From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutherans Reflect on the Vocation of a Leader

Date Fri, 29 Sep 2006 10:23:22 -0500

Title: Lutherans Reflect on the Vocation of a Leader ELCA NEWS SERVICE

September 29, 2006

Lutherans Reflect on the Vocation of a Leader 06-146-MRC

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Bringing forth and supporting faithful, wise and courageous leaders is one of the strategic directions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Staff of the ELCA churchwide organization, professors and administrative staff of ELCA seminaries, college and universities, bishops and others gathered here Sept. 22-23 in a special forum to engage in theological discussion on the vocation of leadership.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, set the stage for the discussion. "We have said in one of our strategic directions that we will 'assist this church to bring forth and support faithful, wise and courageous leaders whose vocations serve God's mission in a pluralistic world.' Our whole conversation is a contributing to and a developing of what that means for this church. When you ponder each of those words, we begin to get a real sense of a theology of leadership for this church," he said.

Hanson reflected on the characteristics of leaders named in the strategic direction -- faithful, wise and courageous.

"What do we mean by faithful leaders? It seems to me it implies that leaders, who are called to office, be it ordained or lay, are first followers. (Leaders) are self-defined followers, they are disciples," he said. "My tension, when we think about leaders as first followers, is that, when I listen to a lot of discipleship talk in the church, you have to listen long and hard before you get to the cross," he said. "My understanding of the theology of leadership and discipleship begins with the cross. I think that's a huge assumption about the theology of leadership that needs to be articulated more clearly, persistently and persuasively in all discipleship talk. I'll confess that I hardly use the word discipleship any more because of what I've seen it become, devoid of the cross."

"If we are followers of Jesus together, following the way of the cross, how do we discern where that call leads us in the context to which we've been called to leadership? Followers are also then conveners of discernment among the followers of Jesus," said Hanson. And, that creates another tension, he said. "Many leaders in the Christian community offer certainty to an anxious culture rather than the confidence of faith, and then inviting the faithful into discernment about where is God active, what is God calling us to do as we are about God's activity."

"Faithful leaders are also servants of the gospel, proclaimers of the gospel. Faithful leaders, for me, are members of the body of Christ," he said. Hanson also noted that the word "members" in the church "has fallen on hard times these past few years, because it juxtaposes against discipleship. We are about discipleship not membership. Well, I don't like that (because it) creates a false dichotomy," he said. "I don't think discipleship and membership should be put in opposition of one another. They are different expressions, I believe, of the call to leadership which means to be communal."

Hanson told participants that leaders "need to be known for their unquenchable curiosity." He said, "Wise leaders will not only experience wisdom as wonder that makes them otherwise, but (leaders) will be ones who gather up the wisdom that is widely dispersed. Wise leaders will not only be gatherers of the shared and dispersed wisdom, but they will also be very attentive to context."

"Wise leaders will know when to invoke God's presence, evoke the gifts of God's people, provoke God's people and revoke evil. They will know when to agitate and negotiate" and when to "get out of the way. That calls for an incredible ability to be discerning," Hanson said.

"Courageous leaders will have the courage to be messengers of God declaring 'do not be afraid.' That's probably one of the core messages that leaders are called to declare in this anxious world," he said. "I think leadership today is about pushing back the walls of fear that certain political leaders and all their rhetoric want to have come crashing down on us, (giving) God very little space and, probably in their own theology, only space for God to work in my heart and not beyond," Hanson said. "I think courageous leaders will have the courage to confess their own sinfulness and their own need for God's grace."

The forum included several small group discussions and plenary sessions. Dr. Craig Van Gelder, professor of congregational mission, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., led a plenary and "part Bible study" on the life of Jesus in the formation of leadership. The Rev. Norma J. Cook Everist, professor of church administration and educational ministry, Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, and the Rev. Craig L. Nessan, academic dean and professor of contextual theology, Wartburg, led a plenary on transformational leadership.

A four-member panel explored various topics of leadership. The Rev. Ruben Duran, director for new congregational development, ELCA Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission, provided insight on congregational leadership; Hanson noted some challenges and opportunities for leadership in the church today; the Rev. Philip D.W. Krey, president, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, focused on educating for leadership and discipleship; and Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, a Lutheran theologian, Seattle University, talked about leadership and the public church.

According to the Rev. M. Wyvetta Bullock, executive for leadership development, ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop, the forum served to gather insight and advice to guide staff of the ELCA churchwide office in its work to fulfill its strategic directions and commitments related to leadership.

"We wanted to bring together leaders, particularly those who are educating for leadership across the church, to have a conversation around what it means to be a church that has a strategic direction (in calling forth) faithful, wise and courageous leaders," said Bullock.

Participants offered "some common conceptual framework" to "move us forward in strengthening the leadership in the church and developing the next generation of leaders," she said. The thoughts and insights gathered at the forum will serve to guide churchwide staff and others working on fulfilling the strategic direction, she said.

Some staff present at the forum said that the conversations have informed and shaped their thinking about leadership, she said. "So, the next step is for each one of the participants to integrate their experience into their own ongoing leadership journey, as well as (integrate the experience in) what they are called to do for this church," Bullock said. She added that another step is "to continue the cooperation, collaboration and coordination around leadership that we're already doing" and look for ways to strengthen that in some new, creative and imaginative ways to deepen understanding. - - -

Audio comments from the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, bishop of the ELCA, related to this story are on the ELCA Web site at

Audio comments from the Rev. M. Wyvetta Bullock, executive for leadership development, ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop, related to this story are on the ELCA Web site at

Information about the ELCA Leadership Initiative strategic directions is available at on the ELCA Web site. Information about the strategic directions of the ELCA churchwide office is at available on the Web.

For information contact:

John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or ELCA News Blog:

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