So far we’ve talked a bit about the idea of critical theory in leadership—the work to expose norms, values, and practices that limit human flourishing, introduced some of the founders of social theory, and recognized the reality that, wherever there is human interaction, there are power dynamics, regardless of the official roles people are assigned. I promised that our next post would focus on some of the factors at play in the arena of power; however, I’m going to break that promise in light of the season we are in.
Instead, I want to share with you how the Advent of Jesus impacts my ideas of power and leadership.
Early in my third year as a principal, my three-year-old daughter, Chloe, was diagnosed with leukemia. My world was rocked and I was brought to my knees both figuratively and literally. I was completely powerless. There was nothing I could do to fix her. I couldn’t work harder or smarter or more strategically to get rid of her cancer. I was not in control. My staff and school community rallied around our family in amazing ways—bringing meals, servicing our car, praying for us. I remember the vice principal mowing my lawn while the secretary cleaned and stocked our fridge so that when we came home from living at the hospital for two weeks, our house was ready for us. I was being served in my vulnerability. It was a year of being in a posture of personal weakness and vulnerability that has forever changed what I believe it means to be in leadership.
In the context of that experience, the season of Advent grows ever more powerful and irrational to me. I just can’t escape wondering anew about the Master of the Universe coming to us as a powerless, helpless babe, completely vulnerable and dependent on the service of those he came to save. It’s like he is telling us right from the start that we are to be the work of his hands in the world. We are to be the ones who serve and care and nurture redemption forward as his agents of irrational love. It’s such a powerful message of what it means to empower. And the incarnation didn’t happen in some grand palace or temple but in humble surroundings welcomed by some pretty regular folk. Just one more story in the Grand Story that highlights God working his will through regular folks like you and me. I also need to add that I just love the three from the east joining the party—not important Jewish leaders, but three from the east, likely Zoroastrians, gentiles for sure, coming not only to see and hear but to serve the Saviour—a worldview of inclusion right from its inception!
Then I can’t help but go to the cross during Advent reflections. This same helpless babe once again becomes weakness for our salvation and submits to the brokenness of this world.
Of all the gods that are worshipped in the world, the God of Christianity stands out so starkly in the symbols of the cross and the manger. It is so clear to me that as followers of this same Jesus, we are not called to bring about the kingdom by means of power, coercion, or force, but by the servant way of Jesus. We follow the wounded healer, and our posture in this world should reflect that reality.
In that year of Chloe’s cancer—and know that she is now 18 years old and in her first year of university—my weakness and vulnerability allowed me to develop relationships with people on my staff and faculty that were far deeper than they would have been otherwise. I believe I became more human to the students and parents in my community. I believe I transitioned into a leader that was more connected to relationships of trust and a shared vision for following Jesus and less connected to my official role and my administrative competencies. Don’t get me wrong—our official roles and our administrative competencies are both very important—but they ring hollow as stand alones. That was almost 15 years ago now and, because of my ego and tendency to think I can do this on my own, I often need to be called back to that experience and reminded anew of who I really am, whom I really serve, and how I am called to serve. My prayer for you as you engage this time of celebrating the birth of Jesus is that this story will have a deep impact on the story of your leadership. May you reflect on what it means to follow a Saviour who so readily came in vulnerability, and whose posture in this world was one of loving service.
Richest blessings to you this Christmas.
– David Loewen