Chapel Message in honor of President Phipps
Scott Kieffer, associate professor of exercise science, offered the following homily at a January 11 chapel that celebrated the announcement of Kim S. Phipps as Messiah College’s eighth president.
Last week, a 2004 Messiah graduate named John stopped by my office to share his graduate experience in exercise science. Our conversation flowed between his research, life, and the bizarre and unlikely research methodologies that graduate students in exercise physiology must go through for their advisors. It did not take long for our conversation to move to his research environment. You see, John is attending the University of Montana, located minutes away from some of the most spectacular scenery that this country has to offer. As we discussed various sites such as the grandeur of Glacier National Park, the awe you feel the first time you look at Flathead Lake, the feeling of your lungs burning as you hike high into the mountains, the grace of elk moving across the valley, or the fun of strapping on the snow skis in early fall, we were somewhat speechless to describe the beauty God created. After several seconds of silence and trying to find the words, we both smiled and said “ Montana.”
A name—there is something in a name. For John and me, the name “ Montana” describes not only a place but the feelings and emotions that are connected to it. Sometimes a single name is all we need to describe what we seek to explain.
As we reflect and celebrate this week on the appointment of Dr. Kim Phipps as president of Messiah College, I have been struck by the response of most people. There is an overwhelming joy and enthusiasm that “Kim” received the job. Again, there is something in a name.
I was asked today to talk on servant leadership, and I struggled to articulate this paradox. After several rough drafts of wordy definitions to describe this, however, I came up with a definition, and this definition is a single word: “Kim.” Again, there is something in a name—a single name to describe what I seek to explain. A servant–leader. Her leadership has been unprecedented in the recent history of Messiah. Kim has served as the chief academic officer for the past six years and, more recently, has been serving as the interim president. A look at her résumé will reveal her high quality of leadership. However, what does not show up on the resume is the servant heart that she brings to her leadership, the way she places people before herself, and the way she uses relationship and communication to build community.
To help explain things, I tend to look for a story behind the story. As a reflection today, I have chosen the story behind the story of the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:19–20) to help shed light on servant leadership and how each of us have been uniquely called to serve and to lead. In the “Great Commission,” Jesus commands the disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus uses the authority given to him by God to anoint the disciples to go and take the Good News to the world.
I’m sure we have all heard this passage in Sunday school, church, or from our parents. What we miss sometimes, however, is the story behind the story. We know that Jesus was the ultimate example of a servant–leader, but how, exactly? I feel the crux of the commission is not only the actual sending but the journey, relationships, and love among Jesus and his disciples that was established during conversations around the fire, long walks between cities, or trying to make sense of the most recent parable. Jesus knew each disciple. He knew each person by name. There was something in that name—a deep relationship that was built, nurtured, and defined long before the actual sending. He was not only sending out the disciples based upon authority, but he was also sending them with his heart. At this point the followers became the leaders. This is the paradox.
We have come from many parts of the country, walks of life, different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and yet we find ourselves here together, living and learning. All of us are leaders and followers, followers and leaders. Kim, you have found yourself in each of these situations over the past few years. Learning from, and being mentored by, Rodney Sawatsky was truly a unique time in your journey. Now you have been called by name to go out and lead.
This paradox is explored by Randy Reese and Keith Anderson in their book Spiritual Mentoring.
Those who go are those who follow. We are forever students. We are forever taught. Each one of us hears the words of Jesus, first to follow and then to go to teach others to obey. We each stand in a long line of disciples that originated with twelve followers hand-picked by Jesus, the rabbi carpenter of Nazareth.
The kind of teaching that Jesus provided them was very different from the classroom instruction of the academy today. It assumed a relationship and style that made different demands on both rabbi and disciple, teacher and learner, mentor and protégé. More like the work of the master craftsman tutoring the younger apprentice, Jesus’ style of instruction embodied a pedagogy that invested life in the learner through an incarnation of the message being taught. This teaching was not something that was conceptually defined for his disciples as much as it was lived, experienced, tasted, and touched by the learners. Jesus not only spent time instructing, training, and informing; he also spent much time forming a community.
There is something in a name—especially being called by name to lead with the servant attitude modeled in the “Great Commission.” Kim, you have been called by name to lead, but at the same time you have a way of establishing community. I think I speak for many when I say we look forward to your leadership, we look forward to being taught, and we look forward to this part of your and our journey.
Thank you for discerning your call. We look forward to living and learning as you teach us and model for us servant leadership!