By Matthew Richard
The fellows program did not start off well for me. After running into several cohort members in the airport I had managed to become excited for the first meeting. The talks we had on Georgia’s “Marta” train shuttling us from the airport to a central meeting spot were energizing. The handful of five or six of us quickly shared about our current places of service, time in seminary that was still fresh in our minds, and mutual acquaintances and passions we all had. I realized that this was a small taste of the camaraderie and kinship that was in store for us in the next two years. As the train pulled to a stop at the station we all exited in a hurry to meet Terry Hamrick, who was chauffeuring us from the station to our cohort meeting. We were not difficult to spot, nor was the lone white van waiting for us that could have easily had “Baptist meeting” written all over it.
Terry was just about to close his door and start the engine when I felt around for the backpack that travels everywhere with me and never leaves my side. “Did anyone see me leave the train with a grey backpack?” I asked in a faked calm voice. “I remember seeing it on the train, but now that you mention it, I don’t recall you leaving with it,” someone in the back piped up. And so, I began the fellows meeting inside of the CBF office trying to track down my backpack that contained a Kindle e-reader. It was sitting there waiting for anyone to pick it up and access my Amazon account (which stored my credit card information) as well as my Facebook and Twitter accounts. My only hope was that someone would pick it up and turn it into lost-and-found. After reporting the item missing via Marta’s website, I was told not to contact them again. They would contact me if the item was recovered, and all I could do was wait.
I was not sure how much I was going to be able to absorb from our fellows gathering with this on my mind, nor was I excited about being the guy in the group that lost his backpack. What I quickly learned in our introductory session was that all of us felt that we were missing something. Prior to this first meeting we were all given the Leadership Practices Inventory to complete. Part of our time together included going over our results with a trained facilitator. One of the exercises we engaged in to help us understand these included dividing ourselves up according to the way we scored on a particular item. After grouping ourselves among others with similar results, each group was given the same case study to briefly consider and then to share with everyone else the way their group would address it. The activity proved exaggerated and humorous, likely because most teams of people in real life do not consist of members that all think in a similar manner.
However, by looking at case studies in this way I was able to see how all of our different leadership styles would look if allowed to go to extremes. In spite of being congregational leaders in various settings, all of us had blatant weaknesses that were put on display in this activity. Instead of being a time where everyone got down on themselves and wished they were different, this was a moment where we allowed ourselves to laugh, poke fun at each other, and simply be who we were unapologetically. I’m not sure that this was the intended lesson behind this experience, but it was the one that stuck with me.
This set the tone for my whole fellows experience. It was a safe place to simply be. As a young minister it can be easy to fall prey to the notion that I must be super human. Every time I met with this unique and diverse group I was not only reminded that I could not do this, but that I did not need to do this. The settings that God has and is calling each one of us into are places where we are to be ourselves. It’s a little easier to do that when you are removed from everyday life and surrounded by friends and mentors. But it is from these joyous moments that I pull strength to live into my calling on my best and worst day on the job.
P.S. I never recovered my backpack; but I would lose it all over again to be able to spend more time with the members of my cohort group that have become valued friends and colleagues over the past two years.
Matthew Richard, a CBF Fellow, is Pastor of Eastwood Baptist Church in Gatesville, Texas.