[Friday morning, June 9) After ten days at Newbold College in England I will fly home later today. I have tried to get a good idea of the goal and structure of the MA course in Leadership that Andrews University is currently offering in Europe to people with leadership qualities in the Adventist Church. Over a three-year period seven sessions of about two weeks will be held, mostly on the campus of Newbold College in the UK. In addition, the students will, if at all possible, meet on a monthly basis in groups in various geographical regions to discuss the projects they are working on as part of the program and to support and stimulate each other in the progress of their thesis that must be finished before they can graduate.
Over forty students enrolled for the course--rather more than was expected. Most of the participants are sponsored by their church organizations. Because every 6-7 students will have an advisor assigned to them, who will coach them during the entire course of study, the organizers were suddenly faced with a lack of mentors. That was the reason why about three weeks ago I was asked to serve as one of the advisors. Even though this means that--except in unforeseen circumstances--I must commit myself for three years to this project, and even though I am involved with a lot of other things, I decided to accept the challenge. It was gratifying to see that the students that have been assigned to me had actually told the course leaders that they would like to have me as their advisor. And so, I have accepted the role of giving all possible support to seven participants from the United Kingdom (4), Germany (2) and the Netherlands (1).
It was very important for me to understand the structure of the course and to find out what exactly was expected of me. I think I was able to do so in the past ten days. The course has a fascinating design. Admittedly, a major chunk of theory needs to be digested, but the main focus is on projects in the actual professional situation of the participants, in which this theory can be applied--whether they are leaders in a conference, a union, or are a departmental leader or a leader in a church district.
Besides having learned a lot myself in the past few days, I have enjoyed the very engaged and inspired way of teaching by, among others, Dr. Erich Baumgartner (whom I first got to know some 25 years ago when I was myself working at Andrews University). But this assignment as a mentor also gives me an unexpected chance to see from near-by what leadership in the Adventist Church is all about in 2017. It stands to reason that many leaders feel they need some very specific training, since being a leader is a much greater challenge today than it was in the period when I had to lead other people and had to (help) develop a vision for the organizations I was involved with.
I have had the privilege to be a leader during a major portion of my working life. At age 29 I was already parachuted into the post of leader of the educational institution the Adventist Church had in the Netherlands at that time. In later years I led several church institutions and als served at different denominational levels in leadership roles in various countries. In many respects it was a good and fascinating time to look back at with satisfaction. However, I am not blind to the many mistakes I made, and in retrospect there are quite a few things I would do differently today. At the time I could have greatly benefitted from the kind of course I have now become involved with.
Being a church leader has through the years become ever more difficult. More is required of our leaders than in the past. The church (as well as the society that surrounds it) has become much more diverse and more complex. Moreover, ‘authority' functions now quite differently, and today leaders are faced with widespread distrust on the part of many to whom they must provide leadership. Professional courses are extremely important to give leaders more theoretical background and to provide them with the necessary tools for their work, but support and trust from the people is at least as essential. When this trust is lacking, many leaders will soon be ‘burnt-out’ and it becomes increasingly difficult to find talented people who are willing to be leaders. I hope I can help a number of the participants in this course to retain their enthusiasm for their task and to grow in their leadership role.