by Christine A. Scheller
“Stories allow us to travel, time and again, outside the circumscribed spaces of what we believe and what we think possible. It is these journeys – sometimes tenuous, sometimes exhilarating – that inspire and steel us to navigate uncharted territories in real life.” –Elizabeth Svoboda, Aeon magazine.
At The High Calling, we believe in the power of stories. They put flesh on ideas and help us envision ourselves living out our stated values. Telling Jesus-centered leadership stories is at the heart of a new project launched by Leadership Development, the Seattle-based organization that grew out of the same ministry that birthed the National Prayer Breakfast. Centered.org features stories of leaders who seek to live out their faith in the marketplace.
“The thread that will run through every one of the stories is Jesus,” said Eddie Wang, co-founder and director of the project. “I would see Jesus alive and at work in that person, in the work that they’re doing. That’s going to take shape in many different forms.”
Leadership is often misunderstood and identified with a position like CEO, said Wang. The reality is that no matter one’s sphere of influence–work, school, home–we affect those around us.
“We all are in some way leaders. The hope is that we would be Jesus-centered leaders, servant leaders who would be willing to love others and serve people with the same humility, grace, love, and truth that Jesus lived out in his own life,” said Wang.
The stories at Centered.org are told through the medium of video. The subjects range from a former Nordstrom executive to a mom who runs a cupcake shop as a means of doing ministry about which she is passionate. The testimonials are not only meant to inspire, however. The site is designed to serve as a “video content portal where business, education, art, and non-profit leaders can share their stories and life lessons with the next generation.”
“We wanted it to be more than just information, but relational, in the goal that both of those would help it be transformational. … If we look back at our own lives, we can all see key relationships that have made all the difference,” said Wang.
Generating a movement of intergenerational friendship around the topic of Jesus-centered leadership is the aim, added Jeff Vancil, co-founder of the project and senior associate at Washington State Leadership, a ministry of Leadership Development.
Jesus-centered leadership first recognizes that Jesus is the leader, Vancil said. It’s “letting his life be a model of what leadership really is, which is service, which is [working with] a team, which is generosity. Think about all the qualities of Jesus in terms of the model that he gives us. It’s maximizing that model specifically around service.”
Relationships will be built through meet-ups and special events. Gatherings organized through Meetup.com are already taking place in the Seattle area, with plans to expland them to other cities.
“We want people across from each other for a cup of coffee. We want them to be locked up in a weekend retreat for three days, where they can pick somebody’s mind. There’s so much power in face to face relationships. We foster those moments,” said project co-founder and CEO of DropForge Games, David Bluhm.
Bluhm was already working with Washington State Leadership when the the three men birthed the idea for Centered.org over coffee in December 2013. Eddie Wang was part of that ministry and had interned at Bluhm’s company, where he showed a lot of promise.
“He’s chosen to take a deep servant’s path in his life right now,” said Bluhm. “I would have loved to have him involved in technology start-ups, but his heart, spirit, and passion are behind Centered.”
The project is part of a larger movement that was launched in the 1930s when Abraham Vereide, a Norwegian Immigrant who founded Goodwill Industries, began meeting with other businessmen in the Seattle area. As the network grew and gained attention, relationships were developed with members of the U.S. House and Senate, and in 1953 President Eisenhower agreed to host the first National Prayer Breakfast. (This year’s event will be held February 5 in Washington, DC.)
Local and regional prayer breakfasts have followed. Students are often invited to these events, at which organizers try to build in a one-to-three ratio between marketplace or civic leaders and emerging leaders (college students or young professionals), Vancil said.
“Students have been blown away that people of this caliber of leadership have made them a priority, and have tried to put themselves in a place of being able to share what they’ve learned both good and bad, in terms of failure and success,” he said.
Bluhm doesn’t like to describe these intergenerational friendships as mentoring relationships though. “We learn from these kids like you can’t believe! It’s equal sharing. They reenergize us and recommit us to a higher sense of activity. Eddie is one of those,” said Bluhm.
It’s always a good sign when the story of a new venture is consistent with its mission. The launch of Centered.org is exactly that kind of story, with established leaders and an emerging leader drawing strength and inspiration from one another to keep lifting the name of Jesus high.
CHRISTINE A. SCHELLER is a widely published journalist and essayist. She lives with her husband at the Jersey Shore and in Washington, DC, where she helps facilitate dialogue between scientific and religious communities.