The Church and Higher Education: Conflict or Complement, Part 3

The following is part three of a transcribed speech Dr. Davey delivered at the annual Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) Conference in November of 2009. It will appear at SI in three parts. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

How do leaders pursue synergy while at the same time respecting autonomy?

One word comes to mind—it is the word “humility.”

Paul would write to these believers in Romans 14:19, “So then, let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” That’s humility.

Paul would write to the Ephesians a description of a leader worth following. He writes, “I entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” How’s that Paul? “With all humility and gentleness with patience showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

How do you know if a leader is worthy of his position and calling to spiritual leadership? Here’s the profile—see if it matches your institution or church board: he’s humble, gentle, patient, and diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit.

“Are you serious?” You gather a group of perceived successful pastors and educational leaders together and you will have more pride per square inch than their constituencies combined. The problem is most often us!

Synergy and autonomy cannot coexist in harmony apart from humility. You will never cooperate with someone against whom you are competing. That’s just as true for faculty and staff as it is for pastors and congregations. Pride and self-exaltation ruins camaraderie. It steals away the best of ideas. It diminishes vitality, and it eliminates joy.

What is lost is the integrity and winsomeness of the institution and the church and ultimately the grace of the gospel. Everybody has to be first. And so we get out our shovels and we dig away in our own little worlds and contribute to making the chasm even wider. And the ones who are hurt the most are the students and the sheep.

Synergy and autonomy demand humility.

I found an interesting illustration of humility when I was reading about early American transportation—specifically the stagecoach. For decades, one company had the market tied up—the Abbot Downing Company. They built a nine-passenger stagecoach they named the Concord.

The stagecoach was managed by one driver in control of a team of four horses, sometimes six. The Concord offered three different seating options. The best seats were on the first bench, closest to the driver, where the least amount of jostling and bumping was felt. The worst seats were the middle bench—which was called a jump-seat—where your back support was usually the knees of the other passengers in the back seat, and you did a lot of bouncing up and down. The back seat was crowded as well.

No matter where you sat, it was a dusty, cramped, difficult way to travel. Every 10 or 15 miles there were stations where people could get out, stretch and eat meals provided at these stations.

The greatest danger was getting killed by Indians or being held up by robbers. The stagecoach doubled as a mail carrier, and it also carried money between banks. Three hundred stagecoaches were robbed every year—25% percent a year.

Because of that, the stagecoach companies began sending along another driver called a “shotgun.” Famous shotgun riders were men like Wyatt Earp and Bill Cody. To this day we talk about riding shotgun—or riding up front with the driver.

I came across a list of original rules for riding in a Concord stagecoach. Some of you might enforce these in the dormitory. Here are some of them:

  • Wash your feet before starting on a journey (that was for the benefit of the other passengers)
  • Don’t swear, nor lop over on your neighbor when sleeping
  • Don’t grease your hair before starting the journey or dust will stick there in sufficient quantities
  • Don’t complain at food stations, the company is providing the best they can
  • Don’t ask how far it is to the next station until you get there (some things never change!)
  • If the horses run out of control, don’t jump out; nine times out of ten you will be hurt. Sit still and take your chances

One more:

  • Expect annoyance, discomfort and hardship. If you are disappointed, that is, if you don’t experience annoyance, discomfort and hardship, thank God!

Can you imagine the flight attendant telling you the food isn’t any good—you know that already—and that you have a 25% chance of being robbed during the flight and/or that you should expect discomfort and hardship! Who among us would ever buy a ticket? Yet thousands of Americans did, during America’s early days on the Concord stagecoach.

And they had three ticket options: first-class, second-class or third-class tickets. The ticket didn’t determine where you sat, but what was expected of you if the stagecoach got bogged down on a muddy road. If you had a first-class ticket, you could stay seated when the stagecoach got stuck. If you had a second-class ticket, you had to get out and walk alongside it. But if you were a third-class passenger, you were expected to get out of the stagecoach and push.

You can imagine why no one wanted to travel 3rd class.

The analogy to education and ministry and leadership is obvious. For synergy to operate between distinctive autonomous bodies, somebody has to be humble enough to get out and push. Frankly, the effectiveness of your ministry and mine depends on all those people who are willing to get out and push—people who won’t mind dirt on their hands and mud on their shoes.

Paul writes it this way in Romans 12: “I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think…give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”

It sounds to me like Paul is recruiting leadership that is willing to travel 3rd class. That kind of leadership builds bridges across the chasm—moving ministries from conflict to complement.

This kind of leadership will accept the personal and institutional challenges relative to the issues of synergy, autonomy, and humility.

Stephen Davey is the senior pastor at Colonial Baptist Church and President of Shepherds Theological Seminary, as well as principal Bible teacher on the “Wisdom for the Heart” broadcast. After earning a Master of Divinity degree from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Sacred Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, Stephen and his wife, Marsha, moved from Dallas to Cary, NC and started Colonial Baptist Church. Colonial is now a thriving church with three Sunday morning services and more than 2500 members. In 2003, Stephen and the elders of Colonial founded Shepherds Theological Seminary.
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