Original Research

Compassionate leadership? Some reflections on the work and life of Michael Lapsley

Ian A. Nell
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 37, No 1 | a1629 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v37i1.1629 | © 2016 Ian A. Nell | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 April 2016 | Published: 26 October 2016

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Ian A. Nell, Department of Practical Theology and Missiology, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

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In June 2007, I had the privilege of attending a Healing of Memories workshop lead by Father Michael Lapsley, one of the founder members of the Institute for Healing of Memories. The purpose of the workshop was to help the predominantly white members of a middle class Dutch Reformed congregation in the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town and the predominantly coloured members of a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Elsies River on the Cape Flats, to share their stories of the past with regard to apartheid with each other. Apart from the stories that were told and the sharing of experiences about the apartheid history that took place, I was struck by the way in which Father Lapsley conducted the workshop. There was a deep compassion for all the participants as was embodied through the way in which he treated each of us with respect. But apart from his cordiality in leading the workshop, one could sense a deeper source of compassion, a source revealing a compassionate understanding of God’s presence amidst the violence and turmoil in our broken world. The aim of this article is to reflect on whether one could speak of something like ‘compassionate leadership’, and to take a closer look at the relationship between compassion and God images in the life and work of Michael Lapsley. Special attention will be given to the way in which he exercises leadership through his many involvements related to his own personal story of trauma.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: This article presents literary research on the notion of compassionate leadership as a specific kind of leadership. The results indicate that the leadership of Father Michael Lapsley does indeed portray features of this kind of leadership. The research can become the source for finding new strategies for religious leadership.


Leadership; compassion; healing of memories; Michael Lapsley


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Crossref Citations

1. We know to whom we belong? The drama of ministerial practice in a postcolonial African context
Ian A. Nell
Verbum et Ecclesia  vol: 39  issue: 1  year: 2018  
doi: 10.4102/ve.v39i1.1822