M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

Our founder, Jack Murdock, knew the importance of investing in leadership development, for the sake of the leaders but also for the sake of their employees and communities. Most nonprofit leaders, however, say that they feel undeveloped in their leadership skills. It is hard, especially at the end of the year, to find the time or space to pause, reflect, and reset their vision.

Just as firmly as Jack valued leaders, he also held an unwavering belief in the important role that faith-based groups play in a flourishing community. These organizations have an extensive history in our region of providing valuable resources and support to those in need. As a faith-friendly organization, the Murdock Trust is fortunate to partner with numerous faith-based nonprofits in our work (about 30% of all Trust grants go to faith-based organizations). Through our years of partnership, we have learned from these groups that there are unique challenges found in leading faith-based organizations compared with secular organizations. There is great value in having an opportunity to gather with leaders facing similar challenges and learn from one another.

A group of participants at the Leadership Now 2022 conference chat around a table, with a Christmas tree in the background.

These are two reasons why, in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and year-end planning, nearly 200 executive directors of faith-based nonprofit organizations gathered for our 2022 Leadership Now Conference. This annual conference is a place for like-minded leaders to connect. It is a moment to reflect on a theme or leadership skill through a faith-based lens. And it is, above all, a chance to form relationships and create community.

This year, the conference theme was “The Beauty That Will Save the World.” When the novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote these famous words in 1869, he was not only talking about the obvious beauty of a sunset or a flower. He wasn’t just referencing art. He was talking about the unique, compelling, and unchanging beauty of faith that motivates a life well-lived: the type of faith that drives these nonprofit leaders.

What does it mean for nonprofit work to be motivated by beauty? How can leaders cultivate habits of awe and wonder? In an age of conflict, war, and division, abroad and on our very city streets, where can beauty be found?

To help us reflect on these questions, we were thrilled to be joined by an outstanding lineup of speakers:

A man and a woman listen to another woman talking at a table at the Leadership Now 2022 conference.
  • Curt Thompson, MD, acclaimed author of Anatomy of the Soul, The Soul of Shame, and The Soul of Desire, gave a plenary talk on the importance of those that make leaders feel seen, soothed, safe, and secure. It is out of the beauty of these sure and secure relationships that the best leadership can spring forth.
  • Nicky and Sila Lee, creators of the Alpha Marriage Course and authors of The Marriage Book, came from London to reflect on the importance of cultivating beauty in the most central relationships of our lives.
  • James K.A. Smith, PhD, professor of philosophy at Calvin University, editor in chief of Image Journal, and award-winning author of You Are What You Love, On the Road with Saint Augustine, How to Inhabit Time, and others, offered a vision for leaders who have been formed by gazing at “difficult” beauty through engaging with contemporary art.
  • Romanita Hairston, CEO of the Murdock Trust, offered a closing plenary address on the beauty of relationships. She reminded us that love is a more powerful force for change than fear or manipulation.

In addition to these speakers, Mark Strong from Father Shift offered theological reflections, dozens of small group leaders fostered discussions, and every participant engaged in conversations that made this conference fruitful and timely. As one participant reflected, the themes and conversations have “needled their way into [his] head and heart,” and are already impacting the way he sees his nonprofit work.

Above all, we at the Murdock Trust see the beauty of the work nonprofits are doing throughout our region. We believe that every organization we partner with, and many more besides, are helping make their communities into more beautiful, just, and flourishing places.

This holiday season, as we are surrounded by beauty in the form of menorahs and Christmas trees, families around tables, and carolers in streets, may these things motivate us toward generosity and love. Let us notice places where beauty is lacking, and let us find it in places we might not expect. After all, in a world that can feel dark with despair, it is beauty that just might save the world.  

For more information, see our Leadership Now Conference page here or view past conference resources and recordings. To learn more about similar Enrichment programs or conferences that might benefit your organization, see our Leadership & Capacity Building Programs page.

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