I saw something amazing this June. Something rare. Something inspiring. It happened behind-the-scenes at Hume Lake Christian Camps and I simply had to move it from backstage and into to the spotlight. Before I showcase this beautiful sight, let me provide a couple paragraphs of context:

Theoretical Context

As part of Talbot’s Kern Reading group this year, I’ve had the joy of reading (and re-reading) several thought-provoking texts on work, leadership, economics, poverty relief, and the relationship of theology and the church to such matters. On this journey, I happily re-read a chapter from one of my favorite books on organizational leadership, Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges’, Lead Like Jesus: Lessons for Everyone from the Greatest Leadership Role Model of All Time (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005). Taking Jesus as the paradigm for healthy and effective servant leadership, the book outlines “two parts to the servant leadership that Jesus exemplified: 1. A visionary role—setting the course and the destination” and “2. An implementation role—doing things right with a focus on serving” (2005: 84). The authors later provide a helpful list of characteristics of servant leadership; “... servant leadership involves:

  • Setting the purpose or vision
  • Communicating a compelling picture of the future
  • Defining and modeling the values, structure, and behavior you want from people *Creating an environment of empowerment
  • Moving to the bottom of the pyramid to support those who are responsible to serve *Showing respect for everyone
  • Placing the growth and development of people on par with accomplishing the vision” (2005: 113).

In my 18 years of pastoral ministry and 3 years as a professor, I’ve found that it is much easier to fulfil the former elements of servant leadership (providing a clear and captivating vision), than the latter (modeling values, empowering emerging leaders, and moving to “the bottom of the pyramid” to serve). This week at Hume Lake, however, I beheld a living snapshot of servant leadership that I won’t soon forget.

Hume Lake Historical Context

Hume Lake Christian Camps is a ministry that, in my estimation, provides one of the most effective, powerful, and excellent Christian camp experiences in the nation. Ponderosa, Hume Lake’s flagship High School program, ministers to 10,000 campers every summer, and every summer the Lord does mind-blowing work in the lives of the students and counselors. Situated on a lake nestled in the Sequoias, Ponderosa’s ministry is a delicious cocktail of innovative music and media, memory-making camp recreation, and inspiring, gospel-infused chapels. In short, the leaders at the helm of Ponderosa could easily—and almost justifiably—point to Ponderosa and say, “I lead a big deal! I’m pretty important!” Such a leadership ethos of pride and self-importance, however, is completely absent! Instead, the ministry is marked by one of the healthiest leadership cultures I’ve ever scene. This June, while I happened to be backstage for the 2017 Week 1 opener, I saw this in action!

This summer, for the first time in fourteen years, the baton of Ponderosa program leadership passed to a new team: Rachel Closs (a Ponderosa veteran) and Johnny Ardavanis (only a few months on staff). Rachel and Johnny completely knocked it out of the park for Hume Week 1, but it was the way in which the week began that left an indelible mark on me. Rachel and Johnny brought in two generations of Ponderosa leadership to partner with them as they prepared for the big (and I mean BIG!) opener and the first week of the 2017 summer camp season. As I sat backstage, I beheld Rich Baker (on point at Ponderosa for the past 14 years, now a pastor at Arbor Road in Long Beach), Eric Simpson (on point for over a decade before Rich and now a pastor at The Bridge Bible Church in Bakersfield), and Rachel and Johnny lavish encouragement, expertise, and pastoral care on the Ponderosa team. There, before my eyes stood 25 years and three generations of Ponderosa leadership collaborating to empower, serve, and bless the emerging leadership generation. No egos, territorialism, fear, pride, toxic insecurity, self-focused agendas, or power games; just generations of humble leadership united in one purpose: to serve 10,000 high school students and their churches.

Transitions can be difficult. Leadership change in ministry often brings out the ugly. But this June, I saw something amazing at Hume. Something rare. Something inspiring. Something like Jesus.