In re-reading recently Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterful work, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, I wondered: What can I learn from Lincoln about leading well in places where everyone sees themselves as rivals?  

Here is one particular thought: Continually Call Others To Something Great, not to being Great. 

I often felt the pressure within the academy to be great.  Henri Nouwen has helped me over the years–particularly his book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership.  Instead of finding my identity and significance in how “great I am,” Nouwen argues that my identity and significance must ultimately rest in the Father’s declaration that in Christ I too “am his beloved son/daughter, in whom He is well-pleased.”

With that gospel identity in place, I’ve been strangely helped by Lincoln’s ability to call out in others a commitment to something great.  A few weeks ago, I stood again where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.  Built around a set of structural metaphors (past-present-future and birth-death-rebirth), Lincoln’s speech captured in many ways those God-ingrained desires to live for things beyond ourselves.  Both to the country and especially to those driven by the desire to be great, Lincoln had a unique ability to remind them of things greater than themselves.

As followers of  Christ, perhaps we should ask fellow faculty to take small steps toward doing great things–toward things bigger than themselves.  Deep inside of all of us is that desire.  Jesus recognized it when he challenged his disciples to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). 

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with the following set of questions with other faculty: 

1.  Tell me more about your current academic work.  What intrigues you about it?

2. Do you think that perhaps God gave you a love for this line of research and teaching?  I wonder why?

3. Could it be that God wants to use you and it to bring Kingdom change in Jesus’ name?  I wonder how?

 

As we begin to see every aspect of our lives in light of Christ’s Kingdom, our academic departments might be defined less as rivalries rooted in personal glory and more by what Parker Palmer called  “the pursuit of truth in the company of friends.”

— Jay Lorenzen, staff with Faculty Commons (formerly Associate Professor of Political Science, USAFA, CO)