The Opportunity to Lead

Last night was the college football national championship game. Just in case you are not a sports fan and might be turned off by an article about a college football game, I encourage you to hang on and see where this story takes us!

First, a spoiler alert: University of Michigan won! The coach of Michigan is Jim Harbaugh. He is also a Michigan alum. Jim comes from a coaching family and a family of champions. His father, Jack, won a Division II football national championship in 2002. His brother, John, won a Superbowl in 2012. Now Jim has won a Division I national championship. Quite an achievement for one family!

So much can be said about the influence our parents and siblings have upon us. Some of our pastors are multigenerational ministers with siblings and even children also in ordained ministry. For others, the historic opportunity for ministry in mainline churches simply didn’t exist because of gender or race. Andrew Gardner writes: “Seminaries and divinity schools emerged in the early 19th century for the purpose of educating white men destined to ‘settle’ congregations across the growing American landscape. These schools were not founded to educate black men, nor were they founded to educate women.”

Jim, Jack, and John Harbaugh overcame tremendous challenges to become a championship family. What does this accomplishment look like through the lens of race? There are 15 black head coaches in college Division I out of 133 schools. There are 4 black head coaches out of 32 teams in the NFL (70% of NFL players are black, and all 4 coaches led teams to the playoffs this year). Yet there are 3 head coaches in one family, the Harbaughs!

I don’t want to take anything away from the achievement of the Harbaugh men. But so often these achievements are the fruit of opportunity and privilege that others simply don’t have.

The fight for racial equity and opportunity is ongoing. The problem is not solved because of one visible black pastor or a few leaders of color. We are still fighting the gender battle along with creating welcome space for LGBTQA+ leaders. The Presbytery of Chicago continues to “dismantle the evils of racism and white supremacy embedded in our structures.”

As churches and other leadership opportunities open in 2024, perhaps we should ask how our churches can welcome diversity in leadership? This may mean being open to non-traditional pathways and intentionally reaching out to those who traditionally have been left out or kept out.

Even as I chant “Go Big Blue!” I also pray that others have the opportunity to demonstrate their gifts and skills, and we work to remove the racial and gender impediments to leadership and ministry in the Presbytery of Chicago.

Rev. Dr. Craig Howard