By DAVID CRUMM,
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine
The most important thing you need to know about Another Way: Living & Leading Change on Purpose, and the book’s three authors, is that you will find their book dramatically different than many of the other leadership books on your shelf.
Unlike most authors on leadership, this trio of ministers, activists and scholars is preaching a revolutionary message. That’s revolutionary as in turning popular assumptions upside down.
Based on years of collaborative work and grassroots programs with groups nationwide, this trio teaches that the most powerful leadership is embodied not in an individual leader—but in the heart of the community itself. They describe these insights as hard-earned wisdom from their years of work together, drawing partly on ancient African and African-American wisdom. Then, they connect their methods with wisdom from various Christian traditions around the world.
If you are still frustrated after years of trying to become a better leader—this trio begins their book with a reassuring message: You’re not alone. That awareness of the people around us is a crucial insight, because what’s missing in many leadership training programs is—your community. That’s why there are four different groups of study questions at the end of each chapter so that everyone, whatever their role in the community might be, is welcome to read and discuss these ideas.
“People are longing for community,” co-author Stephen Lewis said in a recent interview. “People want to live a life of meaning and purpose. They want to know their lives matter and that they can contribute to a more hopeful future together. When I think about these practices, they are very much steeped in my own African-American community.”
THE ‘ANOTHER WAY’ MANIFESTO
The trio explain that this book grew out of their years of work with the Forum for Theological Education (FTE), founded in 1954 in Atlanta. Their book unfolds their methods across 200 pages, but here is one short summary they offer in the book of their overall manifesto:
“We have discovered several noteworthy insights about the practice of leadership, the formation of leaders, and organizations’ efforts to develop, hire and retain the next generation of leaders. One important insight that is emerging from FTE’s work with leaders and organizations is this: current practices are too individualistic and short-sighted. Organizations want better solutions to their leadership development and change-management challenges, but too many don’t have enough time, the right personnel, or enough bandwidth to create and sustain meaningful change in their context. Individual leaders want to make a positive difference in their communities, institutions, and the broader world. However, they either don’t know how to do so in meaningful ways or they don’t fully understand that lasting, positive change requires collective and coordinated efforts of a team or community of leaders—not the lone efforts and aspirations of an individual.”
Now, if you are reading this thoughtfully, your own next question may be: Wait a minute. These authors say they’re writing out of African-American tradition. Isn’t that associated with powerful, individual leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
They have been asked that question many times and, in our interview, Stephen Lewis answered, “We do believe that communities are rich with so many gifts among the people that are just waiting to be set loose on the world. But, we also recognize for us that there is a danger in focusing on a single leader.
“Even if you look in an African American context: If there was not a community of faithful, devoted, committed women and men who were in the community mobilizing the community, there wouldn’t be the Dr. King that we honor today. We are the product of the community and the way we help people cultivate and promote their own gifts begins with asking people a question: ‘Who is the most talented reader in this room?’
“And the answer is: It’s the room itself, not one individual.”
WHAT ARE THEIR STORIES?
So, who are these people? The best way to introduce them—in light of the core themes we’ve already begun exploring—is to show you how they each introduce themselves in just the first paragraph of their biographical section of the book. There’s much more about their lives and talents and insights to learn in the 200 pages, but these single paragraphs give you a feel for how their own lives have shaped these ideas.
STEPHEN LEWIS—”Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, I grew up in an African-American missionary Baptist church, where I was well acquainted with the idea that God has a purpose for everyone. As a 6-year-old, I was drawn to myths and stories about healing and transformation. Some of this was directly connected to my prayers that God would heal my mother, who suffered from depression. But a lot of it was simply a natural curiosity I had about human quests and spiritual encounters, which seemed to be at the center of all these stories. Only years later, after a first career in finance, did I find myself returning to these stories, realizing they lie at the center of what matters most to me.”
MATTHEW WESLEY WILLIAMS—”I was born on the South Side of Chicago in the late 1970s to parents active in the church and in justice organizations working on issues related to poverty, equity, racism and human freedom. Early on, my parents helped me to understand that service, protest and organizing for change in the world are all expressions of active faith. They steeped me in the cultural and spiritual gifts of African-descended peoples and taught me how to drink from those rich ancestral wells. … For me, faith-rooted leadership is about social change, and change is rooted in the inner life. While I am the child of Reginald and Marcelle Williams, I am also the child of a long tradition of faithful women and men whose lives bore and bear witness to the fact that there is no task more sacred than the liberation of oppressed peoples.”
DORI GRINENKO BAKER—”I grew up in rural Florida, where my exposure to religion was Sunday morning visits to Southern Baptist churches with my girlfriends, all of us still groggy after mostly sleepless sleepovers. There, I heard about a God who planned his son’s life, death and resurrection to save me. That never made any sense to me, but I was drawn to the story of an ancient wanderer, a man who spent a lot of time outdoors feeding and healing people. I also sensed belonging to something bigger than myself. My father, the son of Ukrainian immigrants, took me to midnight vigils at the Russian Orthodox church, which I remember as a blur of men in robes speaking a language I did not understand. Between the rule-based rigidity of the Southern Baptists and the incense-filled mysticism of Russian Orthodoxy, a deep curiosity about God began to form in me.”
THE ‘ANOTHER WAY’ METHOD
Did you enjoy reading those one-paragraph stories? Or did that section of this Cover Story seem too long? This is a crucial question the trio raises in this book—and in the programs they have coordinated nationwide. Can we slow down and find enough time to enjoy the story of another person?
That’s really the fulcrum on which their method turns.
In his Foreword to the book, best-selling author and peacemaker Parker Palmer endorses their process as similar to methods he has used himself over the years. One of those similar methods is the peacemaking process developed by Brenda Rosenberg after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001—and that Brenda further evolved with Samia Bahsoun in their 2015 book Harnessing the Power of Tension. They describe their four-fold process as:
Breaking bread together in a hospitable place.
- Listen with compassion to the other.
- Be the other and retell the other’s story to bring clarity.
- Create something new together, a tangible project in the community.
In their new book, Another Way, the trio use the acronym CARE to describe their four-fold process:
C—Create hospitable space.
A—Ask self awakening questions.
R—Reflect theologically together.
E—Enact the next most faithful step.
Brenda and Samia describe their method as coming from the deep traditions of their Jewish and Muslim communities. That’s one reason their method works well in interfaith and cross-cultural settings. Anyone of any faith—or of no faith—can tell and retell and reflect on personal stories.
The Another Way team specializes mainly in working with Christian groups, so their third step of reflecting theologically together works well in congregations and other Christian communities.
However, as Palmer indicates in his Foreword—the distinctions in these methods don’t really matter. The key is the wisdom of building leadership from the grassroots of the community upwards by connecting the lives of men and women on a meaningful level.
So, a key question that will determine how well you’ll respond to Another Way—or any of these related methods—is simply: Can you make time to slow down, sit down in a hospitable setting and share stories with each other?
“What we know is that in the midst of busy periods in our lives—the rat race of running the 9-to-5 every day—people feel they don’t have any breathing space,” Stephen said. “To create transformation within yourself and within your community, you have to create this different kind of place to be together where you can reflect and explore and excavate deeper meaning in your life—and in the life of the community.”
THE GOOD NEWS FOR WEARY ‘LEADERS’
Are the world’s deepening tensions exhausting you as a leader? Or, as an active part of a community, are you afraid that unity and a sense of collective purpose simply isn’t possible anymore?
“We want people to know that there’s good medicine in this book,” said Dori in our interview. “We might say this book is a balm in Gilead.”
If you’re close to giving up on all the angry arguments firing back and forth from deeply entrenched positions these days—once again, this trio says: You’re not alone and that’s why this kind of method, which begins with slowing down and sharing our stories, can spark fresh transformation.
“I have an aversion to dogma,” Matthew put it bluntly in our interview. “And, I think stories are the antidote to dogma. We operate too much of the time in a field where people are always trying to stake out territory based on theological concepts or ideas, most of which were borrowed from a former time. What we’re arguing here is for the wisdom in the theological tradition of reflection and leadership formation that encourages people to take seriously their own stories.”
“A lot of people say they don’t like the lone ranger style of leadership—but we tend to default to it,” Dori said. “This book is about creating a new default setting for leaders. That takes daily attention to reorienting our individual selves. We hope this book is a starting point in that journey.”
CARE TO READ MORE ABOUT ‘ANOTHER WAY’?
VISIT THE FTE WEBSITE—Here’s the Another Way landing page within the Forum for Theological Education website.
GET A POSTER-FORMAT VERSION OF THE MANIFESTO—On the FTE website, you will find this page (and, then, you can save the “jpg” image to print out yourself). It’s a one-page, poster-format version of the group’s manifesto, which also appears on a page in the book. This is a great way to spark a discussion about ideas you’ll find in Another Way. If you’re trying to convince friends, or perhaps the members of your small group, to discuss this book—showing them this intriguing one-page display of provocative quotes can spark lots of curiosity.