Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Collaborative, Cooperative Idealism: a means to sustainable change

Written by: on February 18, 2020

Dr. Hunter, a social theorist, provides summaries of world-changing philosophies and practices by comparing and contrasting views on how to change the world. His book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity Today addresses various modes and means of both groups and individuals; their effort and ideals for how to make this world a better place. He looks at change from several influencers in society: political, academic, religious.

In particular, Hunter cites Genesis 2:15 as one of the backdrops for the Christian’s mandate to care for, protect, and to make changes to their context for the betterment. His writings are thought-provoking, direct, dismissive of some views, yet entirely complimentary of the need that readers do not dismiss culture-making as a whole. He wrote in a recent article, “That would be a terrible mistake.”[1] He does not look favorably upon idealistic, individual avenues and efforts of change. Instead, he seems to favor a variety of individuals and disciplines engaging in how to work together for change.

But, to change what and for what end is asked through the text. “The basic academic question is simply, how is religious faith possible in the late modern world” and “how do believers live out their faith under the conditions of the late modern world?” [2] He begins to answer these questions by stating that “when networks of elites in overlapping fields of culture and overlapping spheres of social life come together with their varied resources and act in common purpose, cultures do change and change profoundly.”[3] To understand how to change the world, one must begin with an understanding of what is to be changed and to see the world through the eyes of others. As a Christian, I can state this is congruent with what we see in the Gospels (Matthew 9:35-38). But, he does miss the power of the Spirit doing his work in changing culture (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

A poignant part of his work was this statement which was actually in this opening section. “consider the ways in which Christians in much of their diversity actually think about the creation mandate today, examining the implicit theory and explicit practices that operate within this complex and often conflicted religious and cultural movement.”[4] What? Is Hunter implying that if we are left to our own ideals we are wrong? How can this be!

If this is true, then for us to consider other views, seeking to find commonalities to create a better world we need to be humble and open enough to consider that alone our views lack veracity. “When you are honest about where your knowledge is lacking you know where you are vulnerable and where you can improve.”[5] Kathryn Schulz in her book Being Wrong wrote about this same inclination. “A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts.[6]

For example, I have seen pastors who are generally new to the day-to-day operation of pastoring strive for change. I assume the change is for the betterment of their part of their world. And, yet, the pastoral authority to make change seems to only happen after years of being faithfully present, having a multitude of voices speak into the change, and being ready to change when they have the social capital. Change is relational and it is complicated: except for when one is threatened by a fire or a bear attack!

Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” That is to say that we do lean on our own understanding… alone or do not trust not in our own selves. And, this, is not to say that we have to despise what God has gifted us. Yet, obeying God in a relationship with our gifts is righter than demanding our way is the only way.

There was a sense from reading Hunter’s work that he did not believe the change could happen because one’s heart had been changed. If that is the case, I fail to see how he could subscribe to training children up in the values of the parent has at all. Values are challenged and formed, yet to think they are not also imposed is I believe short-sighted. And, if there is not some sense of values being imposed as being more right than not values would not happen by being fancifully hopeful. This imposition though very uncomfortable does have value. With no imploring or imposing upon then, the formation would not happen.

Being a new learner in the area of co-vocational leadership, it is tempting to lean on ideals that this is the more right way is almost a revolutionary position. Yes, I do sense we are heading into a reformation of the pastorate as we know it. But, no, this change will not be in isolation from each other; instead it will be done with each other. And, I do believe that change will surface and be sustained with some level of cooperative idealism that measures our relationship of being human as we were intended to be and in relation to God.

            [1] James Davison Hunter, “Faithful Presence is Not Quietism, May 21, 2010, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/mayweb-only/30-51.0.html, accessed February 18, 2020.

            [2] Hunter, James Davison. “To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity Today.” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, preface.

            [3] Ibid., location 1003, Kindle.

            [4] Ibid., location 157, Kindle.

            [5] Shane Parrish, “The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts,” Ottawa: Latticework Publishing Inc., 2019, Kindle Edition.


            [6] Kathryn Schulz, “Being Wrong” Sidney: HarperCollins e-books, 4, Kindle Edition.

About the Author

Steve Wingate

7 responses to “Collaborative, Cooperative Idealism: a means to sustainable change”

  1. Darcy Hansen says:

    As you highlight, change happens through collaboration and community. Who are you partnering with in your research endeavors? What other denominations are asking similar questions or seeing similar trends?

    • Steve Wingate says:

      Thanks Darcy

      I have a small coalition of collaborators that Jason helped me with, I have a graduate from Len’s track who is helping me see the broader topic, and even those who differ with the celebration and support of co-vocational ministry are enlightenting. I dream of building a network for pastoral identity and healthy practices

  2. Dylan Branson says:

    Steve, when I was doing my undergraduate program, one of my profs cautioned us about making changes in churches too quickly. Like you said, there needs to be a measure of trust before changes can be implemented. Change can start small and eventually snowball into bigger changes, but it needs to have that foundation with people behind it in order for it to take hold. Sometimes the waters need to be tested if you want to make changes, but it needs to be approached with humility and respect.

    • Steve Wingate says:

      Dylan, like you, I was cautioned. My lead mentor who had pastored congregations of various numbers he said, “change when there’s change.” I feel the one aspect that was missing in Hunter’s work, at least I didn’t see it was the work of the Spirit doing his work in hearts. Jesus existed in a horribly dominant and death filled environment yet stuck to and lived out his call and when pursued change for the sake of others when change was happening in the hearts of those he served. But, we cannot say he didn’t take power opportunities. Was he a paficist? I’m not sure. But, I do know he stuck to his call and was our victor over death and for life, and that abundantly

  3. Shawn Cramer says:

    As I wrestle with this text, I think Hunter delineates between general life change and broad cultural change. His sloppiness with these terms might make him appear to be a fatalist. I think he isn’t addressing so much the change of an individual, or a family, or a church, but the broad swaths of culture.

  4. John McLarty says:

    Appreciated your call back to Schultz. We do tend to operate from a perspective of “rightness,” or “righteousness” which often tints our perspective of why we do the things we do. Leaders are often agents of change, but how often do we jump to decisions simply based on our view of the landscape instead of developing the collaborative partnerships necessary to make a greater impact?

  5. Chris Pollock says:

    To be open and accepting of the possibility of Being Wrong. I’m learning about the letting go that Proverb’s 3:5-6 calls for. And, there’s relief with it.

    Do you think that a reformation in the pastorate to co-vocational will be one forced (perhaps by economic pressures) or one that pastors themselves will come to because it will be revealed as a right or better way to express their calling/vocation/position/gifting?

    “Change is relational and it is complicated: except for when one is threatened by a fire or a bear attack!” This quote is meaningful. Sometimes, quick troubleshoots are necessary. However, it is possible to prepare for having to make the best quick decisions! Funnily enough, I am studying best response to a Grizzly attack in preparation for race that I may be in this summer!

    Thanks Steve, always appreciate your thoughts and am thankful to learn and grow through your experience and sharing!

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