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

LGP or Semiotics?

Written by: on February 28, 2019



Please don’t read this on an upset stomach.

Another book from the business world. What could it possibly have to say to the church or those interested in Christian leadership? There is no denying that the 21st century represents a level of complexity unmatched by previous generations. The church would do well to consider some of the assumptions found in Berger & Johnston’s book “Simple Habits for Complex Times” and feel the freedom to consider the inevitable uncertainty of the future.

This week the United Methodist Church held a special General Conference to decide on the issue of same sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT pastors. While this might seem a ‘no brainer’ to those of us on the conservative end of the theological spectrum, it demonstrates the complexity of our times and the need to prepare for an unanticipated future. Whether you consider yourself a member of the Westboro Baptist community or a Congregational church in New England, all are currently faced with what the authors call VUCA; “volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.”[1] The Abraham Lincoln quote used by the authors is apropos; “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” [2]

As should be patently evident by now I am passionate about emerging generations and helping them either maintain or develop a genuine relationship with their creator through Jesus. I am convinced that the Church of the future will have a very different structure to the Church of the past and present for I firmly believe it is not the shape of the Church that is universal but the message of the Gospel.

My students will tell you that I do minimal teaching and a whole lot of questioning. I want them to own their faith, not simply regurgitate my faith or that of their parents. I want them to develop their own ministry theology based on their relationship with Jesus and the calling they are discerning through prayer, meditation, discipleship and the reading of scripture. Like the authors I believe that “It is new and different questions that open up new and different possibilities.[3] Yes, this is a frightening prospect even for me who most of you likely consider some liberal nut job. But I am laser focused on introducing young people to the living Jesus and not really all that hung up on indoctrinating them into some form of faith with which I am comfortable. I found this quote incredibly helpful; “So instead of tightening the reins and controlling what others do, leaders in this space need to loosen up and enable others to find a helpful path through the unknown.”[4] I am not suggesting some form of free for all that whatever one wants to do there is complete freedom in Christ to live as you please. However, I am suggesting that in this complex age I am increasingly less certain that what is promoted as the ‘Christian faith’ is in fact the faith that Jesus wanted in us his disciples. In fact, I am pretty sure that most Christians wouldn’t like Jesus very much if he lived in our own era, myself included. We like the ‘Jesus’ that has been developed in our Western culture, but I wonder if that is who he really was/is. (OK – feel free to kick me out of the program now, I’m ok with that too.)

My own denomination, the PCUSA, has been in catastrophic decline for decades (Much like the United Methodists and other mainline denominations. I think there are sociological reasons for the apparent stability of non-denominational and more charismatic denominations but there is not time for that discussion here. Call me if you want to talk about it.) Though I love my branch of the Church of Jesus I am not surprised at its decline. Berger and Johnston hint at a potential issue when they state; “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” [5] According to this statement the PCUSA denomination is designed to get the results it is seeing in the contemporary world. The same is likely true of your own branch of the church. Read into that what you will but I think arrogance at this point is foolishness and suggests that we may be succumbing to the misguided idea that the future is clear. Again, the authors are helpful here; “When we believe that things are clear and straightforward, when we believe we know how the next chapter will go, we are just telling ourselves a myth to bring us comfort.” [6]

My experience in New Zealand, and our lead mentor’s experience in the UK, suggest what is likely on the horizon for the church in the U.S. We still experience very high, by Western world standards, church affiliation and participation. If you think that the U.S. church is considered irrelevant now just wait for what is likely around the corner. Yet, all need to be mindful that; “If you’re in a space of real complexity, there is no being sure of what will happen next.[7] Perhaps all of my foreboding will be disproved. I hope that is true. However, even if that happens it is guaranteed that ‘VUCA’ will still be applicable and Christian leaders will need to be prepared to guide the church through, in whatever form it eventually takes.

I grew up in the United Methodist Church. My father is a retired UMC pastor. One of my very good friends is editor of ‘Good News’ magazine, a conservative publication in the Wesleyan tradition. LGBT issues were hardly even fringe discussions in that denomination during my youth. No one saw this coming then and now it looks as if it will split the denomination in a bitter and contentious manner all the while communicating to those outside the faith that ‘Christians are bigots’. I hear the arguments; ‘we need to hold the line of traditional orthodoxy’, ‘we cannot dilute the truths of the faith’, etc. etc. There will be no argument from me in that regard. Yet, at the same time I am greatly concerned that the church in the U.S. is painting itself into a corner all while excluding those who desperately need to know and experience the love of God. I believe this is particularly true with emerging generations and their belief that the church is narrow minded, exclusive, unloving, arrogant, bigoted and hypocritical.

Yes, the LGBT debate is currently very contentious, particularly within mainline denominations. I wonder what the issues will be in the future. This one will likely have been dealt with in one way or another, though in the more conservative branches this argument is probably still on the horizon. I find the conclusion of ‘Simple Habits’ both comforting and disconcerting; “The complex world will not get more simple to make us more comfortable. Now is our chance to grow as big as the world requires us to be.”[8] I honestly do not know what that means but I do know that I do not desire to be a stumbling block for anyone seeking a dynamic relationship with Jesus, even if that relationship takes a different form than my own. If I am given the opportunity to utilize this Doctor of Ministry degree, I hope it will be in a way that seeks to empower others to bring about the Reign of God on earth regardless of the form that takes. I hope to encourage others as the text suggests; “The point of a leader in a complex world is to enable and unleash as many heroes and as many solutions as possible.” [9] Let’s work together on multiple solutions to present the Gospel in a manner that captures the imaginations and the hearts of a desperately needy world.


[1]Berger, Jennifer Garvey, and Keith Johnston. Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders. Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books, an Imprint of Stanford University Press, 2015. P. 8

[2]Ibid p. 7

[3]Ibid p. 14

[4]Ibid p. 149

[5]Ibid p. 27

[6]Ibid p. 226

[7]Ibid p. 150

[8]Ibid p. 227

[9]Ibid p. 219

About the Author

Dan Kreiss

Former director of the Youth Ministry program at King University in Bristol, TN and Dean of the School of Missions. I have worked in youth ministry my entire life most of that time in New Zealand before becoming faculty at King. I love helping people recognize themselves as children of God and helping them engage with the world in all its diversity. I am particularly passionate about encouraging the church to reflect the diversity found in their surrounding community in regard to age, gender, ethnicity, education, economic status, etc. I am a husband, father of 4, graduate of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, an avid cyclist and fly-fisherman still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

12 responses to “LGP or Semiotics?”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    By cultural comparison, all Kiwis are liberal nutjobs. So your in good company with me. This was a good post. I’ve just written a post that is different but in the same scope as yours, based on Hunters book “change the World”. Anyhow, enjoyed your post, and don’t lose the Kiwi ability to “smell a rat” when everyone around you senses a Dove.

    • Dan Kreiss says:

      I like being thrown in with the Kiwis if that is the result. I am convinced that my time in NZ formed and shaped my faith enabling me to think outside the box like Kiwis do and not feel threatened by alternative points of view the way many US Christians seem to be. Thanks for your encouragement. Hope you are finding this program helpful and meaningful.

      BTW – I am about to lose my job. Any openings at home in NZ I might be able to pursue?

  2. M Webb says:

    How did the Methodists decide?
    Owing your faith is spot on Dan! I’m glad to see you challenge your students in that area of their spirituality. That is a very interesting statement you made about “Most Christians wouldn’t like Jesus very much if he lived in our own era, myself included.” Hum…. I wonder what you are really trying to say friend.
    I guess I believe Christ is Lord for all ages, genres, and cultures. Since He is all Powerful, Present, and Knowledgeable God, did I say full of Grace too, then I figure He has you figured out.
    Praying you consider the armor of God.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Dan Kreiss says:


      The UMC church voted on accepting the ‘Traditional’ plan. However, my editor friend who is on the conservative end of the spectrum said it was absolute chaos and will still likely split the church which for both of us communicates a divisiveness to the outside world that is very unhelpful.

      My comment regarding Jesus is just the thought that I think most Christians today might be more inclined to side with the Pharisees than with Jesus. If Jesus spent the bulk of his time on earth with ‘outsiders’ (ie. prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers etc.) who are the outcasts in our own era that Jesus might connect with in the same way? Would he strongly identify with the LGBT community or socialists, or the Black Lives Matter movement? I really don’t know. But I sometimes feel that U.S. Christians forget that the ‘Lamb of God’ is also the ‘Lion of Judah’. CS. Lewis reminds us of this in his Narnia books. When asking about Aslan….. “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

  3. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Dan!

    Passionate, thorough, thought-provoking. Well done! And you even got a comment from outside our Cohort. That is impressive…

    We have been watching the events in the UMC with interest. It will affect us all in the Wesleyan Holiness movement. I think you are right, they will fracture…

    The largest denomination in our alliance is the Nazarenes. I wondered what you might think of their statement on human sexuality?


    • Dan Kreiss says:


      I am right there with that statement, but you and I are old fashioned. I really do wonder what will happen regarding sexuality with future generations. I wonder if it will be similar to the move toward gender inclusiveness seen in progressive denominations now.

  4. Thanks for this, Dan. I think you must be a great teacher. Your approach is life-giving. And I agree, most of read Jesus with a bias. When I preach on any of the parables, I tell people that if you don’t just feel punched in the gut when you read one of Jesus’ parables, you probably didn’t understand it correctly.

  5. Kyle Chalko says:

    what a powerful ending quote you gave. I think that could be the mission statement for a higher education institutions.

    unleash as many heroes as possible.

    love it.

  6. Excellent post, Dan!

    You mentioned in your reply to me that you discussed the UMC vote and I couldn’t help but read your perspective. It did not disappoint!

    You mention, “…I do not desire to be a stumbling block for anyone seeking a dynamic relationship with Jesus, even if that relationship takes a different form than my own.” Amen! Berger and Johnston beg us to ask different questions so that we’re truly in tune with our audience/organization. If we keep asking the same questions, then we’re trying to reenact the old, instead of trying to comprehend the new. Contextualization starts with questions – it begins when we remove our desired end goal and simply walk the journey.

  7. Greg says:

    wow Dan you are thinker….I like it. I have to admit that I read your blog right after I posted and thought I should retract mine since we took such different approaches to this book. You thoughts were very relevant to immediate issues and transitions of the day. Thanks again for shifting my perspective to outside the world I live in.

    • Dan Kreiss says:


      No need to retract yours as it was spot on too and perfect for that context. I think it’s great that we all approach these books so differently. I love reading all of our cohort member’s each week as it helps me think about the texts from completely different ways than my own perspective. I really appreciate yours.

  8. Chris Pritchett says:

    Thanks for your honest and thoughtful contribution. It’s been hard to see the UMC experience the pain we know too well in the PCUSA. I wonder which of the simple habits the author suggested are most helpful for you in your ministry.

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