Alan Roxburgh in a recent Missional Network (October 23, 2013) newsletter writes,
“There isn’t an executive leader I’ve met recently who doesn’t recognize that practically everything about their jobs and roles has changed. They can describe how things used to work but confess they have few clues about how to lead in this new space. Leaders find themselves in a ‘space between.’ This is a space between the world in which we were formed and this indefinable territory our churches now have to navigate. What is coming into focus for leaders I talk with is that this space between is more than a stopping off place while we wait for the fog to clear; it’s the new normal and will be so for a long time to come.
Our future is in leading in this space between. The pressing question I am asked over and over is “How does one lead in this space?”
I guess I should not be baffled by this, but I keep wondering why leaders keep asking this question. Inherent within this question is not only a fear of what to do next, but also an arrogance in which the leader assumes that they are responsible for getting the leading done. Indeed, leading is a spiritual gift that needs to be exercised, but I think our arrogance lies in our continually buying into the myth that we are the leaders.
In some way being leaders is what we are or think we are because the people we are called to serve look to us for leadership – and so we must be the leaders.
In my own pastoral journey – I was equipped to pastor during the heyday of the Church Growth movement – I came to realize the way I was leading more often did harm to the people I was pastoring. And the more I thought leading and being the leader was my responsibility, the more harm I ended up doing – as well as being harmed in the process.
It took about a fifteen year “wandering in the desert” for me to discover a different way of exercising the gift of leading that shaped me to be a very different kind of pastor – uncovering the myth of leadership in which being the leader is our responsibility.
I know that this myth is still very much alive and the arrogance that accompanies it because in talking with a worship pastor a few weeks ago, just sharing our stories, our journeys, he expressed how refreshing it was to hear a different way to exercise the gift of leading in the body of Christ that nurtures a community to participate with God in God’s redemptive mission.
Alan is right, for those of us who buy into the present leadership paradigm, we are struggling navigating this between space. But, why? Why is it so hard to navigate this space? Why is so hard? I believe it is so hard because we are unwilling to let go of our own desire to exert control, to shape the process in ways which we think the direction of ministry and church ought to go.
Yet, in my own discovering of becoming willing to give up control of where church and ministry ought to go, I discovered that there was no between space, but rather spaces of discovery in learning to discern and move with the Spirit of God.
“How does one lead in this space?” I think is the wrong question – for to ask this question is one way to perpetuate the need for our being in control as we lead. Rather, the question that I find to be more helpful in dealing with our sin of “take charge” or “needing to control” leadership is: how do we follow the Spirit in this new space we find ourselves?
Indeed, this is “God’s space” as Alan remarks, and as such it is “creative space.” For in this space, as we learn to discern and follow the Spirit’s moving, the Spirit’s leading, the Holy Spirit invites us to engage in new and different ways of exercising the gift of leading – one that I submit is more rooted in a posture of servantship than leadership. In doing so, as Alan expresses, “the Spirit is disrupting our established leadership habits and inviting us to enter this strange, disorienting space between.”
A few years back our Church Board was challenged to explore what discerning and following the Spirit’s lead entailed. We got rid of goal setting and developing strategic plans. Instead we developed a strategic way of thinking that sought to discern and discover where the Spirit was moving in us, amongst us, and around us so that we might step out in participating with God in God’s mission in our neighborhood.
This transition did not come easy. We asked ourselves, “won’t this be chaotic?” And we discovered in one sense it was, especially as we tried to exert our control into the situation. Chaos ensued if we tried to take charge of where the Spirit was leading. But as we learned to discern and follow the Spirit’s lead, not only did we discover a sense of peace, we also discovered we were being led into ministry situations and relationships we would never have considered. What we learned and are still learning is that the Spirit has a pretty good handle of how to lead us as a community of Christ.
In this way of following after the Spirit, there is still a place for the exercising of the gift of leading for the pastoral team, but rather than being one that controls what is going on in the community, it is one in which we are guiding the people within our congregation to attend to God and to what God is doing. We do this by encouraging deepening our communicating with God in prayer, of engaging God’s Story and Vision through Scripture engagement, and fostering spiritual conversation among us and between us as we explore where we see God at work in us and around us. This is helping us as a community to discern together where God is moving, helps us to hear the Spirit together and follow the Spirit together. As pastoral team we are leading our community to recognize that the Spirit is leading us and we are learning as a community to follow the Spirit’s lead. As such, we are exploring and discovering creative ways of participating with God in God’s redemptive mission of making all things new.
Let me know what you think. I would be willing to explore with you how this way of leading is shaping us as a community – as we grow as God’s missional people in this creative, Spirit-led between space.