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Interview: Aaron Perry & Leadership in the Wesleyan Way

leadership wwRecently Wesleyan Accent spoke with Dr. Aaron Perry on Leadership in the Wesleyan Way, a volume he edited with Dr. Bryan Easley.

Wesleyan Accent: This summer, you and Bryan Easley published a 450-page collection of essays on “Leadership the Wesleyan Way: An Anthology for Forming Leaders in Wesleyan Thought and Practice.” It’s been praised by notable voices like Dr. Jo Anne Lyon and includes essays from familiar names like Lovett Weems, Will Willimon, Laceye Warner and…Calvinist Richard Mouw? Wait, how did you get him on board?

Aaron Perry: Often Wesleyan discomfort with Calvinism  centers on double predestination without considering that there actually is much more to Calvinism.  I heard Professor Mouw speak about holiness and Wesleyan thought at a gathering of graduate students in Indianapolis in 2014. Professor Mouw’s insight in terms of political theology would clearly help form Wesleyan values and effectiveness in mission and, as a result, leadership. I find this unique article a helpful appreciation and challenge of forms of revivalism and how it can be a help and hindrance to leaders. Yet, Dr. Mouw clearly appreciates the theology of a warmed heart and how personal transformation is vital to the leader’s effectiveness.

WA: What inspired you to collate thoughts particularly on leadership in the Wesleyan way, rather than to write a book on leadership and Wesleyanism? Why a collection; why leadership?

AP: I was preparing for my comprehensive exams for my PhD in Organizational Leadership. I envisioned a collection as getting the best of the preparation I was doing—having others write in their interests and strengths while I was studying! When people write in their strengths and interests, they often utilize their own experience, as well. During my doctoral work, I taught adult ministerial students. I encountered students who were bright, focused, and motivated, yet they were apprehensive about formal education. I saw an opportunity to combine scholarly work that would engage a variety of readers. We wanted a book that would help practitioners think and thinkers practice.

WA: How would you describe John Wesley’s leadership? How would you describe the impact of his theology on the practice of leadership?

AP: John Wesley modeled a deep connection between practice and reflection. One cannot be a Wesleyan and sit idle in the face of brokenness in the world. John Wesley’s leadership was intensely practical, aimed at making differences in the lives of everyday people. At the same time, Wesley’s leadership led to long-term strength through the bands, classes, and societies. Wesley’s belief in the whole gospel for the whole world had a deep impact on the wideness of leadership potential he saw in a variety of people.

WA: The book includes sections on “Wesleyan Leadership in the Postmodern World,” “Biblical and Theological Reflections,” “Historical Perspectives,” “Leadership Theory and Principles,” and “Leadership in Ministry.” Why do you think Wesleyan theology especially has resources to contribute to these discussions? Do you think Wesleyan contributions have been overlooked in the past?

AP: I am more convinced that Wesleyan theologians have something to say on the topic, beyond simply Wesleyan theology. There have been strong and important Wesleyan voices in the past, but the nature of leadership is that a new word is always being spoken in light of God’s ongoing activity in the world, building on established structures, tackling problems that could not have been tackled before, and engaging challenges that have not previously existed. Wesleyan theologians must speak from their roots and tradition, but while being aware of their own contexts—geographical, economic, cultural, etc. The result, I believe, is a variety of perspectives and emphases from a common tradition and set of values.

 WA: Was there anything that surprised you both as you edited this collection-insights or reflections you didn’t anticipate? What did you learn about leadership in the Wesleyan way?

AP: I was not surprised by anything—by which I mean, I found what I expected to find: Wesleyan scholars and practitioners who had reflected deeply on the subject of leadership beyond quick-fixes or simple solutions, while at the same time with a deep appreciation for actionable insights. I found scholars who were deeply involved in the formation of persons into the image of Christ and were interested in leadership as it could facilitate the global parish vision. I was, however, pleasantly surprised at the way the book was received and promoted—and, of course, I hope that continues!

Dr. Aaron Perry is Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry and Pastoral Care at Wesley Seminary in Marion, Indiana. He is an ordained minister in The Wesleyan Church and has contributed to Wesleyan Accent. Read his other Wesleyan Accent posts here.