Leadership Is Relationship
An interview with Executive Director of Renovaré, Rachel Quan
During college, Rachel Quan’s spiritual journey was shaped by the book Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster’s formative work on the spiritual life. Today Quan serves Renovaré USA—founded by Foster in 1988—as its executive director, bringing with her a wealth of experience from a rich career in church, parachurch, nonprofit, and business leadership. GFL recently spoke with Quan about leadership, spiritual formation, and her Wonderdog, Brooks.
Rachel, tell us about the work of Renovaré (a Latin word meaning “to renew”) and the role you play there.
Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Marti Ensign, Roger Fredrikson, Bill Vaswig, James Bryan Smith, and others had a vision for spiritual renewal and lifelong discipleship to Jesus, and they helped to form the ministry. We believe that the Kingdom of God is here and now and that the abundant life Jesus promised is available to everyone and anyone. We aren’t just waiting for our abundant life in heaven. We can really live into that abundant life now. Our passion as a ministry is helping people become more like Jesus. People who desire to become more like Jesus have an impact on the world they live in.
“Executive director” is just a fancy title for doing whatever it is that needs to be done to continue to promote the vision and mission of the ministry. I see my key role as one of team builder—bringing the team together that takes the message with them wherever they go. We have an incredible board, ministry team, and staff who write, speak, and share the work. They are from all walks of life, different denominational traditions, and various ages. We aren’t about one personality doing all of the writing and speaking. Richard was the one who started this—always bringing along new leadership with him wherever Renovaré was invited. We continue that to this day.
How did God gift and prepare you for your work with Renovaré?
First of all, I have had incredible mentors and friends in ministry and the marketplace, who have loved me enough to encourage the gifts they’ve seen in me, or have held me accountable for the areas I’ve needed to grow in. And I have to say that failure was one of the key components to preparing me for the work of ministry. The difficult part about failure is often the ache in my soul as I’ve learned lessons the hard way. The best part about failure has been what I’ve learned and hopefully applied. Another positive aspect has become the folks I mentioned earlier—who walked with me and loved me in spite of my failures. Those relationships continue to this day. I don’t think I’ll ever “arrive” as far as being fully prepared for my work. I’m consistently learning, growing, and making course corrections.
I will say that I feel like my history of working both in ministry and in the marketplace have been gifts given to me. Experiencing and leading in both of these worlds has been important and I’ve drawn a lot on those experiences. Whether I’ve been in official “ministry” or in the marketplace, I’ve always led from my relationship with Christ (sometimes well and sometimes not so well). There is often a misperception out there that somehow there’s a distinction between the spiritual leader and the business leader. One is always a spiritual leader no matter the setting, and that’s been important for me to remember and apply. It’s also important for me to communicate that to others. Being a lifelong disciple of Jesus doesn’t entail living our lives in silos—“now this is my spiritual life and over here is my work life.” All of it is spiritual. I am grateful for the myriad of people in my life who have fostered this view in me.
Rachel, you’ve mentioned the importance of relationships in achieving goals and accomplishing objectives. Say some more about this.
Life is all about relationship. And I would venture to say we can’t accomplish much without one another. One of my mentors early in life was a pastor named Vicky Jones. She once told me that a good leader was often seen behind the scenes, encouraging the gift of leadership in others, discipling them in their gifts, and putting them up front. Her exact words on this particular topic were, “The less people see of you up front, the better.” She didn’t mean I didn’t sometimes have a role to play by speaking or leading up front. Sometimes that’s needed. But if I am able to see in others their God-given gifts and encourage them to use them in the ministry, I am multiplying the ministry’s effect. The ministry doesn’t just stay with me. It doesn’t even depend on just me. Oftentimes the danger of being personality-driven is that when that person is no longer around, the message is gone with them.
So my job is to find as many people as I can, build relationships with them, and encourage them in their gifts. And, boy, getting to see the multiplying effect in that regard is such a gift for me! There was a small group of women I invested in early in my leadership days—about 14 years ago. I poured as much as I could into them and am blown away by what I see some of them doing today.
Relationship really is everything. I had a saying with one of my old marketplace partners, Brent Walla: “Honor relationship first and God will take care of the rest.” That was our philosophy in business and it was very true. It’s still my philosophy in ministry. When we honor relationship first, God really does take care of all of the things we need.
How is it that you lead others in the process of spiritual formation?
Wow. That’s quite a daunting thing to think about. This goes back to the whole leadership and relationship question. Spiritual formation isn’t about “leadership” in the top-down sense of the word. Dallas Willard liked to say that spiritual formation is about living our lives today as if Jesus were living our lives. And Jesus wasn’t top-down in his approach. He just genuinely lived life with people and loved people and walked with people. My hope is that that is what I am doing. I am sure some days I am better at this than other days.
Why is spiritual formation so important in the life of a leader?
I just got to spend some significant time with Bob and Alice Fryling recently, and Bob and I had a lot of conversation about this. His book on spiritual formation and leadership, The Leadership Ellipse, was something I studied with a small group last year. The book and just knowing Bob have been such encouragements when it comes to understanding spiritual formation in the life of a leader.
Spiritual formation for leaders is everything. If our inner and outer lives aren’t in sync, I truly believe we are not able to be good leaders. If our own souls are not being taken care of, we start to run on our own strength, out of our own ego’s needs. I’ve been there. And some days I revert back to that when I have failed to care for my own soul, when I’ve ignored my own formation. The joke in my house (which is not really a joke) is that if I am going to lead an organization that is all about the balanced, with-God life, then perhaps I ought to have one. And the Renovaré board and ministry team are consistently calling me to pay attention to this. I’m grateful for their promptings, and for the room they give me to ensure that my inner life is taken care of so that I can be an effective leader for the ministry.
However, it’s more than just about the ministry. I cannot be a good friend, daughter, wife, or mother without having my inner life and outer life in sync. I might be the leader of a ministry, but far greater is the impact I have with the people I live life intimately with. They’re the ones who can really tell you whether I’m leaning into my relationship with Jesus or not.
And I think the question on a lot of readers’ minds is this: Who is Brooks, and what makes her a “wonder-dog”?
Pets are good for the soul! Our “Wonder-dog” was found eating rocks from a dumpster on a movie set in Louisiana. She was just a puppy and so skinny you could see all of her ribs. The crew from the movie (my sister among them) adopted her, paid for her first round of shots, and gave her her own dressing room on the movie set. Brooks is a real-life example to us of our own redemption, and we marvel and wonder at that. Something about knowing where and how she was found and how great her life is now inspires everyone in our little family. So that’s why we call her the “wonder-dog!”
Margot Starbuck is a frequent contributor and editorial advisor to Gifted for Leadership, an author, a speaker, and a volunteer among friends with disabilities. Her most recent book is Permission Granted: And Other Thoughts on Living Graciously among Sinners and Saints. More at www.MargotStarbuck.com.