nitin, and Rakesh Khurana, eds. Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice. Kindle ed. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2010.
Pink, Sarah. Doing Visual Ethnography: Images, Media and Representation in Research. London: Sage Publications, 2007.
——-. Doing Sensory Ethnography. London: Sage Publications, 2009.
 Nitin Nohria & Rakesh Khurana, “Advancing Leadership Theory and Practice,” in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, eds. Nitin Nohira and Rakesh Khurana (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2010), Kindle Location, 308.
 Marshal Ganz, “Leading Change: Leadership, Organization, and Social Movements,” in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, eds. Nitin Nohira and Rakesh Khurana (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2010), 527-568.
 J. Richard Hackman, “What Is This Thing Called Leadership?,” in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, eds. Nitin Nohira and Rakesh Khurana (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2010), 107.