Finding Yourself in Leadership - Tyler Hampton*
After having a vision of the Lord on the throne in all His splendor, the prophet Isaiah tells us that he heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ and he said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ This has to be one of the favorite passages in Scripture about leadership. There’s even that awfully cheesy hymn that paraphrases it. After reading the whole of Isaiah 6 over again though, I wonder if it is always a fit for how leadership develops among Friends today. There’s no doubt that some of us feel like we sometimes live a ‘nation of unclean lips,’ but do we feel God is telling us to go harden peoples’ hearts, to make them callous? Do we always feel such a dramatic sense of urgent calling? Without context it seems to go along with our natural desire to have lightning strike with a particular task, message, and plan. As I think about my experience starting a worship group and helping to plan the upcoming Young Adult Friends Conference in Wichita, I feel drawn to another image entirely. It is one of waiting, emerging, and dwelling in uncomfortable places.
In his first pastoral letter written in 1652, George Fox reminds us to “wait upon God in that which is pure, in your measure, and stand still in it everyone, to see your Savior, to make you free from everything that the Light doth discover to you to be evil.” When I came to Christ among Friends just a few years ago, I experienced such a powerfulmetanoia, such a reorientation of my inner life that I couldn’t help but be enthusiastic about it. It was only after a lot of waiting, testing, and trial and error that I began to live into my new identity as a believer, and then later as an organizer and worker for Christ. During this time I was helped by taking the opportunity to visit among all sorts of Friends, and in the process I discovered that there were groups of Quaker Christians out there whose faith resonated deeply with mine. I longed to have a more intimate community of faith, and these really awesome Friends were far away from home. Finally the Lord made it clear to me that what I needed to do was to simply start living the transformed life. This sounds heavy, but for me it meant reaching out and seeing if there were other Friends around me who were interested in forming a closer relationship with Jesus and each other.
The New City Friends worship group was born out of this, and though small we have grown together and now have hosted called meetings with visiting Friends for the larger Quaker community as well as engaged in service here in Southwest Detroit. Our Christian foundation, unprogrammed worship, inclusive fellowship, and urban context have made us an odd fit for any existing group of Friends in the area, but we have found that independence has allowed us to step beyond the limits and constraints of these bodies and essentially lead by example. We have no idea what the group will end up like, what form it will take in the future.
Over the last year I’ve also been involved in the planning for the upcoming Young Adult Friends conference, starting in just a few days in Wichita, Kansas. This conference was initiated by a group of us young adult Friends, rather than an existing Friends organization. We hope for a gathering that would be generously Christian and balanced in participation by various Friends. Like with the worship group, however, we’ve reached out to all sorts of Friends bodies and institutions and have found a great deal of support. It has been a challenge to try to create a gathering that will bring Friends of many different persuasions together and trust that God will bring us together under His covering. As close as the gathering is there is no way for us to know how it will go. There will be divergent personalities, theologies, emotions. I am excited, but there is definitely a feeling of going into unknown territory.
What I glean from my (as yet limited) experience with Friends leadership, from some of the more seasoned Friends that I respect, and much of the best ministry that touches me, is that sense of standing on the edge. In my mind is not so much the burning coals and immediate confidence that Isaiah was given after King Uzziah died, but rather the lowly members of the early Church. These hungry people had encountered the Bread of Life, and were transformed. They became strange to the people around them; they were filled with joy and peace even though they stood out. They formed a close fellowship that drew people in, and thousands were added to their number. (Acts 2:41 NIV) Simply by being born again, by following Jesus in their daily walk, they found themselves patterns and examples to all countries, places, islands, nations. They didn’t have a business plan or specific deliverables, only the Holy Spirit and the promise of Jesus’ return.
Being a part of the new thing God is doing may be all it takes to find ourselves in a role of leadership. Our plans may have changed, but so has our being. Sometimes all it takes is for us to stand still, working in our particular station at the margins, not knowing what the outcome will be. We can only trust in the Lord.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11 NIV).
*Tyler Hampton is a member of Detroit Friends Meeting in Detroit, Michigan, where he has helped to start the New City Friends worship group. Since attending the 2008 Young Adult Friends conference in Richmond, Indiana he has been traveling among Friends to learn more about the larger Society. Tyler has a concern for living out and growing the Christian faith of Friends in the context of contemporary culture.