The story of Moses reminds us that God uses flawed, fearful and reluctant people as leaders in God’s kingdom. When God calls Moses at the burning bush to lead the people out of Egypt, Moses demurs, saying, “I am nobody. Why would the king or the Israelites believe that you sent me? I am a slow and hesitant speaker. Please send someone else.” God answers him, “I will be with you. Throw your staff on the ground. See it turn into a snake? That will be your sign to prove that I sent you. Who gives man his mouth? I do. I will help you to speak.” When Moses continues to hesitate and asks God to send someone else, God says, “Your brother Aaron speaks well. He can be your spokesman. The two of you can work together.”
This story gives me hope that God can use even the most reluctant and unlikely of people as kingdom leaders. It reassures us that having flaws is okay, that we should offer what we have, that God will give guidance and that we can collaborate with others who provide what we are lacking.
Leadership has many different forms. People can lead from any position. Leadership doesn’t always have to be the traditional top-down, hierarchical model. Leadership can be collaborative. It can be gradual. People can provide as much leadership as they are able to, and work alongside others on a project. There can be supervised leadership and apprentice leadership. In short – everyone can lead.
At St. John’s, Columbus, we try to recognize leaders in unexpected places and foster leadership among people who would not normally be considered leaders. We use the Asset Based Community Development model, which asks, “What are your gifts? What can you offer the community?” rather than “What are you lacking? What are you in need of?” to open our eyes to the gifts in our community. The ABCD model has taught us to look for abundance and giftedness rather than focusing on people’s needs and deficits. We at St. John’s show leadership by identifying the skill sets of the people in our community, and creating spaces for them to practice their skills and lead others.
Here are a few stories of how our neighbors have shown leadership, both in the church and in the community.
Ray is a neighborhood resident currently living on the street who sometimes attends St. John’s Street Church service, held outdoors at Broad and Central every Sunday. He has an associate’s degree in web development. When he heard that we were working on a new church website, he joined us for a working session. By sharing his expertise, Ray helped us to figure out the technical side of launching our website.
Jerry is a longtime parishioner who regularly attends our Street Church and Wednesday night services. He lives with developmental disabilities, but is not held back because of them. He loves walking, and regularly walks around 10 miles a day. Last fall, he decided that he would like to share his love of walking and lead a walk for other St. John’s parishioners. He worked with a St. John’s staff member to design the route and decide on the day. He loved being the guide and sharing his knowledge of the neighborhood with others.
More recently, Jerry learned to make greeting cards at a local community center. For Mother’s Day this year, he made a stack of homemade cards sparkling with glitter and brought them to St. John’s to be shared with the mothers in the congregation. Jerry uses his skills and passions to bless others in the church and in the community.
Mugsy is an “urban pioneer” who has joined together with Jerome, a longtime neighborhood resident, to revitalize Franklinton Gardens’ neighborhood community garden. Both Jerome and Mugsy actively participate in planning meetings and workdays at the gardens on Saturday afternoons. They walked around the neighborhood together informing neighbors about the community garden, and invited them to rent a plot. Jerome led a planning meeting when the main facilitator was gone. Mugsy is spearheading efforts to plant an orchard of native pawpaw trees in the garden. Jerome cleared a plot to grow and distribute cantaloupes communally, and Mugsy created name stakes out of PVC piping to identify gardeners’ plots. Jerome and Mugsy are working hard, together, to make the community garden a success.
Lucinda is a longtime member of Street Church. She has struggled with addiction and homelessness. Several members of her family were killed in a house fire last winter. Yet she is always thinking of the needs of others. She is fortunate enough to have a car and often brings food donated from The Andersons store to the Street Church service. Lucinda even remembers people’s birthdays and brings cakes especially for them.
Like Moses, none of these individuals would expect to be called upon as leaders. They, too, might point out their weaknesses and deficiencies. But when given opportunity and encouragement, they have risen above their own expectations of themselves to become community leaders.
Hanna Kahler, community organizer with St. John’s and Episcopal Service Corps member, wrote this article on behalf of all the unlikely leaders in Franklinton. If you want to learn more about recognizing leaders in unexpected places, contact us at email@example.com.