New Leadership for New Faith Communities
Each nonprofit organization must ask, “How do we become the best stewards that we can with our limited resources, to make the greatest impact in the world?” Larger organizations can take risks and experiment with trial and error, while smaller organizations and nonprofits must leverage leading practices from other sectors to steward well and advance their missions innovatively. Leveraging leading practices from other sectors largely serves to build the capacity of an organization’s most important asset: human capital. At the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) we build the capacity of the staff in a human-centered design to advance our initiatives. Drawing on the work of IDEO, human-centered design focuses on listening from the perspective of your organization’s constituents, hearing what they need, and designing solutions for those needs. We use this approach to identify what faith communities need to cultivate the next generation of church leaders, to determine what actions would be most useful and viable in making an impact, and to design the necessary resources to advance our work with partners supporting young adults in exploring their purpose, passion and calling. We leverage best practices outside our field from IDEO, MIT, the Presencing Institute, and others working on organizational and social processes, in hopes of becoming better stewards of the resources entrusted to us for our mission. Social entrepreneurs successful at creating better products and services address the needs of the people they desire to impact. They think integratively and draw
FTE’s work is uniquely situated be- tween denominations, congrega- tions, and seminaries, positioning us to bridge divides and work across all three contexts. We bring together, in ecumenical ways, a diverse represen- tation of the church and church-related or- ganizations, theological schools, and an in- tergenerational group of people committed to leadership informed by faith. Thus, FTE convenes a diverse group of leaders that you would not normally see in any one of these individual institutions. We place a high value on hosting conversa- tions with diverse groups of people that really matter.This past summer, FTE held a nation- al forum on Christian leadership that looked, in part, at why an active faith matters, in ad- dition to racial tension and fears that come with increasing diversity within the church, academy and society. Since these conversa- tions do not typically happen between people across different silos, we modeled how insti- tutions and their leaders can have new con- versations about what really matters. Togeth- er we explored what they hoped for within their communities, what kinds of leaders are needed today, and what role religious leaders and their institutions can have in shaping a way forward. We have discovered that when we bring together young people from diverse contexts, theological traditions and perspectives, and commitments (some want to serve the church or academy, while others just want to live a faithful life of service), and allow them to lead important conversations and catalyze inspiring visions, the barriers that often continued on page 41
connections between questions and problems they want to address, prototype ideas, get feedback from the people to be impacted, and then build and scale products and services that best address those needs. FTE adopted similar practices to respond to a changing landscape and advance its mission. For six decades, our mission has focused on cultivating new generations of diverse young people to be wise, faithful, and courageous leaders for the church and academy, and helping young leaders see these as viable places to make a real impact in the world.This does not just happen. In every generation, young adults must be inspired and compelled to pursue their calling to lead and serve communities of faith, particularly in ways that are relevant to the larger community.We have learned from others and invested in new ideas and practices in our efforts to inspire a new generation to shape a more hopeful future. Bridging the Divide Nine years after World War II, religious leaders became concerned that the next generation was not pursuing leadership within Christian ministry. A group of Ivy League theological educators and church men and women met and established FTE to identify and attract a new generation of diverse Christian ministers and educators. More than sixty years later, we are still at it.
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