Street Lights

Ebenezer Stone

One of the great images in the Old Testament is the Ebenezer Stone. The event is recorded in 1 Samuel 7:12, where Samuel, the priest of Israel at the time, erects a stone to remind everyone “thus far the Lord has helped us.” One can imagine that this became the first of many “stones” that were scattered throughout Israel constantly reminding the people of God’s ever present help and healing.


All people and organizations need the equivalent of an Ebenezer Stone in their life – concrete reminders of particular moments where God has helped you and your organization.


Two weeks ago we had the privilege to go back to one of our Ebenezer Stones- Pittsburgh- for our LF network gathering. In the midst of a number of important meetings a group of us gathered on Mt. Washington, which is where, in 1962, Reid Carpenter prayed with the Rev. Dr. Samuel Shoemaker that “Pittsburgh would someday become as famous for God as it currently [was] for steel.” This was the place where the LF movement, now in over 70 cities around the world, began. This was the place where we had our Ebenezer Stone moment and remembered, over 50 years later, “thus far the Lord has helped” LF.


Along with a retelling of Sam and Reid’s story and a commissioning, we also took a moment to reflect on our own cities. Using G.K. Chesterton’s reflection on Pimlico and Chelsea we prayed for our cities and imagined what it would look like to love them into greatness. As you reflect on and pray for your city, we hope this becomes an Ebenezer Stone for you as well.


Watch a reading on Mt. Washington of G.K. Chesterton’s reflection

A Hopeful Imagination

Give a child Legos, Lincoln Logs, or even a SimCity video game and before you know it, they will be building new lands and creating unique structures while also weaving fantastic tales. Leadership Foundations see this process of creating, being imaginative and seeing things in new ways as not exclusive to children; it is also vital for leaders within cities around the world.


Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann contends that, not unlike the way a child plays, a critical task of leaders is to see and imagine new ways that “evoke a consciousness and a perception alternative” to the dominate culture. For Leadership Foundations, this alternative perception lies within the way we see our cities. Too often cities are regarded as derelict and dangerous. Leadership Foundations sees the alternative where cities are places of promise and prosperity; cities as playgrounds rather than battlegrounds. In this clip Dr. Stephan DeBeer, founder of the Tshwane Leadership Foundation and director of LF in Africa, briefly comments on the role of the imagination and the implicit ramifications it has on cities becoming more like playgrounds.


Earlier this month in Nairobi, Kenya, leaders from around Africa gathered to imagine what it would mean to operationalize the idea of seeing cities as playgrounds. Women and men from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, and South Africa came together and reflected on this idea and discussed what it meant for their cities to become places of transformation for all. Dialogues abounded about what this would look like in particular cities up and down the continent. Core to every conversation was the implication and importance of the imagination as the primary engine by which cities become playgrounds rather than battlegrounds.


LF is convinced that to see cities become playgrounds, a prophetic and hopeful imagination is vital to the process. And as such, fostering the imagination of LF leaders and partners will further equip them to cultivate their cities into God’s playgrounds.


Willing One Thing

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, theologian, poet and social critic, in reflecting on the beatitude “blessed are the pure in heart,” wrote the following that captures an essential element we have recently highlighted in Street Lights and what we plan to continue moving forward: “Purity of heart is the ability to will one thing.”  Kierkegaard’s argument, opposed to being a moralistic reflection on the divine life, is the idea that the biggest difficulty in our life is double mindedness; that the primary manifestation of a heart tethered to God is the singular commitment to willing one thing.


Leadership Foundations is about willing one thing done in many ways: developing leaders who drive the wheel of permanent change—engaging leaders of good faith and good will, building the capacity of others, developing joint initiatives—in cities around the world. This singular commitment of willing one thing in a multiplicity of ways has fostered a global network of LF affiliates in over 70 cities with an aggregate budget of $30 million; 3,000 partners; 600 organizations receiving capacity building support; and over 255,000 people directly served through joint initiatives. This singular commitment of willing one thing in many ways has created a dizzying array of contextual, accessible, relational, and relevant programming ranging from affordable housing to health care to college access, just to name a few. This singular commitment of willing one thing is what allows the LF network to increasingly cultivate our cities as playgrounds rather than battlegrounds.


As we continue forward into 2016, Street Lights will continue to focus on how LF is developing these leaders who are uniquely equipped to cultivate their city into God’s playground, and, how our cities are becoming better as a result.

Developing Joint Initiatives

A central question to any group that works in the city is how they see the Holy Spirit operating. How does she move, where does she visit, and what does it look like when she has accomplished something? The answer to this question will largely determine how the group behaves and gets things done.


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, scientist and mystic, provided an answer that resonates deeply within the LF network. He stated that a fundamental characteristic of the Spirit at work is that everything will rise and converge. LF views our three functionsengaging leaders of good faith and good will, building the capacity of others, and developing joint initiatives – as a demonstration of this principle. As the LF network operationalizes the three functions many different people’s and organizations’ capacity will increase. The net effect of these efforts—as demonstrated in local leadership foundations throughout the world—will increase the social capital in a city and convergence will occur: thus demonstrating our unique understanding of this holy principle.


LF’s third function- developing joint programming initiatives- produces programs that address a particular city’s biggest challenges. The key to this function does not simply lie in the creation of a program, but rather the way in which it is created. LF engages leaders and organizations throughout the city to bring their knowledge, resources, and capacity to bear around a particular issue. This collective effort has the net effect of creating concrete and contextually appropriate programs while also developing meaningful relationships and a sense of community as people unite around a common goal.


Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation is using this function- developing joint programming initiatives- to create convergence and improve their city through The Leaders Collaborative. This 12 month cohort experience require leaders to place their trust in other leaders as they “get clear on vocation, work to understand how to effectively build their influence and grow deep, rich mutual friendships built on common desires to be culture makers and agents of shalom in the city.” This demonstration of LF’s third function embodies the movement of the Holy Spirit’s way of abundant love and grace.


While we know it is difficult work setting out to transform our global cities, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin reminds us, “At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.” Thus we seek joint initiatives, a convergence of our desire for leaders of good faith and good will to come together to create permanent redemptive change in cities around the world.

Building Capacity

Karl Barth, the eminent Swiss theologian, suggested the following: “Jesus Christ is not only truly God, he is human like every one of us…He is not only similar to us, he is like us.” The reality of the Incarnation frames the vital collective force of Leadership Foundations (LF): making cities better by developing leaders who drive the wheel of permanent change through LF’s three functions. The first function – engaging leaders of good faith and good will – was detailed in the last issue of Street Lights. Our argument is that diverse leaders —regardless of political, religious, and economic perspective— are a part of one collective body and mobilizing them to work together is imperative to making a city better.


The Incarnation continues to serve as our theological pivot and shapes the methodology of Leadership Foundations’ second function – building the capacity of other faith and community based groups for joint service.


We have all experienced that dynamic person who knows how to capture our imagination around a common vision. Sadly, too few of us have experienced the Incarnational leader who recognized and nurtured individual capacities, expanding our understanding and ability to apply our unique gifts to the betterment of our community and ourselves. These are exactly the leaders LF is developing to drive the wheel of change in cities around the world. Through trainings, tools, and the creation of a common table they expand individual and organizational capabilities. This work results in the political, financial and social capital in their community increasing thereby further developing the capacity of all to come together to address the city’s most critical issues.



Knoxville Leadership Foundation (KLF) in Knoxville, Tennessee is using this function – building the capacity of others– to make their region better through the new nonprofit organization, the Alliance for Better Nonprofits (ABN). ABN is possible due to KLF’s long history of partnering with organizations and other groups committed to the city’s welfare and seeing them as colleagues rather than competitors.  For over 10 years KLF provided capacity building through their Center for Communities initiative. In 2015, KLF’s Board of Directors voted to spin-out the Center for Communities so it could be used as a platform to launch ABN.  ABN provides trainings, consulting, networking opportunities, and standards for excellence to nonprofits in East Tennessee. The resources ABN provides allows their 114 member organizations to learn, grow, and engage their communities’ needs in increasingly powerful ways.


When leaders and groups are engaged and their capacity is developed transformation occurs in lives and in cities. Ultimately, this transformation contributes to a better world; a world where we continue to learn about and live into the mystery of goodness demonstrated for us in the incarnation of Christ.

Engaging Leaders

How do you make a city better? This is the question that gets Leadership Foundations (LF) up in the morning, and the last issue of Street Lights explored our answer. Through 35 years of field-tested work, we believe the key is developing leaders who connect and drive the wheel of permanent change in their cities by increasing mastery of LF’s three functions: engaging leaders of good faith and good will, building the capacity of others, and developing joint programming initiatives. Through consistent application of these three functions to a particular place over a given amount of time, cities do in fact get better.


The first of these three functions—engaging leaders of good faith and good will to tackle a city’s greatest challenges—carries with it particular importance. It is hard to overstate how imperative this function is in making a city better. This is true for two reasons. The first reason is the recognition that nothing—no amount of money, programs, grants, outcomes—can compensate for a lack of resourceful, reflective, and resilient leadership. Many cities in the world have had more than their fair share of resources and are worse off than they were before. The answer—at least from LF’s vantage point—is that the question of leadership is overlooked. The second reason is that cities are filled with a dizzying array of needs that push people toward isolation. And, if individuals or groups do work with others, it is often only with those similar to themselves – whether it be particular work, preferred faith, or cultural background. Connecting and engaging leaders from all walks of life and sectors within a city; religious and non-religious, for-profit and non-profit, white collar and blue collar, etc. is beneficial for the whole city.


Tshwane Leadership Foundation (TLF) in Pretoria, South Africa is using this function – engaging leaders of good faith and good will – to make their city better through their annual event, Feast of the Clowns. What started as a small street festival has established itself as the only annual event in Pretoria’s inner city that combines celebration and social justice. Annually it welcomes 25,000 people from all walks of life to engage in music, performances, activities and good food, as they launch campaigns around various matters of social justice. This past year the theme was Counter Trafficking and Rebranding Homelessness. TLF sees the Feast of the Clowns as one way to make their city better by engaging a wide range of leaders from Pretoria to host the event and work together on Pretoria’s most critical issues. (If you are interested please click here to read Dr Stephan de Beer’s wonderful scholarly article on the festival).


LF is called to transform cities by engaging leaders of good faith and good will to tackle a city’s greatest challenges. We celebrate the success of many local leadership foundations and continue to work together to seek new ways to live into this function, and live out Helen Keller’s insightful and true observation: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

Creating Change: LF Methodology

Whether it is Jim Collins describing the concept of the flywheel in his book Good to Great, the notion of a theory of change popularized by Carol Weiss in her book New Approaches to Evaluating Comprehensive Community Initiatives, or the scholarly reflections from the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford, all assert the importance of being able to clearly describe how your organization gets something done. Obvious? I think we would all agree. Easy? Maybe less so than we think.


For LF, the difficulty arises from the fact that we live in a complex and chaotic world. And of course nowhere is this reality more amply demonstrated than in the very place LF is called to work: cities. Consequently, the idea of discovering, deploying and describing an LF methodology for creating change that takes into account the myriad differences of the cities that we work in while still creating a common model for all is no easy task. Moreover, if the methodology is real it has to meet the following criteria: simple to explain; contextually relevant; repeatable; and if concentrated effort is applied over time, will achieve anticipated outcomes of social impact. And of course, we must describe this all in what is euphemistically called the elevator speech!


Through a 6-month and $500,000 investment with one of the leading nonprofit consulting groups in the world, The Bridgespan Group, LF has confirmed and further developed our methodology. It is as simple as it is profound, elegant while also being effective, and transferable while also contextual.


LF understands that our methodology—that which we believe holds the key to making cities into playgrounds rather than battlegrounds—is developing leaders who connect and drive the wheel of permanent change in their cities by increasing mastery of the three functions: engaging leaders of good faith and good will, building the capacity of other faith and community based groups, and developing joint programming initiatives. This is LF’s flywheel and theory of change. Over 70 members around the world are using this method to drive change and create healthier, more vibrant cities which gives us pause for great hope.


Over the next few months we will be using a number of mediums— to include this newsletter, the City As Playground podcast and LF blog—to further explore LF’s methodology and understanding of how leaders committed to the three functions make cities better.


The City Is A Playground

Rucker Park and Reid Carpenter. What could the two possibly have in common? One, a famous outdoor basketball court in Harlem; the other, a man who founded the Leadership Foundations network. One, a place where many went to discover their jump shot; the other, where people discovered their love for their city. Well, perhaps the two share more than you might imagine as a result of Leadership Foundations work.


Rucker Park, perhaps the most famous outdoor basketball court in the world, stands as a pantheon to the basketball gods. Many who played at the park became legends in their own right for their abilities, and several have gone on to play in the NBA. It is a place that simply states, “got game, earn a name”.


On August 15th, during the Rucker Park 50th Anniversary celebration, and through LF’s partnership with the National Basketball Retired Players Association, 150 young girls and boys will be given the opportunity to gather at the famous park to meet famous basketball legends, further develop their basketball skills, be led through a leadership and character development session by Dallas Leadership Foundation staff and have the opportunity to be mentored through LF’s Global Youth Initiative.


Reid Carpenter heard Sam Shoemaker’s famous words on top of Mount Washington regarding Pittsburgh becoming as famous for God as it was for steel. Many who now run local leadership foundations do so as a result of spending time with Reid in Pittsburgh.


This month on LF’s City As Playground podcast we have the great privilege of listening to Reid recall those early days with Sam, the creation of the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, and how LF became a global network striving to make cities better.


So what do Rucker Park and Reid Carpenter have in common? Both have given women and men a place to shape their lives, one for basketball and the other for social and spiritual renewal of cities. Both have given experiences that push one toward greater levels of excellence, one on the hardcourt the other in the thoroughfares of cities.  In the end, both continue to remind us that the city is a playground; one of the corner of 155th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in New York, the other in cities around the world.

Changing Our Metaphors

Joseph Campbell famously stated, “If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor.” Clearly his idea was preceded by Jesus. He replaced the metaphors that allowed the religious authority of his day to exclude and provided ones that include common women and men thereby allowing them to change the world.


LF achieves this through seeing the city as a playground rather than a battleground. We change the metaphor so we can change the world.  Along with seeing the city as a playground, another very powerful metaphor for LF has been something Karl Barth was reported to have said. When asked what should be the posture of a Christian in the world he talked about holding on to the bible with one hand and the newspaper with the other. His argument is that, to witness to God’s Kingdom, one must keep these two sources in honest, transparent, and consequential dialogue with each other.


To live into this reality of bible and newspaper in more robust ways, we are pleased to announce the creation of the LF Blog. And, interestingly enough, this first post came as a direct result of the newspaper. In April nationally syndicated columnist, Leonard Pitts, wrote an op-ed piece on the tragedy in Ferguson and a letter he received from a reader. The reader, Mr. Pitts reported, simply asked what she could do to try and help. Mr. Pitts answered her by asking his readers for ideas that might help this woman. LF replied by sending a response. Whether Mr. Pitts uses LF’s reflection is a question that remains unanswered. What was produced is the recognition that if LF is to fulfill its mission we should be demonstrating what a faith-filled response might look like as we read our newspapers and bibles: thus the LF blog.


City as playground, bible in one hand and newspaper in the other: metaphors that change us so we can change the world.


Read our response to Pitt’s article on the LF blog.

Achieving Greater Impact

One of the things about Jesus that is rather striking is his use of questions. It appears that questions, rather than answers, are the way Jesus enters into the life of our world. The question which arises is why might this be so?


While theories abound of how change can take place in the life of a person and/or organization, one thing does appear to be certain: it happens to the degree that we begin with seeing things for what they are rather than what we would like them to be. As an example, this motif is woven into the very fabric of Leadership Foundations’ work for the social and spiritual renewal of cities. Citing Stanley Hauerwass, the central argument in the LF book, Cities: Playgrounds or Battlegrounds? Leadership Foundations 50 Year Journey of Social and Spiritual Renewal, is that you can only act in the world that you see. This presumes a process that requires telling the truth about ourselves and the world we live in before we can get to the world we hope for. And, perhaps this is the answer to why Jesus makes such great use of questions: it is the most effective—perhaps only—way to discover what is going on so we can get to a place of behaving differently going forward.


For the past three months and extending through the end of August, LF has had the great opportunity to engage The Bridgespan Group ( through a project we titled the Advancement Plus Project. The Bridgespan Group, one of the premier nonprofit consulting groups in the world, is asking LF one central question: What organizational shifts from the current state are needed for LF to achieve greater impact? Through looking at LF data sources, facilitating interviews, and reviewing foundational documents, an assessment is being made of what is to create the space to focus on what could be.


Jesus embodied these theological truths of seeing what is so that we can begin to imagine seeing what could be. In similar fashion, LF’s Advancement Plus Project is helping LF see what is so we can begin to imagine, plan and work toward what could be  in order to create greater impact in our work of the social and spiritual renewal of cities around the world.