imago dei

It is one of the most eloquent of all Christian truths - the imago dei.

Human beings are made in the image of God. There is a God-likeness about us which grants every person a dignity. 'Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness' (Gen 1.27). Imagine what the world would be like if this truth owned us? And then what about putting it in combo with 'from one person God made all the peoples of the world' (Acts 17.26), thereby combining equality with dignity?

They write big books on this truth. I've always defaulted to things like being rational, moral, social, spiritual etc - the sort of qualities which turn us more toward God, rather than toward mere animals. This past week I had a coffee with an artist. He has come alive by connecting again with creating art after a long absence. It was good to see. As I drove home, the imago dei flooded my mind and heart. This is because in more recent years, contemplating it has pushed me in a different direction.

'Let us make human beings in our image'. The first things that should strike us about the imago dei come in the very phrase which first declares its truth to us. In being image-bearers of the living God, we are made to be creative ('make') and we are designed to operate within teams ('us/our').

I am wired for creativity. It comes with the imago dei. I spent the first two decades of my life in a family where I ranked dead last in all things artistic - be it music, or drama, or just plain art. I was not creative, by definition. I accepted this as the reality and got on with other things. Then through my third decade I discovered God's call to be a preacher and just how much being creative could be integral to this calling. Word-smithing. Image-playing. And through my fourth decade I became a teacher immersed in the creation of a range of courses as I taught in every department in the curriculum. Birthing new courses and imagining ways to help learners learn became one of the great joys of my life. In my fifth decade I discovered blogging which is basically me chatting away to myself, sometimes creatively, and letting people look over my shoulder as I do so. It is the most energising thing I do in this season of my life.

I still can't sing. I still can't play the piano. I admire painters partly because, let's face it, I know I could never do it myself. I try to shrink into invisibility when anything close to drama is suggested. But don't tell me I ain't creative. I am. So healing, so sacred, has this journey been that I have made a pact with God. I hold lightly to what creative ideas I may have, passing them on liberally to help fire other peoples' creativity - knowing that the creative God won't turn off the tap as he works in me. I try to avoid the mentality of the patent and the copyright - but I confess that my spirituality is not yet totally God-like. Oftentimes having my ideas leave home creates the same brand of ache as having my children leave home. While it is hard, I remain committed to it as a lifestyle.

I am wired for team.  It comes with the imago dei. I know theologians love to talk about the trinity as community, but seeing it as a team and the importance of bearing the image of that team in our leadership is critical too. I love Robert Banks on this topic. 'Leadership takes place through more than one person [...] the Trinity is not a doctrinal abstraction, but a divine paradigm of what leadership involves' (Reviewing Leadership, 85-86). But it is a few pages in a little book by Stacy Rinehart (Upside Down) that changed me: 'What we see in the Godhead is an incredible picture of interdependence, and unity and diversity, where the One leading and the One being led change according to need and contribution (88)'. 'Each person has a function and when that function is needed, that person becomes our leader' (93).WOW - isn't that revolutionary in most organisations? He goes on to describe what leadership in the image of team-trinity looks like, as descriptors like multiple, interdependent, rotating, united but diverse, equal but role differentiated, and relational occupy the focus. [NB: it is also interesting to note how active team-trinity is in redemption, not just creation - check out Ephesians 1].

Over the years, I've watched leadership. I've tried to practice leadership. I've read about leadership. When I commenced as a principal, I inherited a staff-family from a retiring father-principal. It was lovely. But what on earth was I meant to do, coming in as the youngest of all the siblings? The context was ripe and ready for growth and the added complexity it brings. Looking back, we stumbled together across the importance of building teams and working through teams as the modus operandi of leadership (with the theological reflection coming later). The governance team was the first priority. The full staff team (admin + teaching) was next - and then these two staff teams separately. Then the multiple teams to guide college life. Finally we settled on a pattern for a management team. Each time trying to build teams and work through teams as image-bearers of team-trinity.

Now I am once again back in a season of watching and reflecting on leadership as I travel to many countries. The challenges remain the same. The autocratic and the hierarchial models still hover. How often do we hear of a leader being labelled as 'strong', only to draw near to discover that this so-called strength is characterized by an inability to build, multiply and nurture teams? We must start naming this as weak leadership because one thing it isn't is 'strong'. What about the struggle with the silo-style where, intentionally or unintentionally, the opportunity for trinitarian-like team work is bypassed, rather than built? This is not acceptable either as it acquiesces to the individualism which can so easily drain dignity from the human experience.

Because of the transformative significance of these perspectives on the imago dei in my life, I find that in my mentoring and supervision of others I probe for their experience of creativity and teamwork. These twins need to be a clear and present delight for them, otherwise life in their callings will become a clear and present danger.

nice chatting



binksie said…
Lovely and thanks for sharing Paul. I know many 'strong' leaders....will keep this in the memory bank:-)

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