Nollau Themes

Monica Wedlock KilpatrickA servant leader takes seriously the commandments to love God and love neighbor.  It is one who strives to see the world as God intended and joins in service to others to bring about that vision – a vision of hope, justice, love, joy, and peace for all.

The Rev. Monica Wedlock Kilpatrick
Director of Disciples Care Exchange and Affinity Groups
National Benevolent Association of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

The Nollau Institute is built around three major themes and four retreats. A single theme is explored at each of the first three retreats, while the fourth retreat is a capstone event emphasizing synthesis, integration and next steps. Those three themes are:

Key topics: leading from abundance, radical hospitality, diakonal movement, UCC heritage

How does God's call change the nature of leadership? This is the foundational question for the Nollau Institute. God calls us to a new way in the world. As the prophet Micah says, God calls us "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly" with God. God calls us to work out this new way in community, where our faithfulness will be measured by our welcome of the outsider and our care of the poor, the widow, and the orphan – "the least of these." Yet more is at stake in God's call.

First and foremost, God takes the initiative. It is God who creates and God who calls. God's initiative upends our vaunted selves, for we thought we made things happen, and we defined this as leadership. However, the biblical story paints this narrow view as pride, hubris, even idolatry. Then God's initiative goes further. God elevates "the least of these," declaring the weak strong. In the midst of death and exile, God asserts there is life and belonging. And when resources look scarce, God says there is enough. None of this makes sense – according to conventional wisdom. But this is God's subversive, countercultural way that we are invited to trust. God calls God's people to have faith, which, as the writer of Hebrew says, is "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." And God calls leaders to lead by faith: to lead in response to God's initiative, to follow God's way, to participate in God's movement in the world.

In this first theme we will explore the profound implications of a faithful understanding of leadership.

We will examine the theological and historical roots of a countercultural way, with specific attention given to the values and ethos of the United Church of Christ. Finally, we will consider how this way has been lived out in community through the diakonal movement – several hundred years of health and human service ministry.

Key topics: motivation, self-organization, strengths, habits, leading in community

What is the practice of faithful leadership? The dominant cultural view says leaders make things happen – fix things, produce things, change things. But, as noted in the first theme, a theology of leadership begins with God's initiative, a force not of our own making. Interestingly, echoes of the ancient story show up in the latest scientific research about change and organization. New perspectives on how order emerges amid chaos and how life self-organizes prompt questions about the conventional notion that leaders "drive change" and that organization only happens as leaders organize things. Self-organization suggests another way – and a different role for leaders. Moreover, new thinking about motivation shifts the locus of energy from the leader who pushes and prods. The energy is in the people and the community who seek more meaning in their work; the energy is in the desire to contribute and to create. So, again, there is a different role for leaders who would be faithful: It is to follow the energy.

Following the energy requires different leadership habits. We listen, notice, and make connections. We teach, not in the manner of filling empty vessels but in the oldest sense of education, from the Latin ex ducere, which means "to lead from" or "to draw out." We assume strength in those we serve. We fan the flames where fire is already burning. We ask appreciative questions. Instead of "What's broken and needs fixing?" we ask "What's working and how do we build on that success?" We invite stories, for they hold clues to our energy and to our future. And we learn to mine these stories – or, to use a theological term, to exegete the stories – in order to unpack their abundant signs, symbols and suggestions of the way forward.

In this second theme, as we explore a movement that moves without our machinations and new understandings that invite us to let go of old command-and-control ways, we will ask a most provocative question: What, then, is true leadership? We will be challenged to consider the implications of that question for our management, supervision, planning and other organizational tasks. And we will be encouraged to cultivate new practices that ground us in what's already present in our organizations: genuine, sustainable energy.

Key topics: corporate vocation, discernment, covenant, culture formation, ethical decision-making

How do we shape organizations where God's new way flourishes? Our formation as faithful leaders is about learning to work with what God has already provided. Similarly, forming faithful cultures means working with what's already present – our varied gifts, our shared heritage, our collective energy. A faithful organization keeps saying yes to what is most true and essential about the organization: the passion, the mission, or, as the writer of Revelation put it, the "first love" – the impulse that brought the organization together in the first place. A faithful organization remembers; and it continues to reference its identity as it grows and changes.

This view of organizational life contrasts with the dominant perspective. Generally, organizations are regarded in a soulless or mechanistic way, so we tend to speak of "alignment" or "dysfunction," "parts" and "resources" and "systems" when we are actually engaged with human beings. The common use of the phrase "culture change" borrows from this mechanistic perspective: culture change is a matter of re-engineering the company, retooling people into something they are not. But an organization is not a machine; an organization is an organism, a living creation. And, therefore, an organization has an essential nature that cannot be reduced to nuts and bolts. In the ancient world of the book of Revelation, that essential, alive and energizing nature was considered the organization's spirit. So to shape organizations where God's new way flourishes requires, first of all, respect for the life of the organization, affirmation of our humanity, and wonder at the mystery of our collective energy. "Culture formation" honors who we are together and emphasizes becoming more of who we are created to be.

In this third theme we will consider the concept of a "called organization": an organization that has a "first love"; that stewards its gifts, identity and legacy; that honors its covenant with those it serves. And we will explore practices of culture formation, including vision and mission development, organizational discernment, and ethical decision-making.