The Future


This article on the New Principles of Leadership was recently highlighted via an email I get a few times a week from the Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School.  It’s about leadership (of course!) but also about shifting your leadership to becoming bilingual leadership.  In my ongoing quest to reading and learning as widely as possible, this article brought up a couple thoughts/reflections on other pieces I’m engaging with these days…

In the Presbytery I’m leading, our Council is reading Journey in the Wilderness which offers many questions as a way of grounding ourselves in one common area of learning as we begin together.   Here is one of my favorite questions/thoughts from this book:

“People of faith must be bilingual,” says Walter Brueggemann.  “They must have a public language for negotiating at the wall.  And they must have a more communal language for processing behind the gate, in the community, out of the sight and range of imperial negotiators.”  Being bilingual is more than learning another person’s words for your own experiences.  Being truly bilingual means being able to think and experience in multiple and different ways.  Being bilingual forces us not only to understand the new but also to revisit and reclaim the native language that we once saw as sufficient.  The deep challenge for the mainline church is not only now to learn a new cultural language such as marketing, technology or postmodernism (or other new languages from outside the wall).  The challenge is to also revisit, revalue and learn once again to use the faith language from inside the wall.  -From Journey in the Wilderness by Gil Rendle

Oftentimes those of us in church circles spend our whole time with one type of community which makes it hard to see and understand the other communities around us and what they might be doing, how they might be changing or why we are (or not) connecting.   Since taking on my new role in ministry in 2014 I no longer preach every Sunday, I no longer keep the hours of a parish pastor, I am not with “church people” as much as I used to be.  I am seeing many things with new eyes.

For example….

Easter Sunday my family worshipped together in the pews.  I think the last time I did that was in 1998.  We parked outside the church about 5 minutes before worship began (hey we were on time!).  The church building was across the street from a big urban park.  As we walked down the street towards the entrance to the sanctuary I noticed we were the only ones “dressed up” walking down the street.  In the park that was bursting with spring plants and color runners, walkers, bikers, dogs with their owners and children were playing.  We were the only ones heading into a church building for worship.

Now this is a common “symptom” of the Sunday morning challenge, or the challenge in general for our faith communities.  I’m not the first one to bring it up or to describe it.  This is nothing new.  But oftentimes the simplest things are the newest ones.

That’s the whole point of this article, that we see our leadership with new eyes so that we can try to as best we can to anticipate the future and live into it.   It makes me wonder theologically.  We believe that God is a part of all time and the Creation.  We also believe in our own agency, will and purpose.  Balancing these two streams is a challenge–figuring out how to position ourselves theologically in this question.  Where is our place in the future, but most importantly  what is God’s role or desire for us?

Or the question from Rendle about the negotiating wall that Brueggemann offers an theological reflection on from 2 Kings 18 that I described above.

  • Is part of our challenge today that we have a wall?
  • Or is part of our challenge that we do not realize we have a wall and we have forgotten the opportunity it would present to us for inner and outer prophetic witness?
  • Or is part of our challenge that we do not even read and exegete critically?
  • Or is part of our challenge that we do not even know which community we are a part of anymore, or which one invites our best selves?

In the article I started with Burras says that anticipatory leadership has these things:

Make the future visible.   What are the ways we can talk inside the wall about what is going on outside the wall?  How can we as leaders in faith communities blur these lines?  How can we get those who have spent a lifetime inside a walled or gated place theologically, spiritually, socially to take a look outside and really see?  How do we balance those who have spent a lifetime inside the walls of our faith communities with those who are coming in, who have spent a lifetime outside, and do not even know there is a wall?  This is a huge challenge for leaders of communities of faith today and the one fraught I think with the greatest danger in terms of opposition to leadership but the greatest opportunity in terms of outreach and reclaiming our prophetic core.

Identify the hard trends.  Lift up the trends, but not just the trends for communities of faith.  What are the trends out in the world?  Read and engage with other mediums.  Take a look at the work of futurists.  I like the writing of Dr. Michio Kaku.  His ideas are provocative and perhaps even scary sometimes, but if we are trying to be bilingual as “church people” this might be a good place to start and be challenged.

Look outside your industry for the solutions you need.  I’ve taken to reading to reading things like Fast Company, reading books, articles, blogs on leadership from outside our “church world” and putting them alongside theological and biblical texts.

What are ways you are engaging the future, leading our church institution through this time of change while still following the prophetic Jesus?   


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