“Why is your job so difficult?”
In his first address, Andy Crouch began the session with over two hundred Christian school principals and educational leaders with this provocative question.
One of the reasons that the job of an educational leader is so difficult is because other people don’t think it’s a difficult job. Like most leadership roles, principals have the unique task of managing and leading others who are characterized by at least three things: a high level of expertise, a high degree of independence, and who cover a vast range of areas and topics. But, unlike other work arenas, leaders in education are not directly supervising their teachers, and they are not present while the work is being done.
So how then do they lead effectively? To begin, leaders must make it their goal to hire teachers who embody these exact qualities: those with expertise, who know more than they do about things; those who are capable of doing a great job and that take credit for the work that they do; and those who push the edges of the range of things that our institution has been already doing well. In order to support this, leaders themselves must develop and embody distinct qualities. They must consider how to bear and offer authority—something that cannot be outsourced to others; they must learn to bear the vulnerability that comes with the isolation of leadership; and they much learn to expand the range of vision for their institutions.
In order to provide a framework for the educational journey that school leaders are walking, Crouch shared a personalization of the four-stage sequence that sums up the story of humanity: Creation (Image bearers), Fall (Idolatry and Injustice), Redemption (Incarnation), and Restoration (Institutions). Leaders should be better than anyone in their institution at articulating how this framework shapes us and how it holds within it everything that we want to be and do as human beings.
Crouch took the time to briefly summarize each of these stages of our story that lead to the role of institutions as a means for restoration in society. At the creation of the world, God defined man as his image-bearers. Humans were created in the same way that God created the world in which we live—with a beautiful balance of order and abundance. The first three days of creation demonstrate binary divisions and structure that provided order in creation—He separated light and dark, the heavens and the earth, and the land and the sea. Then, in the next three days, God filled each realm with abundance—He filled the world with the sun, moon and stars, land creatures and sea creatures. This framework demonstrates the perfect balance between order and abundance that leaders must strive to create in their organizations. With neither order or abundance, we have nothing. With only order, we create systems that work like industrialized machines. With only abundance we create an atmosphere of chaos. Leaders were challenged to ask themselves two questions: “Where in your organization have you been trying to create more order?” and “Where in your organization are you seeing encouraging signs of teeming and abundance?”. The role of the leader is one that strives to create a framework which includes order and structure, but also leaves room to discover and unleash abundance.
At the time of the fall, we, as image-bearers in God’s story, forsook our position in relationship with God and went looking for idols that we thought would be more reassuring or advantageous to us. We created physical representations and substitutes for God. These idols became correlated with, and integrated into, a world that held injustice—creating room for those who take unjust amount of power and autonomy at the cost of others who are no longer able to find abundance in the world.
Thankfully, our story doesn’t end here. Our redemption in the story has come through the incarnation of Christ—the Word became flesh. The rescue had to be personal, and so Christ was born and lived among us, growing into the full stature of the image of the invisible God. His life revolutionized our understanding of what it is to be a true image-bearer of God. And the rescue became complete through his death on the cross.
Leading up to his next address, Crouch invited the leaders in the room to consider how institutions might be the final piece of the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration story of humanity. Although he agreed that institutions may not be immediately perceived as a means of God’s restoration, he invited participants to consider a time in their lives when they experienced a significant amount of flourishing—where they felt like they were bearing the image of God and their lives represented a balance between order and abundance, and to wonder along with him in the next session how institutions played a key role in this.