Sorry for the long delay between posts. Since my last post, I got married, honeymooned in San Francisco, and took three weeks to recover from a nasty bout of bronchitis. Hopefully, I’m up and back at it now. My friend, Fred Liggin, asked me to write a few posts about the ambivalence about the word leadership among missional types. So, for what its worth, I think I’ve got two or three posts in me on this topic. Here goes.
I once sat in a faculty/student session at Luther Seminary where very lively discussion was had concerning Luther’s departmental designation of “Congregational Mission and Leadership.” At that point, Luther had revised their curriculum and had moved away from the designation practical theology in favor of nomenclature that indicated a more missional bent to the curriculum. Not surprisingly, this change met with resistance from many quarters. At one point in our discussion, a professor of worship and liturgy cleared his throat and with great passion argued that leadership was not a Christian concept. “Jesus talked about servanthood,” he offered. “The Third Reich talked about leadership.” Wow. An appeal to the Nazis is the rhetorical equivalent to the triple-dog dare when no double-dog dare has yet been offered.
Most who are nervous about using the language of leadership in terms of ministry or mission are more nuanced in their objections. Contained in their critiques, however, is some sort of anxiety that leadership runs afoul of some aspect of Christian piety. To put it succinctly, piety and power are set over against each other.
Now anyone who has read this blog regularly knows that this is a category error for me. Christians are not opposed to power, just certain forms of power. Nothing happens, nothing, apart from the exercise of power, even matters related to the Kingdom of God. As Paul says, the kingdom is not about talk, but power. Our refusal to talk about power, I think, favors those who wield the most irresponsible and unaccountable form of power–passive-aggresiveness. Because we have weak views of leadership and pretend not to exercise power, we sanction as the only socially acceptable form of power, passive-aggresiveness.
More, because we refuse to take responsibility for how power is exercised among us, we usually fail to realize how our tacit structures favor some in our groups and disestablish others, notably women, minorities, and the poor.
We would do well, given these realities to have frank discussions about the exercise of power, and by extension, leadership, in our missional communities. And I believe that leadership is a necessary feature of what it means to be missional.
Having said that, I also think that certain forms of leadership as exercises in certain kinds of power also present the greatest dangers to anything that might pass as missional. In fact, in my experience, the biggest burden of missional innovation within missional communities rests on the ability of leadership to learn new habits and practices related to power.
I am bothered by the number of ministers who grouse about the lack of power or authority they have, by which they usually mean control over processes and outcomes. In my opinion, this is akin to a golfer who spends all his effective power at the top of his swing, thereby losing club head speed at impact. (This is exactly the kind of golfer I am). They are asking, in my opinion, for the weakest forms of power that in the end render them less effective and totally burned out.
So, what’s the way forward given the ditches we have on either side? To me, the issues of power and leadership are intrinsically spiritual issues, and the fixes here always begin with theology as a participation in the life of God.