Principles for Navigating Leadership Within the Context of Ministry

Robin Solomon

October 29, 2018

Rev. Dr. Adam Hearlson, the current interim associate pastor of education, fellowship, and discipleship at Wayne Presbyterian Church, spoke about four principles, in particular, that have guided him throughout his life as he served in various leadership positions. The first principle was simply to be kind. This is something that is often looked down upon in the corporate world because kindness is viewed as a weakness and a vulnerability in individuals. However, the cynicism and irony that is often promoted in the leadership world is actually detrimental to the individual; they degrade one’s creative and moral imagination. Kindness allows for deeper relationships with others, and ultimately serves as the bedrock for creative collaboration with others. The second principle serves as the counterbalance to the policy of kindness: do not do for others what they can do for themselves. In the context of the church, this principle is especially important because the church carries out an important function within society, that is, primarily serving the spiritual needs and desires of the people. Leaders within the church are ineffectual if they try to do everything for everyone else; as a result, they are stretched out beyond their limitations, and the important spiritual work at hand cannot be executed well. Leaders are supposed to empower others to carry out the specific role assigned to them; in this way, it reinforces what the leaders can do and allows for excellence in both the individual and the work being done.

The third principle for leadership within the context of ministry is to love difference, and not simply tolerate it. Strong, effectual, and influential leaders surround themselves with diverse people and ideas. People that are different from oneself each bring something unique to a particular situation, whether it be from their beliefs, experience, upbringing, etc. These different ideas and thoughts allow difficult problems to be attacked and analyzed from contrasting ways, as opposed to all ideas being similar and, thus, having the potential to get stuck at the same place, with no source of escaping such a deadlock. Moreover, loving differences and the diversity in individuals is a mirror image of the Trinity, that is, the paradox of the presence of differences within the Perfect Unity. It is a holy gift to acknowledge the deficiencies that one may possess and, in humility, seek out another whose differences may serve as the answer to the problem at hand. Finally, the last principle is to be foolish. The foolishness described is more reflective of “divine foolishness” (drawing from the symbolism of donkeys within the Old and New Testaments), rather than plain human folly. Taken in this sense, foolishness ultimately undermines and confounds the wisdom of this world, similar to how Scripture describes the foolishness of God as being greater than man’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:25). Being foolish allows one to write their own story in life by being weird, different, and unpredictable.

Following this lecture, the first discussion question was specifically concerned with the nature of “moral imagination,” as mentioned during Rev. Dr. Hearlson’s explanation of kindness. Rev. Hearlson responded that moral imagination mainly referred to the kind of imagination one uses when considering the direct application of morality within life. For example, moral imagination is required when considering who one’s neighbor is, in light of Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Following this line of thinking to its natural conclusion, it follows that moral imagination involves issues of advocacy and idolatry, in that, one must decide whether a particular issue or situation is greater than the God we claim to serve, and, therefore, act accordingly. The second discussion question concerned the navigation of kindness in the context of ministry, where the professional and personal spheres often blend together. Rev. Dr. Hearlson responded that ultimately, kindness is sacrosanct, that is, one should not compromise on showing kindness to another. If the person is acting in a way that is detrimental to the interests of the group/team, kindness is analogous to “heaping burning coals on your enemy’s head,” as Scripture says. In addition to kindness, earnestness and concern is also required; in this way, one can play the role of the fool, which can ultimately help to diffuse the potential conflict. At a certain point, however, sincerity and directness must be demonstrated to the offending person in private, which will allow for the greatest good of the team/group to be realized.

Discussion Questions:

In light of the statement that, “cynicism and irony degrade creative imagination and moral imagination,” what exactly is moral imagination?

How do you navigate kindness in the context of ministry, where the professional and personal spheres of life are often blended together?