As the 2018 school year kicks off, a former school leader offers some advice for this year's cohort.
Even though it was seven years ago that I graduated from Marcellin College in Melbourne, I vividly recall key moments faced as a Year 12 leader. Leading into the 2011 academic year, as a somewhat apprehensive 17-year-old, I found it challenging to understand what it was to be a 'faith-filled leader'. As a senior student leader, it is understood that your number one priority is to represent the student body.
However, as a Catholic student, you are called to leadership beyond this more restricted view, to engage in prophetic leadership. For me, this simply means incorporating God in all that I do.
Currently I work as a youth minister for the Marist Brothers Province of Australia. In this position I am extremely fortunate to work with school leaders from across the country.
One of the biggest myths regarding being a student leader is that once the badge is placed on your blazer, it automatically holds you above your peers. This is far from the truth. As a prophetic leader, we must dispel this myth, leading with a heart that is both sympathetic and empathetic to those around us.
As a prophetic leader, it is through our relationships, our exchanges and our eagerness to be rooted in Jesus in all that we do, that we will begin to find our own voices as leaders and helpers. As we grow in this role, it's perhaps not surprising to find that humility is often an integral part of this.
Jesus, as usual, is at the core of all we do. Recognising Christ in others is imperative to living out our lives as prophetic leaders. This can involve small actions, such as simply being present with others, having an attentive ear, as well as being open to new ideas from peers, staff and fellow leaders. Through these small actions, we create a bigger impact than we can realise.
As well, there are questions we can ask to improve each interaction we're involved in. My current spiritual director challenges and emboldens me to recognise aspects of Jesus in everyone I meet, and in all contacts I have. So, ask yourself;'Where is Jesus in this conversation?', 'How is Jesus present in this person?', 'Where is Jesus calling me to next?'
Regularly asking these simple reflective questions can help you recognise the constant and loving presence of Jesus in all that you do.
Being a year 12 student leader is enjoyable, frustrating, rewarding and time-consuming all at once. Among all this, finding time to be with God can be difficult. However, as Joe McCarthy (Deputy of the Marist Association) once told me, God doesn't work in our lives through a linear or straightforward timeline. God works more in the genre of 'chaos and spontaneity'.
A spiritual awakening can happen at any time, both in deliberately prayerful and reflective spaces, and at other times in most unexpected moments.
Learning from Mary
Another model of leadership is Mary. Everything we do requires an open mind and gentle heart. With Mary as our model, we are invited to ponder what God is doing as we attempt to discern his plans for us. We're allowed to question, to ask God to give us understanding for what we simply can't comprehend. In fact, it is perfectly normal to question, challenge and seek God. Know that you're not alone in this.
Mary was a woman who allowed God into her life, even when she least expected it. She also had the ability to assist those around her in living up to their full potential. Prophetic leadership is exactly this - outward thinking! Strive to focus during your year on the welfare of others, especially those that you can feel need your presence the most.
Justice and outreach
Prophetic leadership must involve justice and outreach. Today, the need for justice can seem desperate, in both church and secular contexts. Justice can seem ignored or corrupted, whether we consider countries wracked by violence and hostility or the moral failure of our treatment of refugees. We long for voices of wisdom and compassion to help us find just, equitable paths into the future. As leaders within your school, I challenge you to create spaces for your school community to:
- Get involved in justice programs and ministries,
- Challenge the status quo and
- Eliminate the stigmas of co-curricular programs aiming to create service to those in need.
Being a prophetic student leader is not an easy task. It requires contemplation, action and patience. However, it is extremely worthwhile taking that extra minute each day to be still, to listen, to just simply be. This propels us to grow more as an individual and as servant leaders.
I invite you to make 2018 a year of community and contemplation, and overall, a year of enjoyment.
Know that God is always with you, guiding you in all you do, beyond the challenges, triumphs, limitations and any other circumstances you will face in 2018.
Say 'yes' to God's unexpected plan.
What does it mean to be a prophetic leader?
Click here for an exclusive Australian Catholics video featuring reflections on leadership from this year's student leaders at Marist schools across Australia.
Click here for links to classroom activities.