Leaders on the Margins

4 comments Written on March 21st, 2016     
Filed under: Book & Commentary
Nilwona Nowlin currently serves as the Administrative Specialist for Governance for the ECC and is a member of the Christian Community Development Association and the Redbud Writers Guild. In her “spare time,” she teaches workshops about living successfully as an introvert. Nilwona is a member of the Kingdom Covenant Church (Chicago) launch team and randomly blogs about random things at thedreamerspeaks.

the_next_worship (2) (2)A few months ago, Covenant Pastor Gail Song Bantum posted about her 2015 experience of only reading works written by women of color and her 2016 commitment to expand that to only reading works written by women and men of color. Though it wasn’t an intentional move on my part, the majority of the books I have read, am reading or am planning to read for 2016 are authored by women of color. One of those books, “The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World,” was written by a friend and colleague, Sandra Van Opstal. Sandra currently serves as the Executive Pastor at Grace and Peace Community and has served with the Covenant, but I met her when we were both selected for the CCDA’s Leadership Cohort #4. My life is definitely better because Sandra and I crossed paths; partly because of intentional moments when she poured into me and partly because of moments when I gleaned from her just being herself.

Some years ago, a few of my cohort colleagues, including Sandra, were having a conversation about how leaders of color are often identified versus what this practice looks like in the dominant white culture. The significant nugget that I gleaned from Sandra that day was this: In communities of color, individuals are often invited into leadership. Even if someone thinks that they’re gifted for leadership, they will wait until they are invited into leadership. (It is also often true for women of any ethnicity.) However, in white communities, individuals often self-identify as a leader and seek out leadership opportunities. As soon as Sandra shared this, I immediately began to reflect on other times in my life when I had stepped into leadership and saw the pattern. In fact, even in the present day, I am finally coming to the realization that this is one reason I have such a difficult time “selling” myself when it comes to pursuing leadership opportunities. It goes against my cultural upbringing.

So what does that mean for you? Two things. As you know by now, the Commission on Biblical Gender Equality’s “Develop a Deborah” initiative encourages Covenant congregations to actively identify and encourage women in their midst who are gifted for leadership.

Most times, when organizations or churches seek out candidates for leadership development, it’s communicated in a way that requires people to self-identify. While that may get you a handful of participants, I encourage you to play a more active role in the process. Don’t just throw an announcement in the church bulletin and wait for women to respond. Take time to have conversations with the Deborahs in your congregation, name their gifts and invite them into leadership (whether that’s training, active leadership or a combination of both).

Secondly, I encourage you to read Sandra’s book – not just as an individual but as a leadership team. Though the title suggests that it’s only for worship leaders, I can assure you that it’s not. While it is a discussion about worship practices, it is also very much a book about developing leaders. There are a number of practical tips on how to effectively develop leaders from various cultural contexts, and the book speaks to people from all ethnic backgrounds. I plan to implement some of Sandra’s lessons in my own context, and I hope that you will too.


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    4 comments “Leaders on the Margins”

    Nilwona — thanks so much for the wonderful challenge you have put out there for congregations and organizations.  Excellent!  

    Thanks, Brian!

    Nilwona – If we truly followed Jesus’ model we would spend the night praying and then go to the people God has directed us to and ask them to follow us into leadership. This is my prayer for the local church. We miss many of the gifts God has for us to develop by not spending time to call young women into leadership. I don’t have this book so I will add it to the growing stack next to my bed. 

    Yes to the Jesus model – what a challenge! (I also have a growing stack of books waiting to be read – glad I’m not the only one!)

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