Thinking Out Loud

June 27, 2011

When Christian Leadership is Equated with Privilege

Several years ago I had a recurring gig as a guest speaker with a large international Christian organization.  I got to stay in the “Hospitality Suite,” which represented the finest accommodation this organization had to offer, and was literally treated like a king, which only served to make me want to do an exceptional job as a lecturer.  However, throughout each visit, I was acutely aware and increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that my situation was quite distanced from what the students I was teaching were experiencing in the dorms.

In the years that followed, I would see this played out many times, and find myself on both sides of the great divide.  I think because I’d experienced life in the guest suite, I sort of knew what to look for. I knew it was there; I knew how these things work.

For at least the past decade, I have not found myself staying in the hospitality area, or anything close to it.  Add in my wife’s years working with people who are decidedly economically disadvantaged, and I probably now have a low tolerance for exclusivity or elitism. I like my Christian organizations to operate on a level playing field, with liberty and justice for all.

…This week I got to see the inside of a recently opened facility which is dedicated to fostering Christian leadership.  It incorporates a number of architectural features designed for both form and function.  However, I wasn’t actually tracking the issue of who gets to use this particular place, or who doesn’t, until Mrs. W. pointed out that the facility is so very nice that it is unintentionally — at least we hope it is unintentional — sending the message that leadership equates with privilege.

Don’t get me wrong. I celebrate that the people in charge have put together something creative and unique. But then I read this description of where the users of this facility get to stay:

Each of the … units is equipped with a pair of duvet-covered twin beds, a mini-fridge, a coffeemaker, a kettle, a toaster, a microwave, and dishes, so guests can make themselves at home… All rooms have en suite bathrooms, and we provide all bath and bed linens… Rooms all have cozy throws, chess-sets, and rustic … decor… surrounding trees and lake views. The rooms all overlook a communal campfire where guests come together to roast marshmallows, tell stories, sing songs, or just simply unplug.

I recognize that the people who put this together have to compete with other conference facilities.  I recognize that they are committed to excellence. I recognize that they want their guests to have a memorable experience.  I recognize that — oh my goodness — in the dining area there is a four-slice toaster and a 32″ monitor at every table

If their guests are paying their own way for this, that’s fine.  If their guests’ seminar and conference costs are coming out of the regular budgets of Christian parachurch organizations or churches — representing peoples’ tithes and offerings — I have a problem with that.  If the organization’s internal use of the facility is such that it creates a two-tiered dichotomy between the leadership and the peons in the trenches, then I have a major problem with that.

The Bible I own teaches humility; teaches putting others ahead of yourself; teaches servant leadership. 

All other models are somewhat flawed.

~Paul Wilkinson

Image: From an article at Lamar Hernden’s blog, Are You 21st Century Servant Leadership Literate?

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