This week, we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others with a faith based approach and ongoing impact on the Civil Rights movement. I recently wrote about the work of Linda Brown Thompson and continue to reflect on her insight concerning the desegregation of public schools. I believe her wisdom illuminates some principles we can contextualize for situations we currently face.

Brown Thompson suggested, more than once, that efforts to desegregate public schools should have started with teachers and administrators, rather than students. Although students made a huge impact and the sacrifice of many families should never be ignored, Brown Thompson believes that teachers could have helped develop curriculum, while administrators appropriately could have influenced policy and discipline. These two factors could have profoundly transformed school culture from the inside out.

Her insights pose two observations for reflection.

  • Are we willing to leave places of comfort and join others to transform our society in a way that reflects the character and culture of Christ?
  • Are we only expecting others to come to us and adapt, or are we willing to go to them?

As Christ followers, we must be willing to be as transformed by others’ experiences as we want them to be transformed by ours. It is at the core of what we call the “kenosis” passage in Philippians 2:1-11, where Jesus empties himself of power, privilege, position and preferences to redeem us.

As we consider the systems, policies and culture of our churches or institutions, is there a significant difference between diversifying leadership and membership? In an ideal world, this would not be “either or,” but “both and.” However, there is something compelling I’ve seen in my work with our Wesleyan institutions encourages me to start with leadership if membership has not made that transition.  It is my sense that these principles go deeper and wider when leadership has been infused with this kind of DNA.

Jesus modeled this leadership-first principle starting with 12 disciples, who he then charged with reaching and equipping others. Rarely does this type of transformation begin in a crowd.  We are the result of his plan, seeds planted over 2,000 years ago that still bring forth good fruit.

What will be said about you, your ministry or institution 50 years from now? Will it be vibrant and multiply because of your willingness as a leader to empty yourself of things that so often get in the way of effective discipleship — the type Jesus models in Philippians 2?  Are you willing to equip your team so that your community can be transformed from the inside out?

Our churches and communities are counting on you.