Within our Adventist educational community, one Ellen White often quoted passage is Education p. 17:
Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator– individuality, power to think and to do. The men in whom this power is developed are the men who bear responsibilities, who are leaders in enterprise, and who influence character. It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought. Instead of confining their study to that which men have said or written, let students be directed to the sources of truth, to the vast fields opened for research in nature and revelation. Let them contemplate the great facts of duty and destiny, and the mind will expand and strengthen.
I believe this passage has inspired and shaped many students and teachers.
As students, it has reminded us that we can create like God, and take initiative like he does. It has inspired us to embrace our God given power to do new things and lead.
As teachers, it has reminded us to nurture individuality in our students–to resist the temptation to ONLY create “one-size-fits-all” cooky cutter approaches to learning and promote only one type of outcome or “one mold” program standards. It has challenged us to be flexible with the uniqueness and individual needs of others and to use that to help each individual student find their vision, voice, and vocation. It has inspired some of us to be more quiet so that our dominant personality and strong beliefs won’t overshadow the emerging voice of our children or students. It has helped us search for “their agenda” instead of only bringing our agenda to the classroom, conversation or school.
I have failed many times in applying this passage–both as a student and a teacher and now as a leader. At times, I have been too compliant and didn’t express my own individuality. At other times, I have suppressed the individuality of others around me with my own strong emotions or mindset or opinions or vision. At times, as a leader, I have flip-flopped between being too passive and too aggressive and continue to search for ways to be less of both on the way to better individuality.
Individuality is not easy to keep active in fulfilling the three noble outcomes she listed: bearing responsibilities, leading enterprise, and influencing character
Within this passage are three hints on how to keep individuality on track to these good goals.
Those three hints are in the words or phrases: a) image of God, b) duty and c) destiny.
Image of God. As a community that believes in the Trinity–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–it should not be surprising that individuality operates within community. When God created the heavens and the earth, it three beings were operating as one: individual creativity within a community of mutuality.
The one example of a distorted individuality without mutuality is in Isaiah 14:
““How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
“But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
“Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit. (Isaiah 14: 12-15, NIV)
This type of individuality “weakens” nations, and we correctly associate it with Satanic leadership.
The type of individuality that strengthens communities–families, offices, organizations, and nations–operates within a genuine mutuality that actual promotes individuality.
That individuality-mutuality dynamic circulates around the two other hints in this passage: duty and destiny.
Duty and Destiny: These are two strong purpose words. Purpose is crucial in both understanding individuality and mutuality and in blending them on the way to something better.
Duty suggests a context of strong principles of right and wrong guiding, even dictating a direction for individuality to go. The second is destiny, which suggests an outcome or final point pulling individuality forward. This second word-destiny-suggests a direction of flow toward an ideal outcome.
Both of those branches of purpose are not merely fostered individuality but within community. Communities foster a sense of right and wrong, social expectations and even obligations that frame duty. Individuals then capture those in their unique dynamic and often take those principles to a new dimension. They arise from the community, are captured within the mind and heart of the individual and then used to even reform the community.
And community need also becomes a driving picture for an individual to see their destiny. They see their place as filling a gap within their community.
Leadership requires individuality to function, but if that individuality does not function within community Satanic leadership is not far behind. If that leadership is only community and does not have individuality and its creativity, then that community will eventually get stuck and die.
One event that shows this powerful dynamic of divine leadership–individuality and mutuality perfectly manifest–in bearing responsibility, leading enterprise and influencing character is at the Cross
Two passages show this:
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42, KJV.
Here Jesus, the ultimately creative individual, is submitting to the Father in his work of duty and destiny to save the human race. He shrinks for bearing such a huge responsibility. It is an overwhelming call to influence character. It is creating a radically new enterprise: the Christian movement.
He submits (mutuality) and individually leads.
But what is often missed is the mutuality of the Father, who is also acting individually. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16, NIV.
God the Father is also submitted to the Son as both individually and sacrificially respond to the purpose of their act: community.
And who is that community: you and I. They are leading by sacrificing for us.
There is no greater love than this.
There is no greater manifestation of individuality than this.
There is not greater testimony to mutuality than this.
This is the Way of God that Christian leadership seeks to emulate.
Prayer: God help each of us to find our individuality and mutuality within this divine community of leadership. Forgive us for our laziness that avoids the call of individuality. Forgive us for our abuse of community that has suppressed individuality in others. Help us to emulate your image.