Executive Leadership

Leaders in SIL listen for God’s voice. The world is changing, so our executive leaders work with global, regional, area or unit leaders to discern and understand God’s direction. Executive or strategic leaders keep SIL relevant. They make sure SIL’s actions get results.

Managers run the day-to-day workings of the organization. They make plans, policies and guidelines—and follow them. They make sure staff get the care they need.

Executive leaders might be local citizens or expatriates working outside of their passport country. Wherever they come from, SIL develops their leadership skills. We want our leaders to know who they are as leaders, how to lead people and how to lead projects. We look outside of SIL to find mentors and coaches for our executive leaders. We teach SIL culture and missions awareness to mid-career leaders.

SIL seeks executives  of integrity and maturity who will lead through dialogue rather than hierarchy. If you have the skills and passion for leadership, we can find a role for you.

Ambition Turns to Trust

Jennifer Holloran described her younger self as ambitious.

When she was 15, she went to Guatemala on a mission trip and returned with a greater passion for different places and cultures. But to her disappointment, she felt God was calling her to stay in the United States and not go overseas.

So she put missions out of her mind. Instead, she pursued an MBA and became the operating manager for an office supply store.

“I was waiting to hear from God what he wanted me to do with my life,” Jennifer said. And when he told her to quit her job, she did. For two months, she couldn’t find any work, though she tried everything she thought God might be calling her to.

One evening, Jennifer went to worship practice at her church. Another singer who wasn’t supposed to come that night showed up and said her workplace was hiring. The workplace was Wycliffe Bible Translators.

As a typist for Wycliffe, Jennifer took dictation and filed papers. “I had no idea that was how God was going to pull me into missions right here in the US,” she said.

Jennifer never thought her skills in business and organizational leadership would be useful in missions. She assumed missions was all about church planting, evangelism and discipleship. It didn’t occur to her that it takes a large organization to support those activities.

“It was a big ah-ha moment for me,” she said, “that all these things I thought were strange or not useful were actually strategic or organizational gifts that could be very helpful.”

She expected her time with Wycliffe to be temporary until God called her to what he really wanted her to do. But over 17 years, she progressively moved up in responsibility within the Human Resources department.

“I would see a role above me and think, ‘I want to do that. I can do that.’” She served most recently as the Chief Human Resources Officer.

When the organization went through a search process for a new president, the man who was asked to become the next president then asked Jennifer to become the Chief Operating Officer of Wycliffe Bible Translators.

With the former president and COO transitioning out of their roles, and the new president and Jennifer stepping in, they had three months to figure out how the new leadership would work.

“It was a mix of fun and challenging at the same time,” Jennifer said. She liked the puzzle of the problem, but she had to have difficult conversations with her team to figure out what would be helpful.

The two new leaders had some ideas, but they knew they had to follow God’s leading.

“We really didn’t know what the outcome was going to be,” Jennifer said. “We needed to trust God and follow his lead through all these conversations. Now that we see the outcome he was preparing us for, it’s so much better than what we could’ve planned on our own.”

Is It Really Missions?

Because she works in a Florida office, Jennifer continually reminds herself that she is serving in missions.

“It can feel very non-missionary,” she said. “You go into an office building, you go to meetings, you do email. It feels very much like the life other people around you are having. You don’t always feel as connected with what’s happening on the field.”

Meetings, emails and projects fill her days, but she said the variety of topics keeps it interesting. She might work on strategic planning with the executive leadership team. Or meet with the board to hear their priorities. Or talk with the president to figure out how to accomplish goals. She might work on a facilities issue, discuss a field program or help with a legal or HR question.

“I’m there to help coordinate and keep us all there together, moving in the right direction and overcoming any places where we get stuck,” she said.

One special project she is working on is a church engagement project.

The board asked the leadership to develop a strategy to connect with churches in the United States. Jennifer and her team set up a listening process to learn from other organizations and to hear from church pastors. Then they will talk with staff worldwide to learn from their experiences in engaging the church. Finally, Jennifer’s team will pull all the information together to look for themes and to do data analysis to help the organization make decisions.

“God has given us a tremendous group of people with excellent skills,” Jennifer said. “I appreciate their heart for God and following his leadership. I love strategizing together and figuring out how we’re going to get there.”

Future Leadership

In her 18 years with Wycliffe, Jennifer has watched the world of missions change in two ways.

First, the culture in the US has changed in how people feel about church and missions. This shift impacts recruitment. It also affects how much churches are willing to walk alongside and support missionaries. Recruitment and support are becoming less certain.

Second, countries around the world have changed. Countries that were less accessible have become more accessible and vice versa.

But Jennifer sees a couple of bright spots.

Technology has sped up the pace so things get done more quickly. And missions organizations use a more missiological approach to understand where God wants them to be. Rather than lead from a position of strength in the West, organizations act from a position of partnership and humility to see how they can serve and learn from others.

“More than ever we have to be collaborative,” Jennifer said. “We have to be working in partnership. We need to be listening carefully.” This means leaders need to listen to others within and outside of their own organization.

“Spiritual discernment is critical—really listening for what God is saying and not just barging ahead with our own ideas.”

Organizations will have to embrace more innovation and risk taking, she said.

“Many organizations got large and comfortable with how things were, and some of those resources and elements that organizations trusted in are now being shaken. We have to think creatively and be willing to adapt to where the world is heading.”

Jennifer recognizes that someone with an ambition to lead is often viewed as ungodly, but she says ambition doesn’t have to be secular. “We really need people who are willing to take on the burden of leadership—to be the one to help bring people together and help them move forward.”

She views leadership as an act of service. After accepting her previous leadership role, she realized she didn’t have the same strong feelings of ambition she used to have.

“Most of the time I really just trust my future to the Lord’s hands.” Now she’s happy to serve God wherever he wants and to use her gifts in whatever way pleases him.