The Quaker Leadership Center recently hosted the first annual QLC Quaker Leadership Conference. Over 60 Friends gathered from all major Quaker branches, 16 yearly meetings, ages 18-80+, and leadership roles ranging from local meeting clerk to Friends overseeing ministry from Alaska to Bolivia. Not everything went perfectly; there are things we will change or reconsider for next time. But we left with overflowing hearts. Why? Because we believe good leadership convenes rather than controls. Details matter but our purpose was not to contain all chaos and control the crowd. Our purpose was to bring people together to have conversations of consequence and begin to build the resilient and creative community necessary for the future of Friends. We wanted Friends to turn to one another, turn to Spirit and turn back to their home places with renewed spirits and new ideas.
Good leaders release the need to control people and situations and focus instead on the currencies of relationship, trust and questions. Christ promised to be present when two or more get together in his name. If this is true, what greater task of leadership is there but to be a “gatherer,” one who invites, hosts and creates a space in which the Present Christ can be experienced. Quakers insist on the reality of the “Presence in the Midst” and it’s a leaders privilege to gather “two or more” together into the Presence, even if all we do is arrange the chairs or unlock the doors (or preach, sing, ask for joys and concerns, provide queries, etc.). God appreciates our partnership but is plenty capable of showing up and speaking up (by the way, “control” is a project even God has laid aside in favor of uncontrolling love). Thankfully, Christ is also the “Presence in the Mess.”
When we convene rather rather than control, we shift from Who is in/out? and What is wrong? to Who is here? and What’s possible?
We reframe our people and places. We discover that new people bring new ideas and new connections create new possibilities. New conversations reveal new visions. With expectancy, we follow Margaret Wheatley’s advice:
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.
And we realize that the familiar places of life and leadership can still be sacred places because they are spaces where “two or more gather”: for worship, for grieving, for celebrating, for hard conversations, for dreaming and experience the Presence in the Midst.
Maybe you’re smarter than me, but I don’t know any other way into the future. Gather, talk, act. Looking to the Presence in the Midst all the way through.
How are you tempted to use your leadership to control people and situations?
How does your ministry convene to bring people together for generative conversation, deepening community and spiritual discernment?