Augustine and Leadership Development Over Distance

Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, left a clear legacy of leaders in his wake.  As I have mentioned before, I recently read a good book called Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders by Edward Smither.  In this book Smither lays out a five fold approach that Augustine used to actively mentor and raise up leaders around him.  As I have reflected more on this paradigm it struck me that this may actually be a credible way to do leadership development over distance.  In today’s world there is a lot of distance mentoring that must take place.  Consider this ancient approach as a possible paradigm for today.

1. The Monastery Augustine’s monastery in Hippo was well known.  In that location he brought together hundreds of men for the purpose of developing community.  In this communal setting the men engaged in common work, prayer, meals, Bible study, and intentional discussion.  I think clearly the emphasis was on community.  If you have leaders under you that you are trying to influence there is a need for community to be created among them and with them.  I think this can be done a number of ways.  But I would suggest that as often as possible it should include regular gatherings centered around some of these exact same components.  We often just do retreats that are content focused.  Do some common work, pray, study, debate, eat.  Create some common experiences that take your leaders into a shared life together.

2. Letters Augustine wrote a lot of letters.  He wrote to his confidants and his critics.  He also often wrote to those he was mentoring.  The point here is personal communication.  I think we can tap into different forms that are available to us today: email, Facebook, etc.  But on the heels of creating community for all we also need to consider how we will personally communicate with those we lead so that we can minister to them in their own life context.

3. Books Augustine also wrote many books.  He wrote often on theological topics that would then later frame the intentional discussions.  Often his theological writing revolved around the hot topics of the day: Manichaeism or Pelagianism.  Today’s version for this type of engagement might be the blog.  Do you have a regular blog you write where you express your convictions on a variety of topics to stay engaged and nurture the next generation of leaders?  A blog can serve the same purpose in leading and developing those emerging leaders around you.  It can frame the healthy discussions for your next visit or next retreat.

4. Church Councils Augustine engaged those he mentored in true decision making processes.  The church councils of his day were serious business.  Often they could last for months or even years.  But they consisted of serious engagement about real issues that needed clear decisions and communication.  Today you can engage those you are developing in real decision making.  Let them wrestle with some of the problems you are confronting.  Give them a real platform to engage and contribute.  I think this actually can be done together in a real physical setting or virtually.  But posit a real problem question and let them engage.

5. Personal Visits Augustine would travel to those who had left the monastery to minister elsewhere.  He saw it as truly profitable to be in their ministry context to serve them and further develop them.  We too need to occasionally be in the ministry context of those we are trying to mentor and develop. We can’t always expect them to come to us-and then be able to truly understand what they face on a daily basis.

In summary:  When mentoring or developing others over distance include these five elements:  create true community, address their personal needs through thoughtful writing, address common needs and challenge their thinking through an ongoing blog, involve them in some serious decision making that will impact the mission, and visit them in their own setting for better understanding and unique application.

2 responses to “Augustine and Leadership Development Over Distance

  1. Gary,

    I’ve always been an admirer of Augustine, so your thoughts inspired me to buy Dr. Smither’s book. I’m hoping to find practical advice from one of Christendom’s most influential leaders that will help in my long distance mentoring. Good work! Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

    Grace to you,

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