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(In which I pray I won’t get fired.)

We were incredibly fortunate to have Prof Jonathan Jansen come and speak at the seminary on Friday night as part of the first annual Peter Storey Lecture.

Prof Storey is the heart and vision behind the seminary and this annual lecture series is in honour of his work within the Methodist Church of Southern Africa as well as his passion and drive for the on-going life and development of the seminary.

The mission statement for Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary is: ‘Forming Transforming Leaders for Church and Nation’. In other words, we are being formed into the type of people who will go into the world, ready to shape and transform it for the better. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you will know I am a first year here and so I am still in the un-forming stage of forming. I.e. I have some behaviours to unlearn before I can start to learn what it means to be a transforming leader. If you know me on a personal level you will also know that I have sometimes struggled with the way things are done within the church at large and even now, here at the seminary. There’s a few of us who need to be unformed before we are reformed. And Fridays lecture was just the right amount of humour, truth and honesty to set us on the path …

In brief this is what Prof Jansen said the seven qualities of transformational leaders are, as displayed by Prof Storey throughout his ministry:

  1. Contemplation – Prof Jansen said that we live in an angry world, a reactive world, when someone wrongs us, we react, overreact, we operate from the ego instead of the heart, the contemplative heart. In order to be a good leader, we need to be able to contemplate first in order for reason to triumph over rage. Transforming leaders who are able to contemplate can teach people how to be fully fledged human beings in an angry world.
  2. Clarity of thinking is the mark of the influential, transformative leader. Do we know right from wrong, or do we suffer from ‘moral ambiguity’? Can we formulate our arguments clearly and comprehensively based on what we know to be right and good and true or are we swayed by the world in which we find ourselves, unsure and ambivalent?
  3. Care – transformational leaders invoke empathy over difference. Care of the other is fundamental to our humanity, not just with those whom we choose to care about but with those who live on the other side of our human formed borders.
  4. Courage – being a transformational leader takes an enormous amount of courage and the greater the leader you are, or the higher up the proverbial food chain you travel, the more courage it takes to be virtuous and honourable. Knowing right from wrong is all well and good but if you don’t have the courage to speak against that which is wrong are you truly able to transform the systems which enslave people?
  5. Change (flexibility): transformational leaders are able to grow and change in order to be flexible in a diverse cultural landscape. As religious leaders, the question for us is can we be bigger than our religion in order to care about and communicate with others, transcending religious, political and economic boundaries?
  6. Contrition – ah yes, this is a biggie… can we say sorry? Are we humble enough to admit our mistakes and make amends for them? We all see the world through specific lenses of hurt and prejudice and these lenses can sometimes cause us to miss seeing reality as it is. Can we say sorry when that happens? Can we say sorry when we willingly or unwillingly hurt others with our misconceptions? A transformational leader can model this to us through a truly humble spirit. Prof Jansen quoted Prof Storey who said, ‘I cannot reconcile with the enemy unless I acknowledge that I am capable of what the enemy has done.’ Powerful.
  7. Conciliation – transformational leaders work towards reconciliation, bringing people together, helping us find our commonalities. Prof Jansen often speaks of the ‘born-frees’ – the youth of SA who do not carry the baggage of apartheid. Children are born into the world colour blind and have racism and division taught to them, modelled to them. He reminded us that if we do not lay our ghosts to rest, they will continue to haunt us through the racist language and behaviour that is taught both on a conscious and unconscious level. We need to be very mindful of what behaviours we model to our children in terms of racism, prejudice and segregation.

He concluded with a profound statement.  ‘There are many Peter Storeys in the world’. In Prof Jansen’s numerous visits to schools all over South Africa he sees them, transformational leaders in the making, but whether they get to actually be ‘Peter Storeys’ depends on us, the people who model leadership and humanity to the children of this country. Will we model transformational courage and integrity to them or will we continue to form them under the shadows of our prejudice and moral ambiguity?

Powerful, insightful, true and inspiring.

So now …

Why did I leave that lecture feeling decidedly depressed, disheartened and despondent? I was so looking forward to it and yet when I walked out I felt deflated and so I reflected…

As a seminary this behaviour is not really being modelled to us. Part of my problem with institutional religion is the disconnect between faith and practice, between theory and execution. I was an usher for this event. My job was to stand at the entrance to our magnificent chapel building with a list of names of approximately 160 VIP’s. 160!!! That meant that as people came towards the door of a chapel with the words ‘Christ as Servant’ on the threshold I had to ask them the implied question, are you ‘a somebody or a nobody’? (of course I tried to do it as diplomatically as possible, but the message was implied – ‘are you on the list?’)

I lost count of the number of people who said to me… ‘no, no, we are just nobody’s, we are not on your list.’ It was unbelievably embarrassing for me and humiliating for the people who had to state their status as ‘nobody’. I understand the need for respect and I understand that certain people hold positions of authority, but as a church? What are we saying not only to visitors to the seminary but to future leaders of this church, to the seminarians? We are saying church people, leaders of the church, in time, will be considered, special, VIP, worthy of a higher status than others.

Don’t get me wrong, there is much that we get right as a church, as a seminary, but there is also much that we get wrong and I believe these lessons on leadership are fundamental – humble leadership must be modelled to us as future transformational leaders. Effective leadership is sadly lacking all over society and in this country, status, wealth and power are continually shown to us as the ideal to aspire to. It’s no good preaching ‘Christ the Servant’ who rides into town on a donkey if we continue to hold up our Bishops, our ministers and our church leaders as better than, more important than – worthy of VIP treatment. It doesn’t breed respect, respect is something that is earned when someone leads us to a place of wholeness and wellness and transforms the world through humble service. A transformational leader has all those qualities spoken of by Prof Jansen, plus the mark of humility.

If we don’t change the way we do things the world will not change either. Two famous quotes spring to mind as I write this. Firstly, Einstein’s definition of Insanity: ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. The church needs to change (we do not need to be rocket scientists to work that out) and that change will come about when we start to do things differently, when we grow transformational leaders who do not expect preferential treatment, but who inspire others to follow by their humble, servant hearted approach.

Secondly, Ghandi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. We want to see change as a church and as a society and that change has to start with us – all are equal in the eyes of God, and in order for us to live that truth we need to start acting that way. Hierarchies are a symbol of the past. Leadership, transformational leadership is about earning respect by who we show ourselves to be to those who need our love the most. It does not come from a title, it comes from engagement at a circular level. It comes from being ‘in this together’.

So, yes, I was a little despondent when I came out from the lecture, because I am not sure as a church that we have gotten this right yet. But God is good, always and the following day the Presiding Bishop, Bishop Siwa, spoke powerfully about what it means to be transformational leaders to our graduating class. I will write more on that tomorrow … it moved me and inspired me and I have faith that with time and prayer we will hear the call of God and let go of our ego’s in favour of a kingdom which elevates God, not the self.

‘Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school’ – Einstein …