Personal lessons on leadership: Musings from this past year

Life changed one year ago.  In January, I began my new position at Capital Seminary.  Transitioning from pastoral ministry to academia proved both exciting and stretching as I entered a new ministry.  In some respects, it was similar as it involved pastoral care and administration.  In other ways, it was quite different as it meant being part of a larger organization with its unique protocols and processes.  Thankfully, LBC and Capital Seminary accommodated the learning curve of such a transition.  As I reflect back on this past year, there are a few poignant lessons I have learned about leadership.

  1. Sacred space matters. The daily life of a leader is filled with decision-making, vision-casting, conflict resolution, and mission-critical items.  I am the first to say my leadership pattern for years consisted of sacred space only in the morning.  I have learned this routine is a mistake.  It is essential for me to carve out time throughout the day to spiritually breathe.  Without it, decisions are reactive, emotional, short-sighted, and convenient.  Those few minutes at different points, when available and when necessary, allow me to make better, more God-honoring, leadership decisions.
  1. Chemistry matters. It is tempting to add a person to one’s team based on a resume or reputation yet the quality and makeup of a person matters equally as much.  In the program, there have been prospective students that appeared to be a good fit based on their academic portfolio.  However, during the interview process, certain responses gave me pause.  Since the program is cohort-based, chemistry is important.  If the student is not a mission-fit with the aims and philosophies of the program, it would have an erosive impact on the other students.  Equally so, I have observed the importance of chemistry through several new hires in my department.  The consideration of how that person fits within the existing team led to seamlessness with regards to mission and vision because an individual’s personality was pre-screened.
  1. Emotional intelligence matters. I have learned that simply because a person is a leader does not mean that person is emotionally mature.  Oftentimes, individuals are promoted to leadership based on achievements, charisma, and even physical stature.  Unfortunately, if a person is not emotionally healthy, it is simply a matter of time before the organization suffers.  It seems to me imperative that any person added to a team, organization, or ministry should spend considerable time evaluating a person’s emotional health.  It might require probing to determine a person’s emotional intelligence but it is worth it.
  1. Intentionality matters. There is a balance between delegation and micromanaging when it comes to leadership.  Oftentimes, a person tilts one way or the other.  Delegation empowers individuals yet runs the risk of seeing mission and vision slide due to worker autonomy.  Micromanaging preserves mission yet can suffocate individuality.  Good leaders find the right practice of intentionality and trust.  I have found great freedom at Capital in large part because this balance is fostered and practiced.  It leads to deeper passion and enthusiasm while also nurturing direction and accountability.

A person reading these musings might say, “Those are great.  But, what about…”  Yes, I agree.  This list is short.  I will be the first to say leadership is complex.  Yet, I have learned over the past year that in the midst of that complexity it is essential to preserve, if not implement, certain values that impact the longevity and health of an organization or team.  For me, these lessons capture some of these convictions.

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Passionate Purpose: Why Should I Pursue a PhD?

I spoke with a British friend who commented that Americans are fixated on degrees.  He elaborated on the tendency towards the need for further degrees to do one’s job well or simply for the prestige of having a graduate or doctoral diploma.  At first, I was offended, particularly since I had two graduate degrees at the time and was completing my doctorate.  Yet, after further reflection, I understood his point.

As the director of the PhD in Leadership program, I am musing on this issue afresh.  It is not uncommon for me to be asked the question by potential and incoming students, “Where are graduates placed once they receive their degree?”  Honestly, it is the question I asked when I was looking at PhD programs so I get it.  Yet, it also underscores the slight tendency towards viewing a degree as a ticket towards a different career, usually academic.  Granted, in today’s academic saturated culture, it is nearly impossible to be offered an academic position if you do not have a doctorate thus in some respects it is necessary.  So, I offer this qualification – a PhD is beneficial if not necessary to advance in one’s career and specifically to obtain an academic position.  Yet, this reason should not be the primary reason.

So, why should I pursue a PhD?

  1. It is a testimony to God. Christians are usually not known for academic rigor.  When it comes to scientific methodology, social science research, or cutting edge writing, the academic arena oftentimes dismisses Christian scholarship.  PhD studies provide the opportunity to enhance God’s reputation by engaging in deep critical thinking through sound and worthy integration of general and special revelation.  Then, when new insights are discovered, the doctoral student or graduate is able to contribute to the broader academic conversation, both Christian and secular, by publishing findings that benefit the church and humanity.  As the director of the PhD program, it is my prayer and passion to cultivate such good scholarship that both Christians and non-Christians when they read our dissertations and papers walk away saying, “Christians can do excellent research and scholarship.”  Our program intentionally strives to do this.
  1. It is an act of stewardship. PhD studies are not available to every person.  Some individuals live in a part of the world where access to higher education is highly limited.  Others have not had the graduate program opportunities that would then open up doctoral education.  Thus, if a person has the chance to pursue a PhD, he/she should approach it with a stewardship mindset.  Questions such as, “How does God want me to use this degree?”, “How will my research enhance the kingdom?”, or “How can I better serve my context as a result of my studies?” should infuse our motivation.  I always encourage applicants to view PhD studies as a call from God.  For, if it is a call, these questions will naturally circulate in our mind.  Capital Seminary’s PhD program is not primarily designed to help you but rather to help the kingdom through you.
  1. It is a means of discipleship. Renewal of the mind is certainly a Christian mandate.  Doctoral studies embrace this purpose in an academic context.  Yet, I will be the first to say that my seminary studies proved to be dry, soul-depleting times.  Academics sterilized my passion for God by extracting education from discipleship.  To be fair, the institution did not intend this outcome to happen.  In fact, they attempted to avoid it.  Yet, it occurred because I allowed it to happen.  When I began PhD studies at the same institution, I vowed to embrace it as a means of transformation.  How can this knowledge stimulate my soul?  Is my mind, heart, and soul integrated as I study?  Am I viewing my studies as an act of worship?  I intentionally kept these reflective questions in the forefront of my mind so that my doctoral education would be a means of discipleship.  As a director, I am passionate about this goal.  Having served as a pastor for many years, my heart of hearts is to nurture transformation.  It is a joy to say that one of our key aims in the program is to “nurture the development of biblical character qualities in our students.”  My prayer is that student’s souls are more alive coming out of the program than when they entered it.
  1. It provides peer relationships. Leadership is oftentimes lonely.  The weight of making decisions, casting vision, and propelling an organization forward can drain a person.  I found myself relationally isolated at times in the ministry.  Yes, there were wonderful friends and supportive colleagues.  However, my academic curiosity looked for an arena to discuss ideas and theory, a place to let the mind go without the need to resolve “Will this work?”  I found this community in my PhD program – a setting to wrestle and share without fear of getting it wrong and to receive pushback from others on my ideas without caution due to my leadership position.  The cohort model at Capital Seminary (students journey together through the program taking all the same courses) is designed to foster collaborative, peer relationships where safety is present to discuss openly creative thoughts, leadership theories, ministry challenges, and personal struggles.  In other words, it is a place to cultivate academic friends that will last beyond the program.

In my opinion, these are the principal reasons to pursue a PhD.  It is these motivations that I constantly repeat to our students.  Are there other reasons, possibly more personal?  Yes, most certainly.  At times, an organization is encouraging a person to receive a doctorate.  In some cases, a person has been tapped on the shoulder about his/her leadership potential thus encouraged to further their academics.  Other times, a person receiving a position is dependent on that person going back to school.  I understand the complexity of individual decisions.  Yet, there has to be transcendent, more soul-abiding, reasons to pursue a PhD otherwise the rigors required will consume a person.

Academics is a gift.  It is a call.  It is an act of worship.  It is a means of growth.  It is an opportunity to leverage the mind for the good of the kingdom.  And from these perspectives comes great joy not only for the student but the beneficiaries of our education – the church.