Last year I attended the church planting congress, held every couple of years somewhere in Canada. I’ve just recieved word about the next church planting congress, to be held in Winnipeg, has just put out a website at thecongress.ca. This is a very important gathering of hundreds of church leaders from across the country and North America who come together to strategize and pray for the future wellbeing of the church. It’s an excellent event and I encourage church leaders to consider it. More info to come!
Over the last several months I have been interviewing individuals about the process of transformation. This has given me the opportunity to interview people who themselves have both been transformed and been a part of the transformation of communities and organizations. One of the most striking things that has come out of these interviews is that for each of these people, their transformation and leadership was not an individual process, rather it occurred in relationships with others, and as a part of communities that created a context for their leadership and transformation to develop and occur. This has led me to wonder if we need to partially turn the concept of leadership upside down, from a focus on individuals to communities that create a context in which leadership can happen.
So often when we think about leadership, we think about an individual who sparks our imagination and then changes the lives of others. In my interviews with these transformative leaders, my interviewees have often directed my attention, not just to themselves, but to others. They have talked about people who opened them up to seeing the world differently. They spoke about people who took risks by giving them opportunities while others mentored them and guided them. They describe being a part of teams that together could take on anything. They also talked about communities and organizations that entrusted them with significant resources so that they could develop their vision. Instead of being drum majors leading a crowd of followers, these people instead described their leadership as embedded in networks of relationships that made their leadership possible.
These people have also described how communities and cultures can block leadership. Some of these people that I have interviewed have been major players within the fossil fuel and mining industries. They talked about how issues such as climate change or ethical extraction of resources can be addressed, but that the aversion to risk and potential failures within corporate culture prevents leadership or meaningful action from occurring. Likewise, in my own experience in churches I have seen how tendencies to treat developing leaders as threats to established officials, or the tendency in the face of challenging times to first cut developing leaders to protect the old guard has prevented entire generations of leadership from developing.
So what if we turned leadership partially on its head. What if we saw leadership as a function of a community? What if we saw leadership as something that happens because there are communities that develop individuals; communities that embrace risk, including the failures that come along with it; communities that together will not only seek out new visions, but put their resources into exploring that vision together. What if we as churches reclaimed our mission of being communities, not led by great leaders, but rather who’s life together created leadership not only for the church, but for the broader society around it.
Thanks to Pete and Josanna Justine who led worship at the What if? Conversation. They read the following, and it got us all thinking…
THE OBSTACLE OF DULLNESS
From – Dangerous Wonder, by Michael Yaconelli
Episcopal priest Robert Capon named the first obstacle: “We are in a war between dullness and astonishment. “‘* The most critical issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality, or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore, He changes them into “nice people.”
If Christianity is simply about being nice, I’m not interested.
What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside-clown? What happened to the category-smashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (by those in power)
dangerous? What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear, who spoke the truth no matter what the consequence, who made the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever He went? What happened to the kind of Christians who
were filled with passion and gratitude, and who every day were unable to get over the grace of God?
I’m ready for a Christianity that “ruins“ my life, that captures my heart and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with an astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and …well… dangerous. Yes, I want to be “dangerous” to a dull and boring religion. I want a faith that is considered “dangerous” by our predictable and monotonous culture.
A W Tozer said a long time ago, “Culture is putting out the light in men and women’s souls.” He was right. Dullness is more than a religious issue, it is a cultural issue. Our entire culture has become dull. Dullness is the absence of the light of our souls, Look around, We have lost the sparkle in our eyes, the passion in our marriages, the meaning in our work, the joy of our faith.
The Bible names our problem: sin. Don’t let the word fool you. Sin is more than turning our backs on God, it is turning our backs on life! Immorality is much more than adultery and dishonesty, it is living drab, colorless, dreary, stale, unimaginative lives. The greatest enemy of
Christianity may be people who say they believe in Jesus but who are no longer astonished and amazed. Jesus Christ came to rescue us from listlessness as well as lostness; He came to save us from flat souls as well as corrupted souls, He came to save us from dullness. Our culture is awash in immorality and drowning in dullness. We have forgotten how to dance, how to sing, and how to laugh. We have allowed technology to beat our imaginations into submission and have become tourists rather than travelers.
A special thanks to the seventy-or-so people who gave up the better part of a Saturday to join in the What if? conversation on November 6th. There is a real sense that the ELCIC and wider Church is experiencing a time of deeper consideration; wondering together about what God might be doing among us, and how we might join God in that. Church renewal and the hope that it inspires is not the domain of a few people, it’s a passion that’s shared by many. People from all across the Church, that is, across denominational lines are gathering to discuss the future of the Church; hope is rising and it’s good that we do not dream alone. Our speakers, Cam Roxburgh and Anthony Brown, for example, shared with us that people across Alberta are having similar conversations. In the coming weeks and months we expect to have more news about a missional network and training hub here in Calgary, a collaboration between denominations, local churches, and Forge Canada. What could God be up to?
Lastly, I got an email that this little blog was listed as one of Top 50 Lutheran blogs being read right now. Thanks for joining the conversation!
I recently read an article from Rod Wilson, the President of my alma mater, Regent College. In it, he was reflecting on the questions that they ask as an institution. This caught my attention,
“Recognizing that these are the questions students are bringing to Regent College in 2010 means that we must raise issues about curriculum (what we teach), pedagogy (how we teach), community (in what context we serve), messaging (how we describe what we do) and finances (how we fund what we do). We are doing this in a fresh way at this point in Regent’s history, not to communicate that the past is worse and the future is better, nor to engage in paternalism or consumerism, but so that we might continue to be sensitive to the work of the Spirit as we steer Regent College through this next season.”
Questioning methods and assumptions is healthy, it helps keep an institution on track, it helps keep people united and vibrant in their service, and it drives people towards excellence in ministry. Regent College has been a Canadian success story in Christian higher education with a student body of about 700 and world renown faculty; but even so, they frequently pause to ask the important questions of themselves. We should too.
I just got back from Jerusalem this weekend, it was my third time there and once again I was not surprised to see the famous “ladder” was right where I left it. Propped up on an upper window ledge of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a very old ladder. For as long as people can remember, at least since the mid-1800’s, the ladder has been there, unmoved. Several Christian groups operate the church, but divisions between the groups have caused fighting (sometimes violently) and so a status-quo had been established to bring peace. This has meant that for nearly 200 years items in the church have been left as-is (notice the ladder on the upper right-hand window of these photos). The ladder is a glaring symbol of the discord and foolishness of these Christian groups vying for their right to control the space. Rather than considering the big picture of God’s redemptive work in Christ and their role in the Kingdom of God, they fight over a ladder – ensuring that no one group can claim it over another. They seem almost blinded to the message of Jesus in favor of establishing their control on this holy site. And so there it sits. A ladder. A symbol of the status quo. A symbol of a church stuck in neutral.
Does your church have a “ladder”? Why is it there? What would happen if you moved it some afternoon?
I would love, next time I go back to Jerusalem, to see that ladder taken down off that window ledge. On that day I would know that the church is getting back to the fundamentals of our faith in Jesus; that it’s not about our control or jurisdiction – but about our Father who is mighty to save and who asks us to come along.
We’re only days away from the upcoming What if? One-Day Missional Conversation hosted here in Calgary. At the heart of this event is the hope that our churches will be places that thrive for the Kingdom of God. In many ways it’s experimental and a little risky to dream about the future and consider how God might be equipping our communities to better reach out in the name of Jesus; but we’re eager to see what God will do among us this Saturday. If you have not yet registered online, or would like to know more about what is being planned for that day, please visit whatif2010.ca.