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Dr. John Mark Reynolds and Hollie Benton anticipate this year's 2021 conference, Generously Investing in Emerging Leaders. Each challenging presentation is followed by highly-interactive discussion questions, case studies, or small group work. Online participation is available, and attending in person at St. Vladimir's Seminary provides the benefit of networking and deepening relationships across the Church to support the ministry God has entrusted to your care!
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos: a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm pleased to have Dr. John Mark Reynolds joining me today. He is the president of the St. Constantine school in Houston, Texas, and also serves as our fearless chair for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative board of directors. He was provost at Houston Baptist University and the founder of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He writes a daily column for Patheos and is the author or editor of several books and numerous articles. Dr. Reynolds is married to hope and has four adult children. He is a member of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church, where he serves on the parish council. Welcome Dr. Reynolds.
Dr. John Mark Reynolds 0:53
It's really good to be here. I can say that, thank goodness, I have just managed to move off of parish council service for a while. But it's a pretty good example of why Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative is so important. As a person who does other kinds of work inside the church, I found myself early on not particularly ready to be on a parish Council. That's a different kind of job than being provost. A Chief Academic Officer of a major university is a lot of work. I mean, you have hundreds of faculty members, you have to hire people, sometimes you have to help them find new careers. But that's not like being on a parish council. So it's really funny, a lot of people are really good at their jobs, I hope I'm good at my job. But that doesn't prepare us for leadership as lay leaders inside the church. And so one thing I've loved about OCLI is being able to help myself learn about being a lay leader.
Hollie Benton 1:47
Tell us how you first became involved in the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. And why do you think its ministry is needed and useful?
Dr. John Mark Reynolds 1:54
Well, from the very beginning, I was called in by the founders of the organization of Charles Ajalat was one of them, maybe the chief moving force. And he began to talk about the need for, first of all, helping our clergy. We want to lift up the arms of our clergy, to use a biblical image. But we also need lay leadership. The St. Constantine school is named St. Constantine, and St. Constantine wasn't a priest. He's called equal to the apostles. But he was an emperor, he was a ruler, he was a person who governed. We don't live in an empire anymore, Christian or otherwise. And so sometimes I think what we need are a republic of Constantine and Helens. Part of the purpose of the St. Constantine school is to raise up a generation like this, but also inside of our parishes, inside of the business world, inside of other areas of life, can we, as Orthodox people become leaders?
You know, I live in Houston, where air conditioners are critical. And I can witness that I was able to look around our community and find a really honest person who's helping repair our air conditioner, instead of just selling me a new one. This person was a better witness to me as an Orthodox Christian than maybe 1,000 sermons. Instead of working on commission and taking money, he practiced real Orthodox ethics and is helping my family. How can we help many people do that because often our best witness will be inside our workplace, inside our work is a parish council member, where I had so much to learn. You can be good at your day job in one aspect, but not be a good witness for Orthodoxy.
So when Charles and some of the founders began to talk about this, I was very excited. And then when we got the opportunity to bring you on board, Hollie, of course, the organization just went to the next level. So your leadership has been super awesome. It's what it has taken us forward in trying to provide some of the materials that people can see on our website for training, many of which are involved at no cost, but others that are very low cost and can help train parishes and communities in things like ethics, in things like management, and things like going generationally in a church. These are things that OCLI can help with. And so it's an exciting organization.
Hollie Benton 4:11
The founder began a national leadership conference, and this year, we're going to be holding the fifth annual National Leadership Conference.
Dr. John Mark Reynolds 4:18
And live in the flesh like post-COVID. So it's very exciting. Hurrah! Yay!
Hollie Benton 4:24
Yeah, that's right. It's super exciting. So the theme for this conference is "Generously Investing in Emerging Leaders" which St. Vladimir's Seminary will host on its campus September 17 through 19. The Assembly of Bishops has also called this the "year of the youth". And this might be the only conference of its kind where we are intentionally bringing together both emerging and seasoned leaders to encourage one another in the body of Christ and really to engage in collaborative multi-generational ministry. Dr. Reynolds, in your words, who should attend and why?
Dr. John Mark Reynolds 4:57
Well, I guess anyone should attend that's either on my end of things, I'm in the third fourth quarter of my career, which means in some ways, the most fruitful part of my career. But I'm also at the stage where my job is to bring up the next generation of emerging leaders. Who should be the next president of the st. Constantine school? Where can we look for future St. Constantine schools? What locations? How can we bring in the next generation? And so as a seasoned leader-another way of saying old for some of us-but as a seasoned leader, I should be attending to get help in finishing well, because very often, founders do a great job at founding, and then they don't do a great job at passing on the torch. They've heard everything I have to say, they've benefited from whatever I have to do, it's time for me to move on. And let another generation of leadership go forward. In this way, that's a tricky thing to do.
But if you're in my position, you should go. But you should also find and bring along and if you're one of these people, and you can come, and your emerging leader, you should find someone to work with to be mentored, so that we can generationally pass the torch, from one place to another. Even in business circles, I'm told that Orthodoxy itself in all of our communities, has literally billions of dollars of wealth that's about to transition from one business generation to the next business generation. Are we including the things of God in those plans? Are we including what we should be doing? Is the next generation bought into values of giving so that our grandparents and our great grandparents won't have brought Orthodoxy to the shores of North America, only to have the third or fourth generation cause it to disappear? These are all important things that we'll be talking about, and they're very exciting, whatever position you're inside, in the spectrum of leadership, there's no success without a successor.
Hollie Benton 6:52
At this conference, we're going to have a lot of really great speakers this year, people who they themselves are generously investing in emerging leaders through the nonprofit and archdiocesan ministries that they lead. For example, Fr. Elias Dorham, he's a certified and executive leadership coach, he will explore how repentance shapes leadership and attitude of metanoia. With God's help, he says we can approach our call as leaders with fear and trembling, realizing that the leader stands alongside as a helping servant, not above as one superior to those being led.
Dr. John Mark Reynolds 7:25
Yeah, I'm most interested in some ways, as a person who has worked for 35 years inside of higher education dealing with 18 to 22-year olds, and helping them transition from childhood to mature, I hope, Christian adulthood. In hearing from Steven Christoforou, the director of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the GOYA, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. And a interesting problem that we have in the United States that he's going to help us deal with is the failure to have these rites of passages for Orthodox people, unless you're lucky enough to go to a place like this St. Constantine School, which most people can't do. Why do we like these rites of passages?
Well, if you think about it, the Orthodox Church is set up for a healthy society. And in a healthy society, a Christian community, village, or even state--and by that I don't mean that theocracy, but just a majority Orthodox village or community--is providing the rites of passage from childhood to young adulthood as a natural part of growing up with grandparents, and parents and moving into the family business and getting married and having children. And of course, the church is part of that, you know, begins as an infant, you're chrismated, and then you're married, and eventually buried inside the church. But you'll notice that between chrismation and marriage, if people decide to get married, in our society, that there really aren't rites of passages for Orthodox people, because in some ways in a natural, healthy society, those are provided by an Orthodox community--by the secular leadership that I was talking about earlier. So what do we do? How do we make sure that those rites of passage are developed? And so I'm really looking forward to a lecture that can help us begin to establish a kind of lived and embodied theology of practice.
Hollie Benton 9:26
Michelle Moujaes, she's the director of Faithtree resources. She'll be presenting on "Walk with Me", the mentoring gap and what we can do about it. You know, so many of our people in America retire and what's left for them is jetsetting and visiting the grandkids and other than their grandchildren, there's so many lost opportunities for pouring into the lives of other young adults in the community. Michelle suggests that formal mentorship opportunities can really play a vital role in opening doors, cultivating new skill sets and supporting new pathways for emerging leaders and industry and business. This is even more true for the body of Christ, whether it's at the local parish or at a regional or national level. Research suggests that many emerging leaders in the church formal, consistent and ongoing mentorship opportunities are really few and far between. So let's discuss ways to be thoughtfully participating in closing that mentoring gap for the benefit of the church and the glory of God.
Dr. John Mark Reynolds 10:23
Yeah, what you see time and time again, a part of my job has been to look at 18 to 22 year olds, for example, and see, why do they persist in going to church. But what are the best marks? And it will shock no one to discover that the number one thing is parenting. But then as people move from childhood, what causes persistence is this kind of mentor. In our society, we don't divide up so much by age, as we do by profession. You'll notice inside our Sunday school programs, Hollie, that we still subdivide people by age. As a 50-something I have a lot in common with other 50-somethings watching my cholesterol. But other more interesting topics, that may not be the same as a 20-something. On the other hand, most of my life is organized around my job. And that's true of a lot of people, whether you're a farmer or an educator, or an air conditioner-repair person. That's how you talk. That's how you discuss most of your day. And we do very little to help young adults find mentors inside the church in their professions, that begins to mentor the student into how to see that as part of their life in faith.
And so talking about this mentoring level, when we get kids beyond the, "I'm a little kid, I'm going to church, I'm mostly going because my parents have habituated me to do it. Now I'm moving into the young, professional period." This is when the vast majority of people who leave the church and never come back, leave the church. And it's rarely, simply because there's some doctrinal or ethical issue that people don't agree with. People don't persist often, because they don't see a place for themselves. And so I look forward to this. For example, Fr. Kosmas Kallis who's the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, we'll be talking about engaging youth and young adults, then not just in their profession, but the actual work in ministry of the church.
There'll be a panel discussion with other leaders, where there will be candid talk about the challenges and opportunities that are faced in these early life decisions and transitions, including starting a family. People delay starting a family, but most people still get married, most people still have children. And so how do we do that in a new situation, where there may be a fairly long period of time, and there usually is nowadays, between graduation from college and marriage? Nowadays, people kind of get their start in business, they get their start in grad school and finish grad school, much more normal to get married post 25, 26, 27, 28 years old. How do we make that transition? What does that period of time look like? And it's exciting to me that we'll have a group of people talking about that.
Hollie Benton 13:14
Yeah and thinking back to the mentoring Katrina Bitar is going to talk to us about considering our motivations for mentoring. I think sometimes, we're really motivated by the fear that we're losing our young people. And so we think that if we just tell them or beg them, or cry that they're not in the church that they'll come or if we teach them to make the coffee that somehow they feel like they're included, and she's really going to be talking about the motivations around why engage with the youth? Is it really because we want them to validate our own identity and our own religion and who we are? Or is it because we really are wanting to participate in their lives and see them as a part of the body of Christ and integrate them into the ministry of the parish and collaborate with them and explore their ideas and new ways of doing things. So Katrina Bitar, Director of Youth Equipped to Serve, is really going to be having us explore those motivations and really coming to terms with those.
Dr. John Mark Reynolds 14:14
You know, Hollie, that's really hard. What I found so often, and we make excuses about this. Let's realize that inside of Orthodoxy, let's assume that Orthodoxy-the teachings, and practice-Orthopraxy of the church, are not up for grabs. It's not like generationally, we decide, "Oh, the Trinity. We need to improve on that." This is the great thing about being Orthodox. But sometimes we use worries about change in those areas to keep us from handing over power. Real mentoring ultimately as the mentor, handing over real power and decision making about areas that have nothing to do with Orthodoxy or Orthopraxis, that may have to do with the culture of the church. The way we do coffee-hour, or do we do coffee-hour? Do people still drink coffee generationally, or do we need other beverages? Is there something else that we could do? I've noticed over the course of my life, that real mentoring means, we're talking about some people that I've mentored that now serve with me at a cabinet level--means turning over power, it meant having 25 year olds say, I think we should go left. And I thought we should go right. And sometimes I was right. And sometimes I was wrong. But letting that person exercise, both in the parish, in the business world where I was working, real power, make real decisions about things that are negotiable, and not confusing the non-negotiables with the negotiables.
How we do things is, of course, the Liturgy, a deep part of Orthodoxy. But there are so many parts of our life and how we do business that are not part of the unchangeable deposit of faith, where real mentoring will allow us to do that and Presbytera Anna Kallis, who's the project director of TelosGamma, will be helping us begin to think about intergenerational ministry? How do people work together, who are very far apart in age, again, socially and in other ways? Both the church and society tends to process into demographic groups that are pretty unrelated to real life? How do we do it inside of leadership inside the church, so that we don't have a cohort of disaffected older folk grousing about those young people and yelling at the heavens for them to get off the grass, while simultaneously having young folk just slip away because older people are also stereotyped.
Hollie Benton 16:37
That's right. Fr. Timothy Hojnicki teaches at the St. Raphael school and his parish is very involved with their local OCF and Fr. Timothy who will really talk about that time of transition from high school into college and what parishes can do to be warm and welcoming. And really what college students can do to prepare for that transition to following his presentation will be a panel discussion, including Dimitri Rentel who works with OCA youth, Kyra Limberakis is the crossroad director, again, there going to be a great panel discussion with voices of youth-younger people who are involved in this transition as we speak. We'll get to hear from them what's working well, what's the challenge, the parishes who are warm and welcoming, what is it that they're doing on practical terms to really keep people engaged into the life of the church. You know, it takes a village to raise a child. So even though they're not your children, it's our duty and responsibility to care for them while they're in this university town. So I'm really excited about actually having those conversations on both sides and not making assumptions of either side.
Dr. John Mark Reynolds 17:46
That's right, nor always being in a posture of being defensive. Not like there was never a golden age that we should longed to return to, and nor do we live in the worst of times, in so many areas, we're going to have to listen, listen to people who aren't us, and serve people actually do things. This is why I think probably the most popular or the most beloved pan orthodox organization has to be the Orthodox Christian Fellowship. And we'll be lucky enough to hear from Christina Andresen, who's the Director of Ministries, who will be in to talk about responsibility, gratitude and generosity. We have a certain responsibility. We're talking about this transition in wealth, where people my parents age are handing over resources to people my age, that transition is a big deal in a lot of families. How do we do that? How are we generous? How do we take responsibility in our own lives? How do we do things that we do out of gratitude? How do we turn even giving or our own finances into an act of worship, an act of praise, not an obligation, but of service?
We all like to look at the wonderful work that a group like OCF does is they work with college students, but who pays for it? Who makes sure that that gets done? I mean, if you're not going to a school like St. Constantine, are you going to be picked up by one of the many Protestant campus organizations? Listen, that's not worst thing that can happen to you, you could also be isolated and just drift away from the Christian faith altogether, never darkening the door of the parish again, because nobody reaches out to you. You have people working very hard in campuses to try to keep people engaged. How do we pay for that?
Hollie Benton 19:32
That's right, Fr. Luke Veronis who has been a former missionary in Albania and Africa through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center will also be speaking at this event, really thinking about all the choices that we have. And when we're going through those transitions, you know, moving into college and then post college into grad school or different careers and all the choices that we're faced with in terms of moving and what best decision to make. A lot of times we have to make those decisions based on an income, and possibly around who's there, who do I know, who are my friends, who are my people. But I think he's really going to give us a great challenge to remind us that our call is really to serve the gospel of Christ in whatever we do. And sometimes for some people who are called it really is that courageous decision to give their life in service to the teaching of the Gospels. I think that'll be a great way to end the conference to is just to have that reminder around the Great Commission.
Dr. John Mark Reynolds 20:33
I have to say, I love all the speakers. I've been to every one of these conferences, and I've enjoyed every one. But the thing I enjoy most is the between times where you get to just hang out with all the smart people that Hollie you make sure get there. And I get to pick their brains and say, "But what about this? And [my favorite thought about something]" And they say, "Well, that's, that's a silly idea. Have you ever considered this other point of view?" And I think, "Right, I hope I remember to quote you as I steal that and use it for the rest of my life." So this is a marketplace of ideas of Orthodox ideas, where people... it's just very rich, the discussion is very rich.
Hollie Benton 21:11
So our listeners really have many options for getting involved with this year's conference, go to OrthodoxServantLeaders.com. Click on Events. September 17 through 19. Of course, we'd love to see you on site at St Vladimir's. But we also have online options as well. Once pandemic restrictions lifting, we really need to connect and roll up our sleeves for this important work of collaborative intergenerational ministry. We do have significantly discounted registration options for Emerging Leaders under 30. And a discount for clergy. We need to have seasoned leaders attending to those who really care about succession planning and mentoring and just overall parish health, not only at local levels, but those who care about the engagement of Christians of all ages to hear and to do the work of the gospel in our own country and across the globe. This conference offers an opportunity to come together in a spirit of Christian unity, to encourage one another and to do meaningful work of investing in emerging leaders.
Dr. John Mark Reynolds 22:09
There are lots of things people can do to support the conference, the biggest thing they can do is pray for us. The next biggest thing is to attend. There's nothing like being incarnate. For God so loved the world that he didn't set up a Zoom meeting. He came and took on the form of a man He emptied himself to be there, to be there with Jesus, it was a priceless experience. Nobody would have chosen to Zoom in. But we do understand that people have to do online, there are lots of things that I do online, because I don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. So attend if you can. Pray for us, for sure. If you can't come to attend online.
But I have no shame. And I will say the St. Constantine school in the college will be a sponsor of this event. And Why will we be a sponsor of this event? We're with the next generation of teachers come from where the next generation of professors come from? Where will the next generation of donors for the st. Constantine school? Look, Hollie, we wouldn't exist if it weren't for a generous group of Orthodox business leaders who stood behind the school and have given it the runway. That wouldn't be possible without generosity. OCI is an organization that really needs your sponsorship and your generosity. If you were sitting here thinking, "Yes, by golly, somebody should help those kids, somebody should make sure that there is mentoring." And maybe you're not in a position to mentor yourself that you could sponsor an under 30, to come to a conference, think of the riches just being at St. Vlads. And going to church, how many vocations can come out of a conference like this, but how many vocations in a business area where the next generation of leaders can come? Probably the third most important thing you can do other than pray and attend is to sponsor somebody else to attend. For many people my age or older, it might be more important to have your business, your organization, somebody, sponsor an event like this and make sure that people--like priests--our clergy are not overpaid. Let's be candid. And like our under 30s, I don't want to tell you how much I get paid in my first job. Even in today's dollars, I wouldn't have been able to go to a conference like this. I wouldn't have been able to dream of it. And so can somebody sponsor this and help make it happen? That's what we need.
Hollie Benton 24:22
That's right. You know, I really think it's the mentoring, the teaching, really investing in the lives of others that really deeply engages everyone in the body of Christ, regardless of age--young and old alike. I'm really excited for this year's conference. And I believe it can really spark a revitalization and recommitment to the work of the gospel and fellowship in Christ, post-pandemic. Dr. Reynolds, what are your hopes for this conference?
Dr. John Mark Reynolds 24:48
I think first of all, thank God, it will be just to hang out with people that I like and know or have always wanted to meet in the flesh. I just did the "Go back to the doctor and find out everything that's wrong with you after a year of not being able to go to the doctor or the dentist" and catching up, and that is both pleasant and unpleasant. But I think in a conference like this, it will be purely pleasant as we catch up on relationships as we remit some of our community relationships, and sometimes by meeting people for the first time, and deepening our connection to the global Church. So I look forward to that. And the second thing I look forward to is just learning. I never come to a conference like this without thinking, "I wish I thought of this. I wish I had heard of this earlier in my career." And then I begin to implement things I've heard. How much better it will be for someone who comes who's earlier in their career than I am. But if you're in my position, or even later in your career, hey, because of medicine, we live longer. And so what are we going to do with you know, that third and fourth quarters of our lives, that's where we can begin to learn and implement to so I'm just excited about learning. Can't wait.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai