Leadership: Explained to a Child

Leadership: Explained to a Child

by Pablo A. Jiménez

In 1999, when my daughter Paola was 2 years old, I accepted an appointment to be the new National Pastor for Hispanic Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. For six years I served in a position that required me to travel for over 100 days a year and to be “on call” everyday.

A cross, built by children!
A cross, built by children!

My daughter, Paola, interrogated me after every trip. At the beginning, her typical questions were: “Where have you been?,” “What was the name of the hotel where you stayed?” & her favorite, “What was the color of your rental car?” However, soon her questions became tougher: “Why is our house always full of people I have never seen before?,” “Why do you have to travel so much?” and “Why are you always talking to large crowds?”

Given that Paola could not understand my title, I used common words to answer her tough questions. I told her: “I am a leader”. Taking this idea as a point of the departure, I explained to her that other pastors had asked me to be their leader, that I traveled to visit those pastors and that they asked me to speak to large crowds because they valued my leadership.

Of course, my answers only triggered more questions, such as: “Do people always do what you tell them to do?” My response was swift: “No, because leaders live to serve, not to boss people around.” My words shocked her. In her mind, leaders were like fairy tales’ kings and princesses who had to be obeyed at all costs. The idea that service is the purpose of leadership was totally new for her.

I explained to her that Jesus Christ, who lived to served others, is my model of leadership. I further explained her that leadership does not necessarily bring fame and fortune. And I taught her that leadership is not hereditary: “I am the leader now, but someday another person will take my place. Maybe one day you will become a leader, but you will have to earn it through hard word, commitment and dedication.”

Paola also learned that leadership can bring much pain. She often saw me sad, concerned and even angry. She soon understood that all my promises were conditioned to events out of our control, given that emergencies constantly forced me to travel on short notice.

It was precisely soon after failing to attend one of her school events that I decided to step down, seeking a new ministry that allowed me to spend more time at home. “I will no longer be the leader, Paola, it is someone else’s turn,” I told her. Surprisingly, her response was very mature. “Ok, I understand.” Our many conversations about leadership had bore fruit. She had learned that true leaders do not hold on to leadership.

Finally, she asked me about my core values: “What is your main goal in life, Dad?” I looked at her with much pride and responded: “My personal mission is to bless as many people as I can reach during my ministry”. My by then nine-year-old girl smiled and said: “That is a good philosophy for living”.

The process of explaining the meaning of leadership to my daughter helped me to clarify my own vision of Christian leadership. Through our dialogues, I became her student and she became my teacher. The process gave me much hope: If a child can learn the meaning of leadership, maybe church leaders, both lay and ordained, can learn it too.

See also: On Church Revitalization and Developing a Mission-Focused Congregation

Videos of Justo L. González and Pablo A. Jiménez at the Ogilvie Institute, Fuller Theological Seminary

Here is the link! Watch González and Jiménez speaking about justice, worship, preaching, homiletics and Latino/a Theology at the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.

Click here to watch the videos!

Justo L. González
Justo L. González

Remembering Fred B. Craddock

The Father of Contemporary Homiletics

Remembering Fred B. Craddock

Download the ebook in PDF format.

by Pablo A. Jiménez

“What are you doing this Summer?”, asked the Rev. David A. Vargas. “Watching the grass grow,” was my answer, because my dwindling financial resources forced me to stay home. In response, Vargas invited me to serve as a translator at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada of 1985, which was held in Des Moines, Iowa.

Jiménez & Craddock
Jiménez & Craddock

Since I was majoring in the field of Homiletics, the discipline that studies the Christian art of preaching, I volunteered to translate all the Assembly sermons. The translation booth was on a mezzanine from which I could see the stage perfectly. I had the privilege of translating sermons of two of my favorite authors: Walter Brueggemann and Fred B. Craddock.

Eventually, Brueggemann was my dissertation advisor at Columbia Theological Seminary, but that’s another story. However, it was Craddock—with whom I never took a formal course—who had the greatest impact on my career.

I had discovered Craddock’s writings earlier that year, when I started my Master of Sacred Theology at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) in Indianapolis, IN. Ronald J. Allen, my teacher and mentor, assigned me a number of readings in the field of Homiletics. However, he stressed the importance of Craddock’s As One Without Authority (originally published in 1969), affirming that it marked the beginning of the “New School” of American Homiletics.

Soon I read not only that book but all I could find penned by Craddock. However, reading was only half of the equation. It was amazing to see Craddock in person, mesmerizing thousands of people with his soft voice and his Southern drawl polished by years of higher education.

Shortly before I could finish that Masters degree, I met Craddock when he gave a series of lectures on preaching at CTS. Nonetheless, when I tried to enter the Doctoral program at Emory University, Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia—where Craddock taught—my request was denied. At that time the idea of ​​a Puerto Rican-minister whose first language was Spanish studying Homiletics in English at graduate level seemed ludicrous.

Still, I continued my career as a professor of Homiletics, teaching the inductive preaching style advocated by Craddock both in the United States and in Latin America and the Caribbean. I also incorporated his technique into my own personal style, to the point that today the vast majority of my sermons are inductive, which means that the sermon, rather than departing from a theological proposition, begins exploring everyday life. This sermon invites the audience to participate in the search for truth, maintaining a conversational tone. It uses dialogue, storytelling and surprise endings to assert the sermon’s main idea, which is usually introduced toward the end of the exposition.

Later, I took another Homiletics workshop with Craddock at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) and kept translating several of his sermons in various assemblies of the CCDC, where for decades he was the main preacher. However, in 1999 I had the opportunity to participate in a panel with Craddock at a workshop held in San Marcos, TX. Craddock, who did not remember me, was pleased with my participation and agreed to take the photo accompanying this writing.

When Craddock retired from Emory, he founded a church in the mountains of Georgia, called Cherry Log Christian Church. Paradoxically, it was at that time that I established a stronger relationship with him. In my role as Senior Editor of Chalice Press, I asked him to write a book called “Your Call as a Preacher” which was supposed to provide some basic notions about preaching to lay people interested in the discipline. Craddock signed the contract, but a few months later called me to say that he wanted to change the title of the manuscript. The publisher accepted the change, publishing a beautiful childhood memory of this famous preacher titled to :”Reflections on my Call as a Preacher” (Chalice Press, 2009). Editing this book was sweet.

Craddock - Reflections
Craddock – Reflections

A few years later I edited another of his books, entitled “Craddock on the Craft of Preaching” (Chalice Press, 2011). Although I knew that the old preacher’s health was deteriorating, it was sad to figure out from the introduction of the manuscript that Craddock had decided to publish the lectures which, until then, had been reserved for his workshops. The inference was clear: this would be the last original book by Fred Brenning Craddock.

Craddock - Craft
Craddock – Craft

I receive the news of Craddock’s death with immense sadness. The world loses a great man; the Church, a great minister; and contemporary  American Homiletics, its father. May God grant that, over the years, Fred B. Craddock’s legacy continues to have a positive impact on every person interested in Christian art of preaching.

50 Shades of Beauty and the Beast

A young, innocent and beautiful woman begins a stormy relationship with a wealthy man who stalks her, threatens her, verbally abuses her, separates her from her family and even hits her. However, she falls for the abuser, because she sees him as a man deformed by all the bad experiences suffered in life. She believes he can be transformed by her love. Despite the difficulties faced throughout their relationship, at the end the man is indeed transformed, the couple gets married and they live “happily ever after”.

Sounds familiar? This plot is very common in literature. In general terms, it is the plot of “Beauty and the Beast” in its various incarnations. And, generally speaking, is also the storyline of “Fifty Shades of Grey”. The difference is that the first version has dancing teacups while the second one is sexually explicit.

As expected, the release of the first commercial film based on “Fifty Shades” has prompted a boycott. However, the popularity of both the books and the movie has been such that leads us to conclude that the boycott has been a failure.

While I understand the reasons of those who speak out against “Fifty Shades”, in my opinion the first work is much more dangerous. Why? Because that fairy tale teaches boys to be abusive, girls to be submissive and society to tolerate violence in intimate relationships.

Still, I never kept my son or my two daughters from reading the book or seeing the films based on The Beauty and the Beast. Instead, I read the stories and watched movies with my family. However, after I did explain them why the values ​​presented in the story were wrong.

Unfortunately, prohibitions do not work. If you tell a teenager not to read or watch something, he or she will find a way to access the forbidden material. It is best, therefore, to educate youth —always in a way adequate to their age— to understand that they must avoid codependent relationships where one party (usually the woman) suffers abuse stoically in order to “save” the abuser (usually the man).

All cultural products that follow this plot —from children’s stories to erotic novels— have a happy ending. The victim receives a great reward, i.e., true love provided by the wealthy partner, who has been transformed by sheer love.

However, in real life the “ingenue” —may she be called Bella, Anastasia Steele or Jane Doe— suffers immensely. Her story ends at an emergency ward, a hospital, a court, a women’s shelter, or a cemetery. I know because during my pastoral practice I have seen too many relationships that end in tragedy.

Like the woman who had cigarette burns on her arms because her partner used her as an ashtray; or the young woman whose boyfriend ran her over with a motorcycle; or the one whose husband falsely accuses her of being an adulteress in open court; or the woman who pleaded guilty to possession of illicit drugs in order to save her boyfriend from jail; or the one who ends up in a coffin because her husband strangled her.

Therefore, if we condemn Christian Grey, let us also condemn the Beast. In any case, the children’s story is far more dangerous.

The Moon seen from the Caribbean
The Moon seen from the Caribbean