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Leading the Mission: To Be One Who Casts Light and Confronts Shadows in Leadership

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This is one of my final assignments for the ACU course in Leading Mission in Catholic Organisations. It gives you some insight into my ongoing development as an authentic person, retreat facilitator and follower of Jesus. I share this to offer you some fellowship and confidence as we all grow in understanding and skills as leaders of the mission.

One who Casts Light

The most important thing I learnt from this unit is how to cast more light as a leader through cultivating the skills to be a more authentic, self-transcending learner and leader, a more courageous confronter of shadows and a more grateful, creative follower of Jesus’ mission.  Firstly, I will discuss how helpful I found Lonergan’s explanation of how a person truly learns, leads and loves to be for my retreats ministry.  Secondly, I will discuss my experience of stepping into the vulnerable space of confronting shadows privately and in the Catholic culture of today help me to become a healthier and more whole-hearted facilitator.  Finally, I will share with you my first mission statement which is a very helpful take-away for me from this unit.

“Human authenticity is a matter of following the built-in law of the human spirit.” [1]   

Lonergan’s explanation of self, moral and religious transcendence was very helpful for me to learn.  As a retreat facilitator I am fascinated to learn how a person can most authentically learn, decide, act, lead and love. His work will inform my approach to retreats in general to bring out the best in the participants, to explain the importance of moving from selfish or pleasure/pain motives to motives of living by worthwhile, good values and to inspire them to fall more in love with the world and with God.   I got a lot out of the group process of asking questions about a work issue through being attentive, intelligent, reflective, responsible and I am sure that retreat participants would benefit greatly, too.  Specifically, my reflection questions for the participants will be influenced by these questions when appropriate, to encourage them to reach for their potential in understanding their own stories and leading authentic lives.  

I particularly enjoyed his inclusive and beautiful explanation of religious conversion, especially how he says that being in love is a stabiliser for living noble values amidst challenges.  I will incorporate that content into some of my retreat presentations.  It fills in some gaps for me between living by values and where to get the power to be able to live a self-transcendent life.  Cognitive identification of values to live by is a great first step, but retreat participants will be doubly empowered if they are also encouraged to fill up the deep well within by falling in love with the world, humanity, nature, God, family, community, the poor and thereby unleash their full capacity to give of themselves for the other, as God does.

“Religious love is the basic fulfilment of our conscious intentionality, of our questions for intelligence, for reflection, for deliberation. It is a fulfilment that brings a deep-set joy that can remain despite humiliation, failure, privation, pain, betrayal, desertion. That fulfilment brings a radical peace, the peace that the world cannot give. That fulfilment bears fruit in a love of one’s neighbor that strives mightily to bring about the kingdom of God on this earth.” [2]  

In a different part of my ‘Experience Wellbeing’ ministry/business, Lonergan’s questions help me navigate challenging experiences with clients (those staff members who book me to facilitate a retreat).  As a sole operator, I feel a particular vulnerability when my client gives negative feedback and this theory will help me reach a better, whole-picture understanding more accurately.   My goal is to find a small group of sole operators to share the commitment to Lonergan’s authentic learning, leading and loving with.  It would be fantastic to apply the process we enjoyed in class to our small business challenges so we can develop our skills for attentiveness, intelligence, responsibility and understanding as professionals and benefit from each other’s questioning and insights.

“This includes a willingness to address forthrightly whatever hinders the process of understanding in oneself and in one’s organisation.” [3]  

Building on Lonergan’s theory, Stebbins challenges me to be an effective leader by pursuing the correct understanding of myself and those I lead by attentively cultivating an authentic way of knowing, acting and loving and I find Brene Brown’s work echoes these ideas.[4]  To be an authentic retreat facilitator, I must have the courage to ask sensitive, scary questions and overcome challenges that hold me back in my private life.  Otherwise, I at least prevent an abundance of light to nourish my relationships with clients and retreat participants due to a lack of energy, clarity, confidence and peace and at worst I start casting shadows.  This has been difficult, tiring work but it is very helpful and fortifying as I have become more peace-filled and resilient through discovering and putting into practice the resources I found and I look forward to how much freer I will be in my retreats as a result. 

Johnson’s prompt to investigate and deal with the shadows of leadership extended this reflection process for me.  We cannot become light-giving leaders if we never talk about the shadows of leadership. I have journaled on my own power and privilege as a facilitator, and its risk of shadows and potential for light, using some prompting questions from the lectures.  I want to use my power to create conditions for retreat participants to grow and to recognise that my spirituality is at the core of my work and effects the outcome for the students and staff I work for.  For example, I will be conscious of offering small and big affirmations and invitations to ensure the participants feel safe, respected and involved and that the conditions of the retreat allow them to flourish as a result[5].   

Johnson and the ‘Spotlight’ movie also prodded me to think about the systemic shadows in the Catholic church.  The movie was confronting for me and made me feel re-sensitised to the gravity of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.  I will endeavour to use more creative, agency-affirming, all-encompassing language when encouraging participants to connect with the mission of Jesus, together with the rest of the Church.  For example, I became aware that the way I had been referring to connecting retreat participants to ‘the Church’ unintentionally prescribed a passive relationship between them and the traditional capital ‘C’ Church.  This missed a crucial opportunity to welcome, include and encourage participants and decision-makers to be change agents in our Church as well as to shine a light on God’s bigger mission beyond the confines of the Catholic community.  A specific example to demonstrate is that I changed a few sentences in my drafting of my guiding principles in my mission statement.

From: “Connection to Church builds resilience for participants”

To: “Finding new ways to follow Jesus personally and communally builds resilience as participants are strengthened by growing in God’s love and by joining our large, diverse and creative pilgrim Church community.” 

This unit has been such a valuable experience as I was guided to write a mission statement, vision, values and guiding principles for my ministry.  The concept that my retreat ministry does not have a mission, but Jesus’ mission has my retreat ministry is very reassuring and grounding for me. 

“The church does not so much have a mission as that the mission has a church. The church is not about itself; it is about the Reign of God that it preaches, serves and witnesses to, and this makes all the difference.” [6]

I am struggling to find a way to balance a confident, professional voice and a humble, grace-dependent voice, considering that I am only doing this ministry as a grateful response to God’s grace but I want to instil confidence in faith formation for staff.  I am still to work out how to make that clear.  This is now on my ‘About’ page on my website. 

The journey to become a whole-hearted, authentic retreat facilitator is a lifelong process of learning, leading and loving, confronting shadows and seeking out the leadership of Jesus and the creative, pilgrim Church.  This unit has offered me such deeply rich resources for my ongoing professional and personal development and I am very grateful.  The profound and practical teachings from the course have empowered me as a leader, facilitator, business-woman, family member and Christian.  I look forward to implementing the lessons and growing as an authentic leader who allows more light into her own self so she can cast more light for others.

Bibliography

Lonergan, Bernard J.F. “Self-Transcendence: Intellectual, Moral, Religious,” in Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, vol. 17. Edited by Robert C. Croken and Robert M. Doran. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

Bevans, Stephen. “The Mission Has A Church, The Mission Has Ministers.” Compass 43 (2009): 3-14

Stebbins, J. Michael. ‘Leadership, Discernment, and the Elusiveness of Understanding.’ In Business as a Calling: Interdisciplinary Essays on the Meaning of Business from the Catholic Social Tradition. Edited by Michael Naughton and Stephanie Rumpza, ch 13. 2004.

Johnson, Craig E. Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow.  Los Angeles: Sage: 2012.

Jacobs-Vandegeer, Dr Christiaan.  THCT505: Leading the Mission in Catholic Organisations Lecture Notes.  Sydney:  ACU:  2019.


1.   Bernard J.F. Lonergan, “Self-Transcendence: Intellectual, Moral, Religious,” in Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, vol. 17. ed. Robert C. Croken and Robert M. Doran. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 318-325.

2.  Lonergan, “Self-Transcendence,” 326.

3.  Michael J. Stebbins, ‘Leadership, Discernment, and the Elusiveness of Understanding,’ in Business as a Calling: Interdisciplinary Essays on the Meaning of Business from the Catholic Social Tradition, ed. Michael Naughton and Stephanie Rumpza, ch 13. (2004), 7.

4.  Dr Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer,  THCT505: Leading the Mission in Catholic Organisations Lecture Notes.  (Sydney:  ACU:  2019).

5.  Craig E. Johnson, Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow.  (Los Angeles: Sage: 2012). 4-12.

6.  Stephen Bevans, “The Mission Has A Church, The Mission Has Ministers.” Compass 43 (2009): 3.