“Courage is the ability to cultivate a relationship with the unknown; to create a form of friendship with what lies around the corner over the horizon–with those things that have not yet fully come into being.” –Davide Whyte
Every church I had a chance to visit or work with, including the one I participate at currently, has a deep desire to grow and be relevant. They develop programs and organize events to attract others. The goal is primarily to bring people into the church family as opposed to going where those people are. I often wonder how we can possibly become an authentic community in our respective neighborhoods without having the courage to cultivate a relationship with those around us in a meaningful way.
Reading this week’s articles by Len Hjalmarson helpful to think through my questions and have a better sense of the leadership challenge in the rapidly changing world. I appreciate Hjalmarson for writing in such clarity and wise words regarding the leadership crisis that the churches are in. In his article, “Broken Futures: Adaptive Challenge and the Church in Transition” Hjalmarson eloquently explains the cultural transitions that churches in North America are currently going through. He uses the word liminal to describe this cultural transition. He writes, “We live in transitional times, and transition is a place of liminality, of instability and contradictions. The old Latin word “liminal” means threshold. Liminality is a space in-between, a transition point, where old and new collide.” This liminal space is created as a result of cultural forces. What makes life so difficult for churches in this liminal space is the confusions and uncertainty in how to engage in a rapidly changing cultural environment. In particular, mission leaders are challenged for not knowing how to engage their members in missions. Churches spend so much time and resources on training and seminars to equip leaders and members for the mission, however, we became dependent on techniques and lose the interpersonal connection skills.
We are challenged because “We are trained to be prepared; to make our best forecast of what lies ahead so that we are pre-adapted to the expected conditions. The trouble is, our preferred future is usually only the past projected forward.” As a result, “[we] have become travelers with maps that are outdated and that no longer describe the landscape. The sense that our maps no longer function increases our sense of lostness, as well as our anxiety about the future. The higher the emotional valence, the less likely we are to respond effectively.” Therefore, I agree with Hjalmarson that our current cultural landscape requires a new kind of leadership that is not only top down or bottom up but also a kind of leadership where everyone in the community takes part in shared passion. Furthermore, Hjalmarson contends, “Where belonging and shared purpose are the center, vision is not imposed from above, nor does it only rise from below. Leaders can only lead by learning to follow. Vision rises in the Body from a mysterious synergy of context, Spirit, and gifts. The Spirit releases vision to the Body, often through the initiative of distributed and decentralized leaders. This is a long way from the cliché of leadership as vision, which was often another way for positional leaders to exercise dominance and achieve alpha status.” Perhaps for some of our churches restructuring the church leadership in holistic and egalitarian models instead of hierarchical models is the critical step to navigate in the liminal places. The motive for aspiring leadership positions has to be not for power or personal gain but to equip God’s people in a mission as we also learn and listen to God and one another.
In conclusion, Hjalmarson has some wise words for us: “But when we walk closely with others we share strength and perspective. We are more likely to endure complexity, and more likely to survive the waiting. As network theorists put it, “Life emerges where there are rich connections.” Let us not merely depend on our programs but have the courage to build relationships with our neighbors and others.