What Would It Look Like to be an Anti-Colonization Leader?

My chosen vocation as an eight year old was Explorer.

I had already found an antique diamond ring while playing treasure hunt in my backyard. And I also “discovered” a log cabin in the deep woods behind my house which I regularly visited with a book all by myself for hours and hours. (Note to 21st Century Parents: yes, this is shaky. Imagine now if your eight year old announced she’s heading out into the woods by herself to sit in mysterious cabin and she’ll be back by dinner.)

A wise colleague recently suggested the idea of teaching Transitional Ministry (formerly known as Interim Ministry) with an emphasis on anti-colonization. Imagine all ministry leadership emphasizing a culture of anti-colonization.

This is a steep learning curve for me who – as a straight white privileged person with a beloved family heritage of Scots-Irish colonizers – is still learning from people like Kaitlin Curtice and Edgar Villanueva. And you might be thinking right now – who has time to ponder this kind of thing? I have a bulletin to finish.

But I wonder if this might be the perfect time to consider analyzing if we – unknowingly – lead like a colonizer (and it’s not helpful to God’s people.) Some basic questions to ask if we are church leaders – and particularly if we are new transitional leaders:

  • Do we enter a situation assuming a) there’s something wrong and b) we can fix it?
  • Do we come in with an agenda without first learning who’s already there? What have they been doing before I got there?
  • Do we assume everything needs to be broken down/deconstructed? (Thank God we’re here now!)
  • Do we believe we and our plans are their future?

I know a transitional leader who swept into church with impressive leadership skills declared that she was going to save them. (Actually the word wasn’t “saved” but that’s what it probably felt like.) She alone knew how to do this.

And so she required the officers read a book with her not paying attention when one of them shared that they’d read the same book a year before. She re-distributed all the volunteer tasks “to shake things up” without taking time to form relationships and talk with volunteers about what they love and what they don’t love about their roles. She wasn’t a good listener. She castigated those who questioned her. She accused leaders of not being “creative” or “fun.” She brought people into leadership who agreed with everything she said whether they had the right gifts or not. She was a little sneaky – orchestrating shifts in power without transparency.

It didn’t go well.

What I’m not saying:

I’m not saying ministry isn’t creative or fun. I’m not saying that we don’t need new people to refresh the energy of the congregation in terms of roles and expectations. I’m not saying that we don’t have serious de-construction needs.

But leadership – particularly in a church context – is about humility and collaboration and letting go of sacred assumptions about our own culture and history. Were things great in the 1950s Church? The 1960s Church? The 1970s Church? Not if we consider how some people were subjected to demeaning roles or if they were cast out in general.

I’m wondering about all this. Colonization causes problems from the start and far into the future. How can we be a different kind of leader who notices this and serves to stop it? What’s the Holy Spirit telling us about what’s working and what’s not working in our leadership efforts?

I don’t want the future Church to be like an abandoned cabin in the woods.

3 responses to “What Would It Look Like to be an Anti-Colonization Leader?

  1. Helpful words for me to hear as I am working on my sermon for our All Saints Day/Homecoming Service this Sunday (for good reasons a week ahead of the usual timing). I am wrestling with rejoicing and celebrating the Saints of this church (past, present and future) while conveying that we can celebrate the gifts and precious inheritance we have from them without denying that they got some things wrong and we are still being “reformed” by the Holy Spirit. In fact, we must reflect on all parts of the inheritance we received, good and bad, if we are to pass on a reformed precious inheritance to those who come after us.
    thanks for helping me shape this sermon!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Spiritual Direction Training reformed my leading as a pastor. It seems there are parallels with Anti-Colonization…?

    Liked by 1 person

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