Leading Differently When Different is Dangerous

By: Nelson Kristoffer Mendoza
June 17, 2016

While we came from different circumstances and had various backgrounds, the thing that all brought us together was our sense of purpose to serve God and the community.

A few months ago the dean of my church said he had submitted my name to the Forum for Theological Exploration to attend a “Christian Leadership Forum”. Initially, I thought that I was going to be subjecting myself to endless hours of singing How Great Is our God with a bunch of young adult Christians who looked, spoke, and thought differently from myself.

I was wrong.

What I actually experienced was nothing short of life-changing. The individuals I met came from various places in the country, even some wonderful Canadians, and they all brought with them a rich tapestry of cultures, identities, experiences, and narratives. My fear of being the “outsider” was quickly quelled as I got to know various people. I learned that I could be my authentic self without fear of whisperings behind my back or the contemptful judgment that many Christian congregations know too well.

In this space, I could be a young, queer, person of color, who happened to be discerning the call to the priesthood. Not only was it supported, but I found myself realizing that my personal journey was much like others who were in attendance. While we came from different circumstances and had various backgrounds, the thing that all brought us together was our sense of purpose to serve God and the community.

At our core, many of us were “theological misfits”. We supported causes and initiatives in our respective communities ranging from the Black Lives Matter movement, prison abolition, feminist/queer theology, and other actions that have yet to be named. What we learned from each other and during our time at the Christian Leadership Forum was that our various passions were something to be nurtured and explored.

Too often, the wild imagination of young leaders is suppressed but with FTE those ideas were fostered and we were given resources to make our dreams a reality!

Admittedly, this reflection is a few days past due but at the time of this writing the pain of the tragedy in Orlando is still a very fresh wound. After the incident, I was feeling incredibly distraught and found myself at a loss of words to articulate my experiences during the Christian Leadership Forum. Being a young, queer, person of color—I saw myself in many of the victims of the shooting. I saw myself in their eyes, in their smiles, and in the stories of their short-lived but blessed lives.

One of my biggest takeaways from my experience is that, leading differently is not always comfortable or easy. Leading differently sometimes hurts like hell. Sometimes you break.

However, after Orlando, I refuse to stay broken. After Orlando, I choose to lead differently. I will use the intersectionality of my identities to help bring the Gospel to my community. I will help share what compassion and grace in the face of despair looks like. I will help advocate for the marginalized and oppressed and fight injustice where I encounter it.

Here I am Lord, I will lead differently.

Tags: Inspired Leaders, Thinking Out Loud


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