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

Off the Map

Written by: on June 3, 2015


“Churches are entering a nowhere land that has come into being in the turbulent waters of societal shift. We have become travelers with maps that are outdated and that no longer describe the landscape.”[1] This quote by Len Hjalmarson captures a key issue in church leadership. There are models of leadership and “doing church” that have been used in the past but fall short in today’s world. The problem is that we not only face new challenges, but that our ability to face these challenges can actually be hindered by our past successes. As we chart new ground, we find that referring to the “maps” of the past can keep us from seeking new solutions that may not have been part of our previous leadership vocabulary. Hjalmarson says, “The challenge is to disturb the system in such a way that the desired outcome is more likely.”[2] For those in Christian leadership that do not like to disturb people and just want to keep the peace, this may sound counter intuitive. The fact remains, without some disturbing, others may not even be aware of the challenges and they will not likely seek innovative solutions. Disturbing the system can open dialogue to bring clarity to purpose. “When purpose is clear, focus becomes possible, and management can shift to collaboration and empowerment.”[3] The very act of collaboration and empowerment will be a brand new paradigm for many churches that have traditionally viewed leadership from a top-down, positional system.

A great point made by Hjamlarson is that there has been a focused confusion between filling pews and making disciples.[4] A goal of filling the church with passive spectators had led to a style of leadership that simply does not work if the goal is to make disciples. Making disciples is very organic and happens in relationships. It is not something that we script like a one-hour worship service. Real discipleship cannot be relegated to a 12-week study. It is messy and could be described as orchestrated chaos, but orchestrated by God, not us. In this setting, leadership begins to look different as we step off the map and into the wilderness together. I love the quote from Wheatly and Chodron, “I have realized over time that the real role of a leader is not to control but to mid-wife-to evoke those qualities of commitment, compassion, generosity and creativity that are in all of us to start with.”[5]

The above quote by Wheatly and Chodron provides a good visual of leadership, but they miss a key truth. Rather than seeing God as the source of goodness, creativity, and positive leadership, “They discuss how organizations can acknowledge their confusion and trust in the goodness of the underlying order.”[6] They go on to say; “So many people are realizing that the only way to go through this increasingly crazy time is to focus on ourselves not in a narcissistic way, but understanding that the source of peace and the place to find rest is within.”[7] What they miss is that we are living in a fallen world. As we look into ourselves we find that, yes, we are created in God’s image, but that we were also born in sin. Simply looking into ourselves, we will not find a place of rest. Jesus called us to find rest and peace in him. As we move our leadership “off the map”, we must look to the one who sees beyond our limited human vision and allow him to lead us.


[1] Leonard Hjalmarson, Broken Futures: Adaptive Challenge and the Church in Transition, Unpublished, Chapter One, 2.

[2] Ibid., 7

[3] Leonard Hjalmarson, Leadership in the Chaordic Age, Unpublished, 4.

[4] Broken Futures, 9.

[5] Margaret Wheatley & Pema Chodron, “It Starts with Uncertainty,” Shambala Sun, November 1999, 1.

[6] Ibid., 1.

[7] Ibid., 2.

About the Author

Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

9 responses to “Off the Map”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Hey Brian, there are a couple of points in your post I’d like to reference. First, I agree that the skill-set we leaders should be growing in is our capacity to navigate rather than just read maps. Maps are only as good as the landscape that existed when they were charted… Our landscape seems to be shifting with alarming regularity! We need to have an outside, fixed position to which we can make course corrections. That’s the task of modern-day church leaders. In his article, Dave referenced three fixed positions, gospel-centered theology, disciple-making and missional communities. If we can fix our focus on these, we can more adeptly navigate the tumultuous tides of culture.

    The second thing is that your recognition of the world’s contribution to the tumultuousness around us was insightful. I felt that the authors (Wheatley and Pema) really maintained a PollyAnna-ish outlook. That’s not helpful…

    Good work man!

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Thanks Brian…I really appreciated you pointing out Wheatley and Chodron’s missing of human’s sin nature. I kept thinking that Wheatley seemed like an eternal optimist but you articulated it well that we can never just look to ourselves because we are sinful. The true navigator can only be Jesus and we must work to keep our eyes fixed on him.

  3. Dave Young says:

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for your focus on Len’s writing. I too was especially taken back by all too often church mindset on “filling pews’ vs. discipleship. Or the faulty view of discipleship by attendance. We need to clearly have in mind what the whole mission of the church is to ‘make disciples’. And if a ‘disciple’ is a person transformed into Christ likeness – how are we measuring if we’re actually making disciples or not. How could we be asking such fundamental questions… it’s like waking up from a long nap.

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, “but that our ability to face these challenges can actually be hindered by our past successes.” I really appreciated this same point also. I loved how the Luke passage was brought into the writing and the emphasis on how Jesus “sends us out” into new horizons and tells us to take nothing with us so we will be ready and looking for his fresh revelation. Very inspiring. Very true!

  5. Travis Biglow says:

    God bless you Brian,

    You are touching on so many of the topics in my essays and ministry. Empowerment being the most significant one. Our church name is Victory Empowerment Center. Our goal or mission is to empower people in their faith, spirituality, economics and education to help impact the world for Jesus Christ. For me Brian in a lot of ways my walk within my leaders is off the map. I have begun home Bible Studies at our members house. Its about retationship not just having them sit in the four walls of our church. I really enjoyed the first meeting we had a wonderful fellowship. This is the begining of incarnational and missional ministry that i have begun. And i think that God is going to do some awesome things in it.

  6. You guys have picked up the very affirming view of human nature in Wheatley’s worldview, one that contrasts with what is typically seen in evangelical circles. I think you are right that she may be too optimistic — I see enough sin (esp manifest in a need for control) among Christian leaders to dissuade me from her view. OTOH, I see so much good and even selflessness among non-Christian leaders, that I think the pessimistic anthropology of the Reformers is over-played. But perhaps the bottom line for me is this — we humans made in God’s image have far greater capacity for good that is generally given credit! Perhaps we see less innovation, creativity and success than we should because our expectations are too low!

  7. Mary says:

    I appreciate when someone outside the Christian perspective names a God-inspired principle such as this one you choose by Wheatley and Chodron: “I have realized over time that the real role of a leader is not to control but to mid-wife-to evoke those qualities of commitment, compassion, generosity and creativity that are in all of us to start with.” The midwife metaphor reminds me of Jesus’ three questions of Peter – “Do you love me?” He can’t force Peter to become the rock of the church, but he can certainly evoke it out of him.
    As duly noted, there are differences in worldviews; however, I love being able to start with some common ground, and then move from that place to distinctives when trust and listening build. I think the above conversation could be a great one for us all as we explore how we view each other.

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