Hidden Leaders

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Laura Cheifetz is curating a series on leadership development. These blog posts are by people who have been developed as leaders and who, in turn, develop leaders. They are insightful and focused. They offer lessons. What does leadership development look like in your own context? What could it be? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Richard Williams

In reflecting on how we church folk often think about leadership, it seems we take a pretty singular approach. Considering movie analogies, we seem to think more “The Right Stuff”, and less “Hidden Figures.” We are captivated by the myth of the single, solitary, decisive leader. Our imaginations are much less developed when we try to picture leadership not as a single crown, but rather as a community’s effort — mutual and shared at its foundation.

Photo from Young Adult Volunteer Facebook page

The Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program lists leadership development as a core tenet. We encourage participants and staff alike to imagine a wider view of the concept in their year of service. Central in the program’s thinking is a reliance on the Reformed tradition’s insistence that every person is called to serve Christ in world. In this one-year opportunity for young adults to serve alongside local organizations, both in the US and around the world, we aim to meet every young adult where they are in their capacity to be a faithful leader, but to leave none of them in the same place by year’s end. We work to see all of them move, grow, and develop, knowing that process will be different for each volunteer; as different as each of their calls.

Our goals for leadership development results in an intentional shift from focusing solely on the “typical” candidate that meet our society’s unexamined personality markers of stature, outspokenness, and confidence, as well as the identity biases of race, class, and gender and sexuality. Our program’s internal shorthand is that we aren’t only about making the sharpest pencils in the box sharper, but about finding a way for all the pencils in the box to be sharpened into their full potential. While we have all been shaped by images of leadership that are mainly white male dominant, as people of faith we must recognize and embrace different forms of leadership, and then work to change our systems to nurture, develop, call, and support them.
This type of leadership development results in inviting and preparing for a broad section of people to consider engaging in faithful service and leadership development. This makes our work both exciting and timely.

Leadership development is not a quick fix, with results you can see in a few hours or a few months’ time. This is very different than what we are used to seeing, particularly in today’s (insert like, star, crying emoji here) social media culture. Leadership development is on a generational timescale, not the ‘what’s trending’ timescale. A colleague of mine in another faith-based service program shares that they really only look to measure the ‘outcomes’ of their program five years after a participant ended their service. As programs and institutions that are involved in shaping leadership for our church and world (committees on preparation for ministry, seminaries, local congregations, and programs like YAV) we all must be intentional in looking for the long term impact of our work, because these leaders will be responsible for following God’s call and leading our church after most of us reading this blog post are long gone.

I find no greater satisfaction than working with young adults as they continue to seek faithful ways to grow in leadership for our church and our world. As a disillusioned GenXer, I am constantly surprised by how much my work with rising leaders in the YAV program gives me hope and confidence in God’s future. It will be different than where we are right now — thanks be to God. And it will be richer in God’s possibilities — thanks be to God.


Richard Williams is the coordinator of the PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer Program, a faith-based year-long service experience. He served as a YAV in the Philippines and in Nashville, TN. Richard has served in congregational ministry, campus ministry, and most recently as a Mission coworker in Colombia, South America. Richard is married to Mamie Broadhurst (also a YAV alum!) and lives in Louisville, KY, with their daughter. An aspiring biker, he is always looking to find more ways to make trips on two wheels instead of four.