Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Leadership of Richard Carlson

Dr. Richard Carlson's death this week forced me to pause and reflect on the style and quality of leadership he brought to North Park Theological Seminary for over 30 years and to the larger Evangelical Covenant Church denomination.
Institutions run the risk of two ends on a spectrum: loyalists and individualists. The loyalists are those who come from "the tribe". In this case, the Evangelical Covenant family. Richard was of "the tribe". He was deeply and intimately familiar with the nuances and peculiarities of the Covenant. In many conversations together, he always out storied me with details about the life and foibles of denominational leaders and specific church histories. He knew who said what, when and where. He knew the back story to policies and initiatives. He was a deep trove of solid information.
But being of "the tribe" did not mean he could not critique "the tribe." Richard's loyalty did not come with blindness. He could critique both people and positions he thought were not in keeping with the pietistic principals of the school or denomination. On more than one occasion I saw him criticize what he believed was a flawed decision or direction. And it was not polite passive criticism, but directly to the face of those in leadership.
What concerns me about future leadership is the bright leader with little knowledge of "the tribe" but lots of confidence in their intellect and brilliance. Leaders who craft and groom their personal brand and opinions in isolation from the broader community are interesting to read and listen to, but do not necessarily bring long-term health to "the tribe."
I thank God for godly and gifted leaders like Richard Carlson, John Weborg, Phil Carlson, Burton Nelson, Glenn Anderson, Frances Anderson and many, many others who led us over generations. May there be more!


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