By Stephen Lewis
President, Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE)
Over the next 12 months, we will spotlight 12 leaders, their stories, and how their passion and call to shape a more hopeful future through Christian ministry guides the impact they are making in their communities, institutions and universities. You can find the complete series, here.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This statement captures the conviction of the late cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead.
Major change initiatives throughout the world began with a small, committed group of people who had the audacity to imagine new possibilities and the courage to lead differently.
Sixty years ago, the Forum for Theological Exploration’s founders believed that the church and her academy could be an important resource for change and human flourishing. And that in every era, a new generation must be inspired to shape the future of the church, academy and communities around the world.
Why? Because the world doesn’t change because passionate people simply think differently. It changes because they lead differently.
During a pivotal time in our nation’s history, FTE was born and these convictions were tested. Days before the United States Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional in public schools and universities and the civil unrest that would ensue throughout the country as a result, FTE’s mission—to incubate diverse, faithful, wise, and courageous leaders for the church and academy —took flight.
As a new generation of leaders emerged, the future they sought to shape demanded that they lead and relate differently to the world they inherited. There is no doubt in my mind that communities of faith, their leaders, and the next generation are important catalysts for shaping a more hopeful future.
FTE Alumnus Rev. Tyler Sit, like many young people of faith, was unsure of the kind of ministry he was called to pursue. After traveling abroad and then attending seminary, he planted the New City Church, which is dedicated to environmental justice. Rev. Sit is leading differently by advancing environmental activism in his Minneapolis community.
With a passion to change a world that allows people to be bought and sold, Rev. Becca Stevens’ faith compelled her to create Thistle Farms, a sanctuary for healing women survivors of abuse, addiction, trafficking and prostitution. Rev. Stevens is leading differently by supporting more than 700 women annually through Magdalene and Thistle Farms in the Nashville community.
As a scholar-activist and artist committed to making a lasting impact, FTE Alumnus Rev. Dr. Gregory Ellison, II, Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Candler School of Theology, developed Fearless Dialogues, a grassroots initiative that fosters space for hard and heartfelt conversations between community thought leaders, educators, elected officials, clergy, parents, students, and gang leaders. Communities across the country and abroad have found healing as a result. Dr. Ellison is leading differently by redefining the 21st century theological classroom and where pastoral care takes place.
Fueled by Christ’s passion, Christians—like Tyler, Becca and Gregory—have picked up their crosses, sacrificed and even suffered on behalf of the greater good and hope for a better world. As a result, they have enriched the world by creating actionable solutions and centers of care—hospitals, schools, social services, civic organizations, global health and development works, and churches.
We all have much to learn from leaders who lead differently. For me, one of these leaders is my childhood pastor, Rev. Dr. Clifford A Jones, Sr. of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, in Charlotte, N.C.
While Rev. Jones leads a large, traditional African American church deeply shaped by its Baptist identity and southern sensibilities, he exemplifies innovation. Whether it is finding better contextual ways of engaging in mission and ministry locally and globally, raising awareness about health and wellness in underserved populations, or leveraging business and organizational management to strengthen the church’s operations and ministry in the broader Charlotte community, Rev. Jones has demonstrated repeatedly what is possible with a little imagination and the will to lead differently.
Over the course of the next 12 months in partnership with Patheos, we will spotlight 12 leaders, their stories, and how their passion and call to shape a more hopeful future through Christian ministry help guide the important and lasting impact they are making in their communities, institutions and universities.
They are the new faithful designers and civil engineers of emerging 21st century models of faith communities and theological education, put in practice. The kind of leaders the world is in desperate need of now. We hope, by sharing their stories, their inspiring leadership will help cultivate a new generation of faithful, wise and courageous leaders, freedom fighters and activists working on behalf of God’s peace and healing in the world.
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,” wrote the 14th century Carmelite nun, Teresa of Avila. “No hands but yours, no feet but yours; Yours are the eyes through which His compassion will look upon the world; Yours are the feet with which He will go about doing good.”
Never doubt that a transformative gospel can change the world for the better. The call to lead differently is an invitation to be a co-conspirator of God’s justice, hope and love for all people. We look forward to sharing the wisdom, courage and inspiration of those who do.
Stephen Lewis is the President of the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE), whose commitment is to cultivate a new generation of Christian leaders. He is an ordained minister with more than fifteen years of experience in corporate and nonprofit leadership, strategic planning, program development and group facilitation. Stephen’s interest lies at the intersection between leadership development, social entrepreneurship and leading change, and he is passionate about inspiring the next generation of leaders to make a difference in the world through Christian communities.
Photo Credit: Allison Shirreffs