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

Gliding through glassy seas

Written by: on June 4, 2015

“Liquid Modernity,” “Chaordic Age,” “Post-post—Modernity,” “Post-Christian,” “Post-Church,”   uuuuggghhhhh!  It’s exhausting!  We are forced more and more to navigate nuances, to make values-based decisions while constantly adjusting our vision to ever-morphing shades of grey.  That’s what it means to be a church leader today.  If I’m being honest, sometimes I just want things to be simple, cut and dried, black and white, wrong and right.  It seems that it would be much easier to lead if the goalposts weren’t always moving around!  But, as leaders, are we called to “easy?”  Probably not…

Meg Wheatley holds to the view that a leader’s best contribution isn’t to be causal, but rather to engage in organizational midwifery, stewarding the “qualities of commitment, compassion, generosity and creativity that are in all of us to start with.”1  Hmm…  So if people would just come to grips and get in touch with the goodness that is resident in them then organizational leaders would really only have to just stand at their helms, gently steering their adoring subordinates as they glide farther and farther along, out across the glassy seas of human accomplishment.  I’m thinking the doctrine of original sin and the general propensities of fallen humanity might argue against this leadership philosophy.

Pema Chodron agrees with Wheatley just so long as individuals in these organizations are able to muster up “a lot of trust in their own goodness, and… not freak out in the face of insecurity and uncertainty.”2  I get it, (I trust that a little of my good-natured sarcasm is coming through here) and agree that in a perfect world, these approaches may work but what do we do when the very uncertainty and complexity facing us is largely caused by the toxicity resident in our own humanity?  How do we skillfully guide good-hearted people when their very own dysfunctions continue to perpetuate the uncertainty, not to mention the dysfunctions of us, the leaders?  Is the Spirit of God and the renewed nature of regenerated Christians enough to counteract the environmental mess created by original sin?  Can we be hopeful?  Len Hjalmarson seems to think so.

Len offers the view that the present crisis of uncertainty offers fertile soil for seeds of rediscovery, rediscovery of the church’s original mission: “authentic community, a living priesthood, missional people in a foreign land.”  We have the opportunity to make a shift from “leadership cults to leadership cultures.”3  And while this is a hopeful, optimistic view, what evidence do we have that church leaders will rise to this challenge?  Throughout church history, we have had ample times of fluidity which could have been leveraged into meaningful change yet somehow, the seasons on the emergent side of liminality always seem to wind up more messy than the previous.

“Shut it Jon!  Be hopeful!”  Like Dr. Hjalmarson…

1. Margaret Wheatley & Pema Chodron, “It Starts With Uncertainty” Shambala Sun (November 1999).

2. Ibid.

3. Len Hajalmarson, “Leadership in the Chadic Age,” (an article). 1.

About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

13 responses to “Gliding through glassy seas”

  1. Brian Yost says:

    Jon, I really enjoyed your post. I had the same issues with Wheatley and Chodron. You posed a great question, “what do we do when the very uncertainty and complexity facing us is largely caused by the toxicity resident in our own humanity?” Jesus made the connection between the heart and words/actions, what is on the inside comes out. What has come out of the heart of humankind is not the solution, it is the problem. Broken people become broken leaders and create broken systems. It is only when we look outside of ourselves to the one who is unchanging that we find answers to the ever-changing leadership issues of the 21st century.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Brian, the problem is that we continually look inward for our answers. Think about, even when (as one example) we were rattled by 9/11, the resounding cry from American leaders was “we will rise, we will overcome, we will find our way back to greatness!” It was not, “Lord we look to you for help, show us a way forward.” We just keep circling around the same mess that our sin created in the first place. I want to be hopeful, like Len, but it’s hard when our history points the other way.

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Jon, I’m trying to decide if I agree that, “the seasons on the emergent side of liminality always seem to wind up more messy than the previous.” Are we more messy now then ever? I don’t really know. Rome seemed pretty messed up back in the day…yet scripture also seems to point out that things will keep getting worse and worse. I often hear that this is the worst that it’s ever been but I still love Douthat’s quote in Bad Religion, “The story of Christianity has always featured unexpected resurrections.”

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Nick, you may be right but in the grand trajectory, it seems that fidelity to scripture and dependence on God perpetually is fading. But, as you pointed out, our shared eschatological view kind of argues for things to get worse from one generation to the next right? I probably should stop whining about it and just rejoice!


  3. Dave Young says:

    Jon, I enjoyed your tempered sarcasm. I say tempered because I assume it could cut a lot deeper if you let go. I also appreciated the optimistic conclusion in the face of what seems to be a tremendous challenge: navigating into a very liquid future. All this reading stirs up my passions for leadership, but it also challenges me to think I’m not up for the task… Isn’t there some sand we can stick our heads into?

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Dave, sometimes I wish for a sand pit to put my head in with some firm concrete to plant my feet on. Fluidity is exhausting. Have you ever tried treading water in the ocean just beyond the point where your feet could touch the bottom? Before long, fatigue sets in Thats kind of how it feels leading the church in our current culture

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, Reading your post reminded me of the disagreement I had with Wheatley and Chodron as well. I also so something was missing in their views. I believe it was Wheatley in particular, who specifically referenced not needing or being spiritual or religious in her thoughts of navigating life and leadership and yet her view was a spiritual and religious promotion of a secular humanism being promoted. I liked your clarity on the “sin problem” and appreciated your honesty on the real challenge that it is to keep an authentic hope alive today.

  5. Travis Biglow says:

    God bless you Jon,

    I think it is in everyone to have things certain. I dont think it is nothing abnormal. But the reality with God is that God is not perdictable in every situation. And we have to really want the will of God to be done in our lives. And sometimes in the will of God its not clear or it puts us in uncomfortable places. But the good things is that God is in the uncomfortable places. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul in prison, being stoned, going hungry, being persecuted by his own people, on the run, alway living in uncertainty (2 Cor.). But in the process he bought the gospel to the known world at that time. And today i think God is working in us the same way and what ever it takes in the realm of uncertainty its ok. As long as we fulfill the will of God.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Travis, that’s a good observation. The more comfortable we become with uncertainty, the more effective we can be in leading others through uncertainty.


  6. Some of you might be surprised to read another article by Meg Wheatley, http://margaretwheatley.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Leadership-In-Turbulent-Times-Is-Spiritual.pdf

    And interesting to note that she doesn’t see herself as an optimist. Here is how she opens another article (1999, “Consumed by Fire or Fire”) —

    “For too long, I have lived in the world wanting to change it. This has been an impossible stance. It intensifies normal desires to contribute something to the human condition into crusades that are doomed to disappoint. I have gradually weaned myself from this posture, I think, because it is just too exhausting and unsatisfying to maintain.”

    So what should we be as we work to be the change we want to see, and also attempt to work the mortar from the walls of structures that once enabled us and now limit us – optimists, or pessimists? Or is it possible to live with a certain detachment from our efforts in the confidence that God who is good will take up into his future kingdom every effort that is made for his sake? “All is well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Len, that is an interesting insight into her broad body of thought. My window into Wheatley’s thinking is, admittedly, narrow, limited to just out article from this week and the usual little bit of research I do onto an author that I am unfamiliar with… That blurb you just mentioned seems to point to some waining optimism within her when it comes to the search for goodness within humanity… I intend to read more of her stuff to get a more fully formed insight.


  7. Mary says:

    Oh Jon – what a gift you are to all of us. I still remember when you first wrote in our blogs back last September, and I saw that bit of sarcasm then. I was quite curious to meet you in person. Then your luggage didn’t show up…for how many days? You were amazing in your ease, at least for what I saw. And I realized that for all your “bark,” you are actually someone who likes to mix it up with a heart of passion and commitment for God’s calling in your life.
    I see something similar here – a desire to stir it up for the sake of not accepting what’s handed to you (kind of like a constructive deviant) – while trusting your community, our cohort, to push back as we all listen to one another. An iron-shapening-iron relationship.
    There’s another thought that comes to mind – others have mentioned it in other ways – what do you believe about your participation in changing the world? I’m curious, how do you suppose Davison’s book about not changing the world while wanting the world to change relates to these readings? I ask because I wrestle with wanting to change the world. Yet I’m realizing that faithful presence, that at times might seem like optimism to some while a reality for me, appears to be my primary participation. Just curious.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Mary, thanks for these gracious words, and the question…

      I am coming back to a place of simplicity and resolve. Simplicity in the sense of, “just do my job.” My job is to make disciples wherever I find myself. If God truly is ordering my steps then he is positioning me in contexts, small and great, where my voice matters and individuals will be formed into the image of Christ – discipled… I have come to the place of resolve where I realize I am not called (according to scripture) to change any institution, especially not the WORLD! I am called, again, to simply make disciples.

      Since I am called and gifted to be a leader, I do have to make sure I lead with integrity among the people where I have been positioned but I see this as a sort of “add-on” to the primary mandate to make disciples… every Christian has to reckon with that mandate, leader or not a leader. Given this reality, I don’t have the option to put my head in the sand (no matter how much I would LOVE to be able to) with regard to the cultures and societies around us. By the luck of the draw, we landed in an era laced with uncertainty and tumult, ok, so I have to deal with it! And learn how to be comfortable leading there!

      I may not be able to change the world, but I can be the best leader I can be while making disciples wherever I am and who knows, one or two of those disciples, one or two of those who I lead, JUST MIGHT be world-changers.

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