In thinking about some students of a decade ago, I came across a document that evidenced one of my somewhat creative approaches. The orchestra at Houghton College was the “Philharmonia”—a bit of an aged designation, I thought, but it was what it was. The two other “major ensembles” on campus were the Symphonic Winds and the College Choir,¹ and each of those had a slate of student officers, but the Philharmonia didn’t. So I thought, I’ll get some student leadership going, but it needs to be special. Not run-of-the-mill. A new approach that melds the college’s Christian philosophies, my own scripture-moored take, and my penchant for heading off the beaten paths and ruts, making sure what was did was meaningful.
We would not have a president per se. Nor would we call someone a VP. A secretary of sorts was possibly indicated, but there was no need for a treasurer. The very word “chaplain,” in use with the other groups, brought to mind the military, law enforcement organizations, and hospitals, and I wanted no association with those. Further, and on the positive side, I did want to capitalize on connections to scripture and my own philosophy of leadership in groups (including church congregations), so I added the following as a footnote on the poster I prepared:
It is interesting to note that the single Koiné Greek (the New Testament language) word diakonos is alternately translated deacon, minister, and servant in our English versions of the New Testament scriptures. Biblically, there is no conceptual distinction between deacons, ministers, and servants. In all these word-concepts, service to the group is implied. The British government terminology (Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Housing, etc.) might originally have had this fact in view, and we are following this nomenclature with the Philharmonia officer/servant roles. You may also note the non-hierarchical order in which the offices are listed. Ministry is service, and our officers will serve.
Below is a list of the roles I presented for student elections. Each one was tied to another in partnership in at least one way. These were not to be “offices” as such (note that they are not listed hierarchically) but would be roles for service:
Coordinator of Devotional Activities (replacing “chaplain”)
Ministers of Hospitality (plural, primarily to coordinate post-concert receptions and friendly interaction when prospective students visited)
Lead Organizational Minister (communication among orchestra members, problem solving with director, etc.)
Minister of Organizational Promotion (working closely with the LOM and giving special attention to development and growth)
Advisory Ministers (appointed, not elected, at the discretion of the Director)²
I note now that the only overtly “spiritual” role is the only one that didn’t have the word “minister” in it. That was probably subconscious on my part, but perhaps not. I might have intentionally avoided the perception that a devotional coordinator was an institutional staff minister-in-training.
As a student ensemble and college entity, the Philharmonia was hurting because of events that occurred during the prior two years. It was depressed when I arrived; it had bought into a kind of step-child syndrome, playing third fiddle (to mix metaphors) to the Sym Winds and College Choir. Those ensembles had little to no trouble gaining members and feeling good about their rehearsals and performances, but that was not the case in Philharmonia. The ensemble needed promotion, energy, and a better self-image. The group stayed depressed for a year and a half or so, but it began to experience growth in terms of musical achievement and esprit de corps after that. I would not say that this particular approach to “officers” or student leadership had too much to do with the growth, but it might have contributed a little. It did provide opportunities for students to lead and to serve—even as it showed my commitment to meaningful organizational roles and an egalitarian philosophy.
¹ Each of those appellations seemed somewhat uncommon, as well. At Houghton, they did not seem old or “out of touch.”
² I tend to use the designation “Conductor” as opposed to “Director.” The former goes to musical leadership. “Director,” by contrast, while it can be used to refer to musical direction, tends to refer more often to organizational leadership.