Chapter 3-7: A Place of Dialogue, Reflection, and Affirmation

In the midst of our own communities a Servant Leadership School has emerged to work with all the issues involved in servant leadership. Located in the Adams Morgan area, the School is surrounded by nine of the missions of the church. The tower building is gracious in design, but the streets themselves and the missions are its extended classrooms. The deepest learnings of our church communities have come from their intermingling with the oppressed of the world, so it is natural that we would want to make that same opportunity available to other church communities.  


A central understanding of the School is that participants are committed to being in ongoing relationships with oppressed people. In one sense the School is an ecumenical undertaking by Christians from many places who have awakened to the pain and oppression in their own situations, and been given a vision of a more merciful world. They want a place where they can struggle with others for the renewal of their individual lives and institutions. One can imagine that in time the School might become a think tank and a feel tank where Christians from all walks of life will come together to dream and plan and engage in the struggle of the abused and suffering of the earth, and to ask what it means to pitch our tents in their midst.

The Servant Leadership School is not unlike our own Schools of Christian Living except that it is -wider in scope and will draw upon the leadership of the larger church, as well as our nine faith communities. The core curriculum is composed of five dimensions: Servant Leadership, Community Building, Spiritual Grounding, Call or Vocation, and Personal Response to Being with the Oppressed. Other courses will help us to work with equally profound areas of our lives, concerns that we did not worry about before we became grown-ups. They include such vast and varied subjects as money, authority and power, social and economic justice, growing old, death and dying, addictions, the education of our feelings and sensibilities.

From our own experience and the teachings of Paulo Freire we have learned that the development of the kind of learning center that we dream about does not happen when educators allow themselves to be set up as the dispensers of knowledge to willing disciples. We do not learn to think or to feel by filling our notebooks with the gems of bright minds, though there is, indeed, an important place for that. Our critical faculties, however, and our capacity to take the risk of thinking and acting are developed when educators and educatees engage in dialogue. Those who care about the School must shelter well the dream that it will become a place of dialogue where we struggle together for ways to work with the problems that are threatening to overwhelm our society. The people in the streets surrounding the School will have to be included in that dialogue, because no servant structure of growing and learning can thrive without them. Reflection and contemplation must also be learned and taught for these are the seedbed of all awakenings.

When participants in the School have completed the core curriculum, either through the weekly classes or through weekend workshops, they will be invited to join the Community of Servant Leaders. As these leaders try to incarnate the concepts of servant leadership they will be encouraged and sustained by the evolving study programs, literature and gatherings of the School. The hope is that in time a cadre of servant leaders will bring into being other Servant Leadership Schools and thousands and thousands of small compassion groups where people come together to pray, dream, plan, and take action for a fairer world.

Like our mission groups, these groups will be bound by a common covenant, the purpose of which “ill be the transformation of individual lives and the transformation of society. The dream of transforming individuals and societies through small groups is radical and very old. It was probably first attempted by Moses when he accepted the counsel of his father-in-law who had observed that he was in danger of burnout if he kept trying to lead a revolution by himself-“It is not right to take this on yourself. You will tire yourself out, you and the people with you…choose from the people at large some capable and God-fearing men, trustworthy and incorruptible, and appoint them as leaders of the people: leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, tens.”* After Moses we have the model of Jesus, in a more modest way, living out with twelve the concept of servant leadership.

Holding to the narrow way, as life-promising as it may be, has never been easy, and is especially difficult in our market-driven, industrial countries with their emphases on consumption and private gain. Very few today talk about or value solitude, creativity, friendship, dialogue, reflection, political and social action on behalf of oppressed persons-a different way of being in the world. All these possibilities for our lives would be nurtured in the small groups.

From his studies of the mythologies of the world Joseph Campbell gives us the story of the great king, Minos, who could not resist his impulses to acquisition and “became the dangerous tyrant Holdfast-out for himself.”** As scandal after scandal unfolds in all the institutions of our society, I have thought of the tyrant Holdfast, but mainly I have thought of him as I am tempted along the way to keep for me and mine the gifts that have been given to me for the common good. One of the emphases of the School “ill be to make conscious this temptation to acquisition that confronted Christ early in his ministry and confronts each of us all along the way. The servant leader of yesterday is always in danger of becoming the tyrant Holdfast of tomorrow, unless he or she learns to die in the now. This is what Christ told us servant leadership was all about—dying and being born again. It is never only one death. For the pilgrim person the deaths and births are always many.

When the curriculum of the School has been carefully considered we must ask again, what is this journey toward servant leadership? How do we die and be born again of the spirit? How do we learn to see with new eyes, hear with new ears, and speak with a new voice? How do we find wings and fly, become artisans all? Jesus told us that the kingdom of God is within. The prize of great worth is hidden in the depths of our own hearts. We must each learn and teach the secret of this treasure hidden in a field so that we, ourselves, may be fully alive, the universe restored and fed, and Christ’ s redeeming voice heard again in our streets and in the streets of the world.

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