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Lots of cool things happened but one of the most significant take-aways for me had to do with leadership. Cheryl Bear, an award-winning recording artist, singer, songwriter, and storyteller who comes from the NadlehWhut'en First Nation in British Columbia (that's what her website says), spoke to the large gathering one night. She and her husband have been making their way across North America with the goal of visiting all the First Nations communities; so far they have visited about 600 out of 1000. Let me share one of the stories she told. She was at a First nations community in a gathering of some sort. She mentioned to someone that she wanted to meet the elders and was told that they would take her to them because she wouldn't know where to find them. Cheryl responded that she knew exactly where to find them and made her way to the back of the room. There she observed a line of older gentlemen standing quietly against the wall. She introduced herself and yes, indeed, these men were the elders of the tribe. How did she know? She explained to us that the First Nation model of leadership is to wait to be invited to a place of honour, to a place at the front. They do not assume it is theirs to take. This is strikingly similar to something Jesus says in Luke 14. Read it.
This recognition of authority resonated deeply with me. I also am uncomfortable with aggressively assuming a position of leadership, grabbing the spotlight, taking charge, sitting at the head of the table and commanding attention. That just doesn't sit well with me. But this laid-back, waiting style is a bit counter-intuitive in our Western culture. If you stand at the back and wait for recognition you might grow old while waiting. If you sit back quietly and wait to be called on, you will probably never get noticed. Or so it seems.
During the course of the national gathering, I was involved in several meetings with those in the Vineyard who are invested in theological education. We are at a pivotal point in developing new resources and refreshing old ones, hoping to make good quality theological education more accessible to a wide variety of people. One of the meetings was an attempt to get everyone involved in the different initiatives in the same room in order to find a way forward in which we would all work together instead of reinventing the wheel or spreading our resources too thin. Since there had been some lack of communication about recent developments and some past frictions, there was a bit of tension in the room. I am one of the new kids on the block in terms of theological education (and one of the few females) so I was content to mostly listen. The room was full of dynamic and forceful personalities (lots of pastors and teachers who have been at this much longer than I have) and there was seldom a quiet moment, people jumping in one after the other with their comments. At one point I raised my hand (yes, I tend to do that) and said, "I have a question..." but the force of the conversation was already moving in another direction and there were many voices in the mix, so when I was not acknowledged, I just let it go. It wasn't a big deal.
Some moments later, the chairperson of the meeting interrupted the discussion and said, "We haven't heard from Matte yet. Do you have anything to add?" I sat silent for a moment and so did the room. Not sure where to start, I turned to the chairperson and said, "Thank you. You're so nice." He responded, "I'm not being nice. This is important." I was a bit stunned, but I gathered my thoughts and said I had mixed feelings about the discussion. Then I asked the question that I had tried to insert earlier. It was quickly answered, and I started to add a comment but was cut off by another eager participant. The chairperson stopped everything again and brought it back to me, indicating that I still had the floor. I voiced a few thoughts on the matters at hand and talked about what seemed to work in our community. Then someone asked if they could make a comment. The chairperson indicated that it was up to me whether to give to floor to someone else. I gladly invited the person to make his comment and the discussion continued from there, everyone seemingly a bit slower to jump into the fray and a bit quicker to listen.
Afterwards, I spoke to some of my colleagues who had been in the meeting and they remarked on the chairperson's actions and how it brought them up short. In a good way. I felt extremely honoured that someone had made space for my voice, deeming it important, and I realized that I loved the style of leadership that had been modeled, a leadership which makes room for voices that might otherwise be overlooked. I want to be the type of leader who gives a place of honour to the "least of these" (Matthew 25) and a leader who embraces humility more than bravado or aggressiveness. I want to be a person who is an excellent listener and makes space for other voices, especially those who might be overlooked. I want to lead like Jesus.