Leadership That Mirrors God’s Image
By Rebekah Woods and Robert H. Woods Jr.
As a full-time administrator (Rebekah) and faculty member (Robert) in higher education, we are challenged to live out our faith in an arena that elevates and prizes intellect and reason above faith. At times, higher education can be downright hostile toward anything resembling individual expressions of personal faith. Regardless, we do not shy away from sharing our faith if asked about it, but we choose not to wear it on our sleeves.
So how do we faithfully integrate our faith with our professional work in mainstream settings in ways that allow us to lead effectively and transform lives? Put another way, how do we “preach the gospel” without being preachy?
To be made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28) means, in part, that we can carry out activities in ways that mirror God and His work in the world. For instance, we can “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15, NIV). In rejoicing, we draw attention to others’ good work and accomplishments. In mourning, we weep as others weep and are wounded as they are wounded. In so doing, we authentically live out the gospel and deeply reflect the work of God.
We can also mirror God in our leadership roles as we exhibit certain capacities that distinguish human beings from the rest of creation. For instance, we can model clear, rational thinking that is supported by sound arguments and solid evidence. We can “do the right things” even when doing them causes personal discomfort or embarrassment. We can offer innovative, imaginative ideas and solutions to complex problems. As we do these things, we image God’s rationality, morality and creativity.
Moreover, since human beings are made in the image of God, they are inherently worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of what they believe. In the Christian tradition of agape, to love another human being means to accept that individual as he or she is. Human beings have value apart from ever-changing conditions. As we love others, we become more like God.
Leadership that mirrors God’s image, then, starts with loving people (although this can be much easier said than done). We choose to see people as they are—warts and all. We all have so much in common, yet so often all we see are the differences. What do we have in common? As image bearers, we are relational beings. We are all looking for somewhere to fit in, to make connections, to feel comfortable and to be ourselves. We are looking for someone to listen to us, not judge us, and to understand us and encourage us.
At our institutions, we see students from all walks of life. For some, our schools offer a chance they thought they would never have. Some start with us before transferring to another college. Some are the first in their families to attend college. Others come to school for the first time, late in life. They may be getting a second chance after years of bad choices. Regardless of the position our students might find themselves in, the grace and mercy that brought them this far we extend as well.
Opportunities to demonstrate love abound every day in all of our ventures. In the heat of a contract negotiation or discussion of ideas, we treat our colleagues with dignity and respect no matter how much we disagree with them or challenge their ideas. Exchanging snide remark for snide remark does not promote peace and harmony. We treat others in ways we want to be treated. We expect the same respectful and collegial behavior of others. We do not allow others to be bullied, mistreated or verbally abused. If we see these behaviors, we take action to confront and hold individuals accountable for inappropriate behaviors.
Our work is an act of worship unto the Lord. Our commitment to excellence in all we do is others-centered. Any promotions, awards or accolades are blessings from God that we are grateful for, but we are aware that it is He who has made them possible. Preaching the gospel without being preachy comes as we image God closely. As we image God closely, we become more like Jesus Christ.