Another leader taking leave? In recent weeks we have said sad farewells to church giants who have joined the church triumphant. This time we bid farewell to one who heads to a blissful retirement at 7,000 feet in New Mexico’s mountains. As he comes to the end of his second four-year term as executive director of the General Assembly Council, John Detterick took a few moments to reflect on his tenure.
Elected in 1998, John sought to transform the denominational staff into a service organization. “When I came here I remember saying to them even before the election that it was my hope that the GA would facilitate the work of congregations, presbyteries and synods.” A collection of passionate, professional staff combined with energetic, elected GAC members had often led them to operate as resident experts who saw their work as the end in view; they expected the churches to follow their lead. John aimed to turn them into resources to help local churches take the lead.
Has the transformation taken flight? John thinks so. “I feel good about what’s happened in last nine months. The council has opened doors in several ways to a much better position of being responsive to the church, and learning not just to do new things but to do things differently. The combination of the Governance Task Force recommendations and the Mission Work Plan … sets in motion a new paradigm. [The time has come] … for divisions to disappear to allow better interaction among all programmatic areas.”
He adds: “The council members have taken some really bold steps, and that bodes well for the whole church.”
What have been the key elements of John’s leadership approach that the rest of us may emulate? A “strong faith” is a place to start. Jeff Bridgeman, moderator of the GAC early in John’s tenure says, “When John came on board, he proved to be more than I could have hoped for and just what this church needed. His business eye was always tempered by a heart of faith.” He “taught me profound and lasting lessons of what ‘servant leadership’ looks like.”
Alison Seed, the incoming GAC chair adds, “In his years as Executive Director, John has remained true to his essential calling as a Presbyterian elder. He is a man of the Book: the Bible first and foremost, and the Book of Order, secondarily. He has had a consistency of character and belief in how he has led the church, and I have learned much from his example.”
A second element of John’s style has been his intentional convergence of professional skills with Christian calling. Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick reflects, “John has been just a wonderful partner to work with in this ministry we have shared. … His deep spiritual gifts and his skills in management and finance have been such a gift.”
A third element is the need always to be driving into the future while regularly checking the rearview mirror. Nancy Kahaian, who is finishing her term as GAC chair reflects, “John is energized by the challenge of the work of beginning to reconcile the church that ‘has been,’ with a church that ‘can be.’ It seems to me that he has desired to improve the quality of how we serve, sharpen our focus to magnify our central purpose as church, and empower the elected for strong leadership.”
A fourth element not to be overlooked is a love for the church herself. Kahaian says, “He has a true heart for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and her people, and being compelled by that love has influenced the action of what he has done and reflected the integrity of who he is.”
Finally, one needs to keep Sabbath, to find a place of rest and relaxation. Allison assures that John found moments to practice for his retirement: “Lest I make him sound too staid, John also has a more expansive side expressed up until recently as a motorcycle owner and rider. Jack Nicholson has nothing on John!”
Put that together and John Detterick has been a leader who leads. May God help us all to be the leaders we’ve been created to be.
We thank God for John Detterick.