“As I’ve been pondering empowerment, I realized that I certainly don’t have to go far to come across people that I’ve encountered who have truly been empowered. One of the most vivid examples was this past summer when, after she returned from her three week trip to Nepal, my cousin and I met in a cozy coffee shop in Downtown Boston to catch up with each other. MaryJane recapped her powerful trip to Nepal where she spent three weeks serving disabled children, teaching widows, and meeting the Nepali children that our school supports. Since then, MaryJane has begun researching the effects of women’s education on human trafficking in Southern Asia for her senior research paper, has taken the lead of the Trinity Institute’s Freedom Project chapter, and is hoping to return to Nepal. MaryJane’s story is one of empowerment because her success as a leader came from her own creativity and passion, not that of others. MaryJane took the opportunities presented to her, took initiative, and is working to empower other students in the same way.” -Marielle Zeina, Boston Trinity Academy student and leader in the Trinity Institute for Leadership and Social Justice
The act of creating is arguably the most divine act in which humans can partake. Through the act of creating we live up to our image-bearing potential. We seek to create beauty, truth and meaning in the same way that God created us, fearfully and wonderfully, in His own image. Leaders are at their cores creators, dreamers, innovators. Leaders denied the freedom to innovate have their wings clipped; therefore, when we empower leaders, we must allow them to not simply follow a set of pre-determined leadership procedures but to dream, to shatter our expectations and prove themselves smarter than us. In the Trinity Institute, we see this as a critical aspect in the development of our students and a foundation of leadership in young people.
To be frank, if you aren’t empowering your leaders to innovate, to reject complacency, then we aren’t sure that you’re making leaders at all. One who empowers fully and completely creates a system that enables the next generation to not only “do the works [they] have been doing” but “do even greater things than these” (John 14:12 NIV). Jesus made disciples whom he told to go out and make disciples, a leadership model rooted in relationship. If we only function because of the skill of a single leader, we aren’t developing new ones; instead, we strive to create a milieu where innovation is the norm and leadership is shared and dynamic, playing off the strengths and the passions of each member of the team.
If I, this year’s Prefect for the Trinity Institute for Leadership and Social Justice, am still necessary for the functioning of the Institute by the end of this year, I will have failed in my job. Similarly, MaryJane is guiding student leaders who will take the Freedom Project, a student-run anti human trafficking campaign further, push boundaries, and run it better than she did. If we do not empower leaders who can then in turn empower other leaders, then we haven’t created leaders at all. Rather, we have created a leadership club, allowing students to pretend to be leaders, to go through the motions without transformation.
Make no mistake, it is much easier to teach students to mimic leaders than it is to let them innovate and begin to fully develop leadership skills and influence. In beginning to develop leaders for next year, I find myself falling into the trap of solving the problems myself and thus choosing efficiency over empowerment. Those who can’t teach are left having to do everything themselves. If I say that I want someone else to write an email and I dictate its contents, check the grammar and soften the style, I have not created a leader. Rather, I have taught someone how to complete a predetermined set of tasks. MaryJane observed on her trip to Nepal what successful aid looks like. Instead of ending her experience there, she hopes to return to Nepal on her own. MaryJane was empowered to innovate and took her own initiative in pursuing her love for the people of Nepal. She was not satisfied with simply following the example of those who went before her, rather she was inspired to push the limits and go beyond the constraints of a school trip.
A key realization of empowerment is to recognize that little leadership development happens without failure. If Dr. Chen, the Director of the Trinity Institute, stepped in every time I forgot to send out an email, or wasted time digging empty rabbit holes, I would be no more than his glorified assistant. The idea of approaching leadership development as relational is rooted in the prime example of Jesus Christ’s own leadership. Jesus had a group of twelve, into whom he poured his time, energy and love. Jesus charged these twelve with going out and teaching what they were taught. This model is organic, it is fluid and above all it is based in relationship and the belief that before a person or a system can be changed, it must be understood.
Throughout history, we have witnessed the failure of inorganic, static, and even statist leadership programs that are built on the model of a hierarchical or even dictatorial leadership. We have watched as agencies built on this philosophy stifle development, with the most extreme ramifications for the voiceless, the very ones we should be seeking to empower. When we create a leadership development model that we apply to wave after wave of young people and expect transformation, we reek of arrogance and apathy. Static models indirectly say that I, the designer, know better than you, the participant. They boast of our own omniscience; of the idea that this stiff, singular strategy will be transformative in all cases, in a way that the “leaders” it is for cannot hope to recreate. It drips with indifference because it denies each person their individuality.
Truly transformative leadership development takes time, energy, and faith. It takes the energy to know the particular strengths of each leader and maximize them while at the same time creating partnerships that mitigate the weaknesses of individuals. Just as no two people are alike and no two groups of people are alike, no two people or groups of people can be empowered in the same way. It takes the time and energy to build relationships and it takes relationships to truly build leaders. It also takes faith that those to whom you have entrusted the responsibility of leadership will, when they fail, respond with maturity and grace, in accordance with the same kind of grace that was extended to them.
The Micah Conference was born out of this spirit of grace-enabled innovation. It is the result of a deep dissatisfaction with the world we live in and a hope in the world to come. We find it impossible to reconcile complacency with a Christ-centered lifestyle, since we believe that Yeshua bar Yehosef, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God is the world’s first (and greatest) revolutionary and we look to Him as our ideal. We hope that the Micah Conference can be a synthesis of everything we believe in, and we dare to dream that it can be a place where like-minded youth from around the country can come together to meet one another and be inspired, convicted and empowered.