Strength in Weakness

By John Van Pelt  |  February 4th

This verse in 2nd Corinthians is the basis for the theme “Strength in Christ”, which our student leaders here at Woodland Christian High School chose for the 2019-2020 school year. Their desire was that our school would be a place where weakness could be shared and strength could be found in Christ.

The notion of being strong when we are weak certainly seems counter-intuitive when we think about leadership development and school effectiveness. From an early point in my service as a teacher, I was encouraged to identify my weaknesses and work hard on changing them into strengths. When I knew someone would be coming to visit my class, I would display my finest work and make sure any weaknesses were deeply hidden. All my early performance assessments as a principal were focused on how to address areas of weakness. 

We celebrate excellence and expect it from our teachers. Parents are quick to identify problems when staff make mistakes or performance is below the standard. Given that, what do we do with the words “my power is made perfect in weakness” in a leadership context?

Upon reflecting on how our school theme relates to the work that I do in the principal’s office, here are some of the questions I am asking:

  • Is my practice of leadership rooted in position and privilege, or does it reflect the power of Christ who abandoned position, took up a towel and washed the feet of his disciples?  (Andy Crouch, Playing God, 164)
  • What evidence is there of me “washing the feet” or acting as a servant to my community?  Are interruptions from students and teachers impositions on my time, or welcomed opportunities to serve?
  • Do I personally take on the responsibility and stress of the institution, or do I acknowledge my need for help? Who do I ask for help?
  • How do I handle mistakes or weakness at our school? Do I justify, blame, or shift responsibility, or do I graciously accept responsibility and work restoratively with others to make things better?
  • What rituals and spiritual disciplines do I have in place that remind me why I do this work and who it is that I actually work for?

In my position as principal, it is easy for me to get caught up in judging my own performance by how well the school seems to be doing and the feedback I receive. It is far too easy for my identity to be defined by the institution I lead.  Positions of leadership can entice you to think too highly of yourself and can lure you to abuse power. 2 Corinthians 12 is a reminder that our strength is in Christ. Paul suggests that we should “delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I pray that Christ’s power will rest on you all.

John Van Pelt is the Upper Grand Leadership Cohort Mentor, and Principal at Woodland Christian High School in Breslau, Ontario.