Leading with Ecclesial Intelligence
In Shaping the Church: The Promise of Implicit Theology, Martyn Percy explores the complexities of contextual ecclesiology within the narrative of the Anglican tradition. Percy explains that churches across denominations have a set of stated theological propositions that shape each church. However, the way in which the church interacts with its socio-cultural context also shapes the congregation, developing a set of implicit beliefs and values that are distinct from propositional theology. This second layer of theology is much more subtle, and often ignored. Consequently, in order to lead the church effectively through passages of social and cultural shifts, leaders must pay attention to this layer of implicit theology, exercising a mindset that is patient and discerning, that is comfortable with ambiguity and elasticity, and that shuns away from simplistic analysis. This kind of leader understands that from the beginning, the church was incarnated in society rather than conceived in a pure insulated state. Therefore the goal is not to go back to an original pure form of ecclesiology, but to embrace with a discerning mind the hybridity of theology and culture as a an opportunity for faithful witness. Otherwise, leaders run the risk of hurting the church. “Religion, in other words, when un-earthed and de-coupled from social and cultural contexts, has a greater potential to become toxic and self-absorbed.”
This book was insightful in many ways, even though it read more like a collection of essays. The author challenges us to exercise critical thinking as we constantly discern doctrine, church programs, and structures. He also encourages the Anglican Communion to learn to agree to disagree on important issues, seeking communion rather than division. He does not, however, define the limits of elasticity, leaving the reader wondering about the distinction between elasticity and syncretism, and about the point in which division is to be preferred over theological compromise.
In Run with the Horses, Eugene Peterson describes a struggle in American ecclesiology that I have observed as a pastor. “Since Americans are the world’s champion consumers, let’s offer the gospel on consumer terms, reinterpreting it as a way to satisfy their addiction to More and Better and Sexier.” Percy dedicates a few chapters to challenge this consumerist approach to church ministry, reminding us that church is not a business or even an organization, but an entity. Thus, church leaders must not think of themselves as managers of an organization, but as leaders of a complex body.
Based on my experience, words like achievement, size, and success, are too common in church ministry. And I am troubled with them, not because they are not important but because I am afraid that it is not theology but capitalism that has defined their nuances. At some point the church has changed its narrative, in which we no longer talk about sheep, flock, and shepherds. I wonder, when did lives become numbers? When did conversions become trophies? When did disciples become clients? And when did pastors become CEOs?
By reframing the church as an institution, Percy helps me rescue some fundamental convictions about pastoral leadership that I must embrace as I lead Ethnos Bible Church in the uncharted waters of demographic and cultural change. First, he reminds me that my goal as a leader is to keep us anchored to the foundation, and not to aim to become a star. “First, whatever part one plays in the orchestra, institutions have to try and pay attention to the bass-line, and to not get overly distracted by the melody. The bass-line is all about patience, depth and pace.” This patience and depth is achieved when I look at the church beyond my own life span and ambitions.
Secondly, Percy reminds me that the most important aspect of my leadership makeup is not my charisma or my academic accomplishments, but my spirituality. “Leadership is the impression left; the indelible marks of God’s presence and leading that point back to their source. So we can perhaps begin to end by saying that leadership formation in the church, and for the future needs to be focused on the language of the Spirit that gives life to the church.” To love God and to be known by Him is more important than to be known by the masses.
Recovering the biblical imagery of flock and shepherd to describe the church, the apostle Peter calls me to watch over the sheep, to care for them, so they can experience restoration, depth, and spiritual maturity. Echoing this call, Percy reminds me that I am not primarily called to be a manager of the sheep, but a caring leader of the flock. “Moreover, this must be more than (mere) management, since the institution requires, above all else, leadership. And in the church, this means connecting the human to the divine; neither separating the two or conflating the self with one. It is being the body of Christ. Because the church is not an organization, and the Christian faith not an ideology, a focus on Christian leadership cannot be reduced to a kind of crude instrumentality.” Even as I work with teams of leaders and staff, I must also remember that they too are sheep in need of shepherding, not just employees that need a manager.
Finally, this kind of leadership in the Body of Christ requires that I do not depend on my own intelligence, but that I depend on God who gives the wisdom needed to sort through the complexities of leading the body. “Holy wisdom, then, is something related to but ‘other’ than conventional wisdom. It is an embodied form of spiritual intelligence that is more than mere shrewdness. It is interpretative, lived and transformative; and those who encounter it will more often speak of an epiphany than mere insight.”
Percy has succeeded in reminding me that leadership in church ministry is complex. He has helped me think about the church through different angles that have enriched my perception. In addition to my list of leadership intelligences from previous authors, Percy introduced me to a new category that I hope to embody: Ecclesial intelligence. May the Lord grant me this ability as I continue to live in the tensions of leading and managing, principle and elasticity, conviction and paradox.
 Percy, Martyn, Very Revd Prof. Shaping the Church: The Promise of Implicit Theology (Explorations in Practical, Pastoral and Empirical Theology). (Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Kindle Edition). 163.
 Peterson, Eugene H. Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009). 9-10.
 Percy, 142.
 Ibid., 130.
 Peterson, 15.
 Percy, 128.
 Ibid., 137-138.
7 responses to “Leading with Ecclesial Intelligence”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
You mentioned as a leader your call is “keeping us anchored to the foundation”. What do you see are principles that will help you establish the “anchor”?
Percy helps “stretch” us with “implicit theology” and its ramifications. Percy explains that “implicit” is the meshing together of strands. Do you sense that there has been “implicit” thought processes to get you where you are or “explicit”?
I think that our role of keeping God’s people anchored to God’s word is similar to the ministry of the prophets from the Old Testament. We need to proclaim God’s Word, remind people of God’s heart; we teach, confront, correct, and encourage. How do we do that? Since you are a Pastor too, I imagine that we share similar experiences. We preach the word from the pulpit, we counsel people in private, we teach classes in small groups, we have informal conversations, we write emails. The means in which we help people remain anchored to God’s Word is diverse, but the heart is the same.
I think at the end of the day, ecclesial intelligence is the catalyst that drives Christian ministry because as you quoted from Percy, “Christian leadership has . . . the stamp of authenticity that can only come from God, Christ, and the Holy spirit. Leadership is the impression left, the indelible marks of God’s presence and leading that point back to their source.” He also adds that leadership formation in the church, and for the future needs to be focused on the language of the Spirit that gives life to the church and that it must be holistic and embedded in the institutional culture. You have a good understanding just how critical this is to your pastoral leadership at Ethnos Bible Church as you indicated in your blog, regarding the challenges of leading in these tensions, paradoxes, and uncertainties. In your steadfast humility, our God is constantly equipping you for the task at hand.
Claire, thank you for your encouragement. Reading Percy’s description of the traits of pastoral leadership made me think more and more about the importance of implementing our pastoral internship program in a way that provides the candidates with real ministry opportunities, discerning above everything else their spiritual qualities. Obviously this kind of internship is more involved and personalized, but it may be the only way to filter those who want to be in church leadership from those that should be in leadership ministry. Once again, thanks for your encouragement.
Wonderful aspirations, Pablo.
Great blog, very insightful! I can feel your heart and passsion as you express you struggle and love for the church. I resonated with your closing statements about the tension that comes with leading the local church. I too found Percy’s words something to be wrestled with. Have you found an example or pastor that you feels walks out the balance of leader and pastor?
You wrote, “Based on my experience, words like achievement, size, and success, are too common in church ministry. And I am troubled with them, not because they are not important but because I am afraid that it is not theology but capitalism that has defined their nuances.”
This bothers me, too. I don’t know what your thoughts would be, but I am deeply concerned that what drives the conservative church these days is America, not Kingdom.