A Letter from the CEO

by Steve Shackelford

My recent two-day meeting in Vancouver with the Global Leadership Team, made up of some of City to City’s leadership and representatives from our affiliate networks, has made me pause to think more deeply about leadership. For many years I might have summarized leadership as former GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch once posited, “Control your destiny or someone else will.” We become adept at masking our self-reliance in a way that looks and feels very palatable. We justify it by buying into a framework that suggests you can’t succeed in today’s world by applying a gospel-centered approach. I saw this lived out in the business world, but sadly, it happens in the nonprofit world too.

When some school children asked George Marshall, Commander of the U.S. Forces during WWII, what he believed was most important when selecting military leaders, he answered, “The most important factor of all is character, which involves integrity, unselfish and devoted purpose, a sturdiness of bearing when everything goes wrong and all are critical, and a willingness to sacrifice self in the interest of the common good.”

Scott Rodin, former President of Eastern Theological Seminary, in a letter he wrote upon his departure, pointed to Philippians 2:7: “[He] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.” Rodin added, “I have come to believe that true Christian leadership is an ongoing, disciplined practice of becoming a person of no reputation, and thus becoming more like Christ in this unique way.” The late Henri Nouwen wrote about resisting the urge to be relevant when he stated, “I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”

The world defines leadership as power, to be needed and a dependence upon that leader. I know I have a tendency to rely on my gifts, my skills and experiences because we “have to get things done” rather than first going to my knees in prayer. Over these last eighteen months in my role at City to City, God is deconstructing idols that feed the self-sufficiency I have a tendency to fall back on and is constantly reminding me that this is his ministry and has been from the beginning. My call is to wait upon him and to move upon his command.

This type of leadership isn’t revered in today’s culture. It is considered weak. When addressing this age of narcissism, Chuck DeGroat wrote, “Our addiction to success, to grandiosity, to winning has gone unchecked. We forget that we were followers of a suffering servant, bearers of the Cross, participants in a cruciform story.”

It is not about charisma or the ability to make people follow you because you are an excellent teacher or you are imbued with extraordinary talents, education or experience. It is about weakness as opposed to power, irrelevance as opposed to relevance, and dependent humility as opposed to pride. Those are the attributes I desire of myself, our staff and the leaders I pray the Lord will raise up in cities across the globe.

Grateful for your journeying alongside us.