By Rev. Angel L. Sullivan
American Baptist Women’s Ministries as a national organization has been engaged in an initiative named “Becoming Beloved Community.” This initiative was developed to help us explore God’s vision for our ministries in the midst of today’s realities. This is the second of a series of four blog posts on “Becoming Beloved Community” that will address those four themes. For all the posts, click on “beloved community” in the tag cloud on the right.
Take a moment and imagine yourself standing in a flower garden. Take a deep breath. Breathe in the smells; notice the honeysuckle and roses. In your mind’s eye, look around and ponder the bright colors. Imagine yourself bending down, running your hands across the blades of grass, noticing how it feels under your fingertips. Finally, picture yourself sitting against the trunk of a giant oak tree, allowing the leaves from the branches overhead to provide you with cooling shade from the warm sun. How do you feel? Good, right? Now, imagine standing in the same place, but this time there are no trees, flowers, grass, or sweet smells. It is just you in the midst of dirt. Now, how do you feel? Perhaps you feel a little lonely, empty.
You see, God designs everything to have a purpose and place in the world. At our best, we all work together. Nothing competes but, rather, everything complements and builds on everything else. This is a model for inclusive leadership.
Growing up, I viewed leadership as a hierarchical model, where one person was in charge of, or over, others. The person in charge had to have all the answers and could not, and should not, ask for help. To do so would be a sign of weakness and ignorance. Over the years, however, I have come to learn that leadership, especially inclusive leadership, is not about managing. Rather, it is about engaging people of diverse ethnicities, age, and life experience in such a way that you bring out their gifts and skills for the purpose of sharing within the greater community. I personally seek out the stories and wisdom of people who have different lived experiences from mine in order to gain a broader perspective.
When I served as the coordinator for Mission and Events on the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, I was engaged in a model of inclusive leadership. I was an adult leader amongst teenage girls. While, in theory, I could have been the main leader, in reality I was just as much a learner. I would often listen to the girls’ stories about school, relationships, technology, and life in general. They provided me with wisdom and insight, and empowered me to work with youth in my community. I don’t think I would have felt comfortable doing so had I not had their experience to teach me.
I could not imagine a world where everyone thought the same, and where I would be the only one in the midst of dirt. We are all meant to be unique pieces in God’s garden of human diversity. We are much stronger, wiser, and powerful in our togetherness and diversity than we are apart.