Our commitment to intelligence, expanding understanding, and intellectual rigor, is imbedded in the life of Presbyterians. That said, we cannot tackle our commitment to serving with intelligence without naming the ways in which narrow definitions of intelligence have also been a source of exclusion and even oppression in our congregations and in the wider denomination. If we are to be faithful to the gospel and to the expansive theology of our polity, then we must examine what we mean when we declare a commitment to serve with intelligence. This commitment also requires us to be intentional in our nominating processes, considering the diversity of wisdom and intelligence present and able to serve in our congregations.

Chart of Gardner's Multiple IntelligencesJust as there are many styles of learning or leadership, there are also many ways in which intelligence manifests itself in our human experiences. Some of our leaders will demonstrate an academic intelligence, honed either by practice or profession, and they will bring gifts of intellect and historical and institutional knowledge to the work of leadership and governing. Others will demonstrate strategic and critical thinking intelligence that will provide our work with good questions and processes. Still others will demonstrate a creative or generative intelligence that will ground us with deep questions and engage us in outside-the-box problem solving. And still others will bring embodied intelligence, experience from the frontlines of service, activism, mission, and caregiving that will inform our work in real time and keep us honest as we attempt to meet the needs of our community. And, of course, many of our leaders will embody more than one of these along with wisdom and other intelligences.

How do we empower our leaders to bring their whole selves, including their wisdom and intelligence, to bear in their service to the church? How do we create spaces that become teaching and learning communities for our leaders so that they can not only grow but appreciate the intelligence and wisdom that their colleagues are bringing to the table as well?

The artist, Molly Costello, has created a beautiful and empowering image of this kind of intelligence in action. Four hands are reaching through a flower garden toward the center of the image, and stars seem to be pouring down from the heavens into the outstretched hands. These words appear on the hands: “We have been given all the tools.” When we empower our leaders to name and claim their gifts of intelligence and wisdom, we will discover that collectively, as the body of Christ, we have indeed been given all the tools we need.

For Reflection and Discussion:

In what ways have you deepened your understanding? What are you still learning? When you consider the ecosystem of your congregation, what information, learning, or training would enable you to deepen your understanding of the community you are called to serve, or expand your impact as followers of Jesus?

Tell a story about a time you experienced growth in your own understanding. Who was your teacher/mentor? How did this growth change or shape you? Is it connected to your call to service in the church?

Engage together in the “Head, Heart, Gut and Feet Prayer” (see Prayers and Spiritual Practice Resources).

 Additional Activity

Use Luther Snow’s “Quick and Simple Asset Mapping Experience” from his book, The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 2004).