DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Sandbox and the Playfield

Written by: on March 14, 2014

I have good memories of playing in sandboxes when I was growing up.  In particular I recall playing at the neighbors house down the street.  I do not recall the sandbox being very large in size, but somehow there was room for five to eight boys and girls to dig tunnels for our matchbox sized cars and trucks.  I am certain there were disagreements, but there was give and take as well.  Sometimes we got bored or frustrated and ventured off to play somewhere else.  That was easy to do.  But no one stayed mad at anyone for very long.  Back in those days there were more than twenty kids in our neighborhood.  Impromptu candy stores and lemonade stands would spring up during the summer months or a group of us would play baseball in the field and then head off to shoot hoops in the neighbors driveway (the same one that had the sandbox).   As a tomboy I had a certain status with the boys; I could compete with them in basketball and even football (no tackle, unless you tripped over a tree root and it tackled you).  But I carried a different status with girls.  I didn’t like to play with dolls and would rather dive for baseballs than play house.  The sandbox, mentioned in MaryKate Morse’s book, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence, purposefully takes one back to earlier years.   As it should, for it is in our childhood play that we first begin to understand just how we fit and where we belong.

Fitting and belonging is something I have been attentive to since those early sandbox and playfield days.  It never occurred to me to put someone else down because I could catch a ball or shoot a jumpshot and perhaps others could not.  I was competitive and wanted to win, winning carried status in the group.  It did not occur to me that other girls might want to play shortstop or first base.  However looking back, perhaps that was exactly what was behind the jeer I heard on more than one occasion, “Do you think you’re a pro or something?”

In the years that followed I knew where I felt most at home and where I did not.  I have had to unlearn much of what I had learned.  This is not the first time I have read MaryKate’s book.  Even though it was not required for any of my George Fox seminary courses at the time, I purchased and devoured it in just a few days.  Since then I have re-read it and portions of it again and again. Why is that?

Perhaps it is because Morse is a teller of stories, people stories.  My exact story is not in the book and yours might not be either, but you will find places that are familiar.  You will recognize your experiences in reading how leaders carry power, presence and influence.  Morse masterfully creates space for the reader to consider how one leads.  “This book is for anyone who wants to make a difference yet knows that wanting and making are two very different things.”[1] She recognizes that people need to know how to make that transition from wanting to making by being.  MaryKate Morse has learned to listen and discern, what Leonard Sweet calls the patter and patternings that comprise leadership.[2]

There are two things that have continued to stick with me and resonate in me since I first read this book in 2008.  The first came in Ben’s story, as a member of a Christian organization’s senior board he was astounded at the reaction among board members when a certain pastor arrived late to the board meeting.  The pastor’s opinion changed the decision the group had previously made.  Ben’s conversation with the pastor has stuck with me ever since, “I’m interested in how you handle that kind of power.  How do you manage it so it doesn’t corrupt your soul?”[3]  The second revolves around stewardship, how will I steward my influence?  In other words, I have a responsibility to learn to lead well, to lead so that others are empowered.  I am learning (it’s a process) that I cannot function on my own.  Working primarily in a virtual environment I have to make intentional effort to connect and risk. It has meant no longer ignoring places of my own woundedness, understanding why I was space hiding, and why I felt ignored or rejected.[4]  It has involved doing the steady work outlined in this book.  Rather than be overcome with discouragement because of my age or gender, I have had to consider how my tendency to adapt has hidden my desires.  You and I have two hands, I have partnered with God with one hand to do the inner soul work needed and with the other to learn to serve. Morse describes this process as creating with Christ open space for spiritual, emotional, and rational attentiveness.  Each one involve time and space, recognizing how and when I want to be in control and why, recognizing and exploring what is going on inside of me.  Why am I responding this way to that?  Learning to take time to think things through.[5]  Wholeheartedness creates space for vulnerability.  It is the courage to “show up and let myself be seen.”[6]

Morse articulates how power is constructed in social settings.[7]  If we desire to lead like Jesus did, then the challenge and invitation presented is to use power for good as Jesus did, to utilize presence to empower others and to recognize how body language is connected to our identity.[8]  Servant leadership is not for a select few; it is a posture that is to be reflected by each member in the Body of Christ.[9]  In this sandbox we each bring what we have, considered what might be needed and we share with one another out of consideration for the other.  We and others find our voice.


            [1] MaryKate Morse, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 16.

            [2] Ibid., 9.

[3] Ibid., 22.

[4] Ibid., 146-147.

[5] Ibid., 162-166.

[6] Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead (New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2012), 42.

[7] Morse, 169.

[8] Ibid., 42-43, 82

[9] Ibid., 58.

About the Author


Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

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