Rising Leaders’ Guide to Change and Innovation: Leadership for the Long-Haul

Chad FenleyRising Leaders’ Guide to Change and Innovation, The CACE Roundtable1 Comment

Leadership for the Long-Haul

Working in education for some time now, we have seen students, even elementary students, identify what they want to be when they grow up. Of course, time can change those aspirations as evidenced by the fact that approximately one third of undergraduate students change majors within three years of starting college (NCES, 2018). Cementing your career path can be difficult; the road to vocation is often pathed with unexpected twists and turns. Perhaps you, like us, have found yourself in Christian education even though it was not initially on your radar.

Christian education is a calling, and we all have different stories of how we landed where we are serving. Even so, we frequently face challenges that were hardly discussed in our education classes, such as encouraging sick faculty, attending parent funerals, mentoring students with mental illness, or educating through a pandemic.

To effectively fulfill our calling, it is vital to implement healthy practices that keep us spiritually grounded. Although there are many approaches to being an effective leader, our own experiences have left us placing a premium on prioritizing spiritual renewal, modeling servant leadership, connecting with fellow leaders, and maintaining a healthy pace. 

Spiritual Renewal

In Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney states, “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.” We echo Whitney’s sentiment and believe that practicing spiritual disciplines is critical for anyone in Christian education to operate their calling effectively.

Maybe you, like us, at one time enjoyed evening times of spiritual renewal but discovered that after life changes such as getting married, starting grad school, having kids, and/or becoming an administrator, that option became less and less feasible. Between trying to have meaningful time with our families combined with the added responsibilities of attending co-curricular activities or admissions events at night, something had to change. The early morning hours have become a sacred time of day for us. If you want to lead effectively, you must fight to prioritize and protect time with God each day. Do whatever it takes: wake up early or block off part of your day so you can be renewed and refueled by your real source of power.

It is easy to get so busy with ministering to others that we forget about the importance of being spiritually fed ourselves. The Latin Maxim nemo dat quod non habet (you can’t give what you do not have) still holds true today.When it comes to ministering to faculty, staff, students, and parents, we can’t give what we don’t have. We cannot expect to encourage others, stay patient, answer calmly, and use wisdom appropriately without consistently spending time in God’s Word, being connected at a Bible-believing church, and praying regularly over the school, faculty, and students. Recognizing our dependence on God and acting on it will allow us to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in our daily interactions with others.

Servant Leadership

Most of us can readily admit that we did not enter Christian education for the pat on the back, the praise from others, or the paycheck. Many are called to Christian education because of their love of students and love of Christ. As we reflect on our professional journeys, beginning as teachers and coaches to our roles now as school leaders, we can’t help but think of the many mentors who modeled what it looked like to put students and faculty before selves. During this challenging time, we are increasingly aware of how vital it is to care for the faculty’s needs. Many administrators are serving their faculty by picking up extra lunch duties, carline duties, and study hall coverage, in addition to the added meetings and work to ensure safe learning protocols during this Covid season.

Whereas acts of service help lighten the faculty’s load, administrators can’t overlook each faculty member’s personal well-being. School leaders must stay intentional about their calling to the ministry of education as shepherds by coaching teachers and helping them grow as instructional leaders.

Network with Like-Minded Leaders

Although Philippians 4 shares that God is the supplier of all our needs, God uses people to encourage one another. Paul continuously modeled the importance of relationships throughout his life during the growth of the early Church. Paul’s ability to network had an exponential impact on the explosive growth of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. He strategically invested in Timothy and Titus, but he also visited faith communities and wrote letters of encouragement, spiritual growth, and accountability. Through networking, Paul’s credibility and heart for others impacted many people, spiritually and financially. Conversely, when Paul was in need, he felt comfortable asking for prayer and even finances. Giving and receiving encouragement, wisdom, and guidance with colleagues is a joy.

Both of us were able to be part of Zoom gatherings of Christian school administrators to discuss ideas about Covid-19 mitigation. Connecting with fellow leaders who understand educational challenges allowed us to encourage and provide feedback to one another. Developing a network that shares best practices, successful strategies, and innovative ideas encourages and challenges us as administrators; these connections also positively impact our schools. How are you investing in others? Are you allowing others to invest in you? Consider networking with other like-minded leaders to experience the blessing that Paul modeled.

Fostering a Christ-Centered Balance

To minister effectively takes effort and energy. The challenge is not to give and give until we have nothing left. In a “normal” year, the role of a Christian school leader is taxing. Top it off with 2020’s added protocols, extra communications, parent questions, and additional responsibilities, this year has been simply overwhelming. However, we believe that God has called each of us to lead during this challenging time. And God equips those whom He has called (Phil 1:6). When we burn the candle at both ends and don’t follow the example God gave us for resting our body, soul, and mind, we risk leading in survival mode. We must be intentional about taking time to rest. We are grateful for our own school heads who have not forgotten to prioritize our well-being: they have supported us and encouraged us to take time off to be with our families at needed times in this season.

Leading with a Kingdom mindset requires administrators to thrive and not just to survive. The points written here seem simple, but they are the lifelines to healthy leadership. Being a Christian school administrator is a high calling, but it can be a grind. Yes, the work is hard. But putting God first, supporting others in their work, and finding a network of fellow leaders can help protect you from burnout. Following these principles will help you operate as a Kingdom-minded leader for the long-haul.

This article is part of the Rising Leaders’ Guide to Change and Innovation. Join our mailing list to be notified as new articles are published.


  • Chad Fenley

    Chad Fenley has worked in Christian education for 16 years. After 15 years in a middle school math classroom, He is serving in his first year as the Head of Middle School at Delaware County Christian School. As a high school football coach, Chad is passionate about using the game of football to teach young men about perseverance, integrity, hard work, and what it looks to follow Jesus. Chad earned his M.Ed. from Concordia University Wisconsin. He is married to Jamie and has four boys: Milo, Oliver, Amos, and Boaz.

  • Kory Hicks

    Dr. Kory Hicks has worked in Christian education for 18 years with eight years in the classroom and 14 years in administration. He currently serves as the junior high principal at Grapevine Faith Christian School. With a summer counseling background throughout college, Kory loves using recreation to connect with students, such as grade-level retreats. He received his Ed.D. in School Leadership from Dallas Baptist University. Kory enjoys playing disc golf, mountain biking, hiking, gardening, and SCUBA diving. He and his wife Ashley have two elementary aged children, Addy and Kash.

One Comment on “Rising Leaders’ Guide to Change and Innovation: Leadership for the Long-Haul”

  1. Thanks, Kory and Chad, for this inspiration. “You can’t give what you don’t have” is a powerful reminder of where we need to go to find our Source.Also, a big fan of admins covering a duty or two when able – not only did this give me a good mental break, it sent a message to faculty that you care for them and are noticing when they might need a break. As a principal, my best Christmas gift to faculty was a “half day off” coupon where I would sub for them on a day of their choice. Lead well!

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