DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Whole New World

Written by: on November 14, 2019

Christianity in Canadian context finds itself somewhere in between secularised Europe and the dominance Christian culture still holds in the United States of America. Canada is decidedly post-Christian in its secularised public life, but almost a third of the country is still committed to organised religious practice while another third is practising private spirituality.[1] The National calendar still observes traditional Christian holidays and the foundational values provided by a Christian ethic continue to undergird much legislation including loving one’s neighbour by making room for the ‘other’ and minority religious practices and perspectives. As is the case with the majority of western nations, Canadian Christianity has had an uncomfortable marriage with capitalism. But if Walker is correct, the free market of capitalism may be nearing an end as the world begins to feel the limits of expansionism and planetary resources, not to mention the social consequences of unchecked consumption.[2] The lingering connection to Christian faith, and Christ’s example of self-denial for the betterment of the whole, offers a possible way forward.

 

Simon P. Walker is a British researcher and writer with a background in both biology and theology who examines leadership from the perspective of Human Ecology theory. This perspective takes into account the biological, social and environmental influences on societal makeups and cycles.[3] He observes that “Western society has systematically undermined its own social, moral and economic foundations over the last century. The result is an inevitable fracture of its internal fabric, and an instability that threatens even more catastrophic collapse unless it is remedied as a matter of urgency. The ground beneath us has already shifted and we are witnessing the first signs of subsidence.”[4] Unrestrained consumption has put pressure on the planet and increased social unrest in the majority world. The combination is resulting in increasing numbers of migrants and refugees seeking new opportunities in the greater stability of western nations, including Canada. Walker suggests that “[w]hat we need now is greater honesty about what lies in store for us, rather than desperate prevarication in the hope that some other politician or government will have to break the bad news.”[5] In the the social ecology spiral that Walker outlines, I want to flesh out two key opportunities for the church to offer relevant and needed input.

 

The first opportunity lies in the radical sector. This is the place where the search for foundational meaning happens. The Protestant work ethic was a key contributor to capitalism, but must be replaced by other key narratives if Christian faith is to offer vision for the next social-economic framework. This narrative must privilege a deep valuing of familial connections, with space for that to be locally nurtured in reimagined family-like social groupings. We must tell a new story of what constitutes health and well being such that it is no longer measured by financial stability and imperial expansion, but instead by relational embededness and material self-control.  Hyper-individualism sustained by general affluence is contributing to the mental health crisis facing this generation, thus material minimalism might actually increase mental well-being. “Our society needs a distinctive spiritual voice to inform our moral narrative.”[6] This morality must reject the value of work for the purpose of competition; that is, an ever expanding economy and instead embrace work as an act of gently engaging the environment and one another towards the higher goal of relational thriving.“Collectivism cannot be simply another reaction to individualism: it needs to become the prevailing paradigm within which we understand currency, value and growth.”[7] Already “[h]igher levels of belief are correlated with higher levels of personal happiness, charitable giving, volunteerism, and overall community engagement”[8]

 

 

The second key opportunity for the church lies in the ‘mass’ sector. This is the portion of society that is mobilized through unenforced relational ties. These bonds rely on a general trust extended to the people around us based on the assumption of a common morality and a shared grand narrative. If the Christian faith can provide a moral narrative that measures human thriving in terms of relational generosity, then communalism may become the ideal societal structure for thriving. The church might then assume responsibility for rebuilding social capital by creating space for people to nurture this interdependence through shared resources and responsibilities—including the integration of the most vulnerable. “Trust entails the amicable sharing of resources. It chooses to believe the best of the other person and welcome them as a friend rather than suspect the worst and see them as a likely enemy.”[9] Leadership towards this goal would focus on nurturing close relational bonds in a manner that could be reproduced, much as Christ nurtured a small number of disciples. “Disciples cannot be mass produced but are the product of intimate and personal investment.”[10] “The proper goal for leaders (and this includes parents) is not to make their dependants entirely self-sufficient, simply having no need of them, but to foster self-awareness and the ability to trust themselves as well as others.”[11] If this is achieved, the ‘mass’ sector of society will be able to provide the stability to accommodate and value those in more vulnerable positions while elevating those most relationally trustworthy as the ‘icons’ of this new paradigm. With these strategic points of engagement, the church may not only regain relevance but prove to be the source of life it was meant to.

 

 

 

 

[1] “A Spectrum of Spirituality: Canadians Keep the Faith to Varying Degrees, but Few Reject It Entirely,” Angus Reid Institute, December 8, 2017, http://angusreid.org/religion-in-canada-150/)

[2] Simon P. Walker, Leading with Everything to Give: Lessons from the Success and Failure of Western Capitalism (Carlisle: Piquant, 2009) Kindle loc. 349.

[3] “Simon P Walker,” Biography – Simon P Walker, accessed November 15, 2019, http://simonpwalker.com/biography/4587805186)

[4] Simon P. Walker, Leading with Everything to Give: Lessons from the Success and Failure of Western Capitalism (Carlisle: Piquant, 2009) Kindle loc. 171.

[5] Simon P. Walker, Leading with Everything to Give: Lessons from the Success and Failure of Western Capitalism (Carlisle: Piquant, 2009) Kindle loc. 1861.

[6] Simon P. Walker, Leading with Everything to Give: Lessons from the Success and Failure of Western Capitalism (Carlisle: Piquant, 2009) Kindle loc. 2352.

[7] Simon P. Walker, Leading with Everything to Give: Lessons from the Success and Failure of Western Capitalism (Carlisle: Piquant, 2009) Kindle loc. 1952.

[8] “A Spectrum of Spirituality: Canadians Keep the Faith to Varying Degrees, but Few Reject It Entirely,” Angus Reid Institute, December 8, 2017, http://angusreid.org/religion-in-canada-150/)

[9] Simon P. Walker, Leading with Everything to Give: Lessons from the Success and Failure of Western Capitalism (Carlisle: Piquant, 2009) Kindle loc. 2416.

[10] Ogden 2007 as quoted by Tarik Fufa Gemechu. “Description of Discipleship Life Experience in a Servant Leadership Context” Theology of Leadership Journal, Vol 1 No 1 (2018), 39. http://theologyofleadership.com/index.php/tlj/issue/view/v1i1/v1i1.

[11] Simon P. Walker, Leading with Nothing to Lose: Training in the Exercise of Power (Carlisle: Piquant, 2007)Kindle loc. 2113.

About the Author

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Jenn Burnett

Jenn is lead pastor at The Well church in Kelowna. She longs to see the body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and contending for unity across difference. She also loves rugby, the outdoors, the colour orange and the chaos that goes with raising 4 kids.

6 responses to “A Whole New World”

  1. Hi Jenn. Good stuff here. You wrote: “The church might then assume responsibility for rebuilding social capital by creating space for people to nurture this interdependence through shared resources and responsibilities—including the integration of the most vulnerable.”

    Amen to that. I read just recently that if 7% of Christians adopted an orphan we would instantly empty orphanages. Isn’t that amazing. This is just one example of what we hope and pray Christians start to imagine.

    I’m confident you’re one of those ‘undefended’ leaders who can move folks to adopt this kind of communalism in our local communities.

  2. mm John Muhanji says:

    Thank you, Jenn, for this great observation of the Canadian decline in Christianity as you contracted with Walker’s Undefended Leader. I am also encouraged by your look at the Christian community’s role in the community in rebuilding moral values that would outdo the capitalism that is almost on the verge of collapse. Thank you for bringing out your voice on this matter.

  3. Great post Jenn, I appreciate your perspective on the pivotal role of the church in bringing the desired change, in the face of an inevitable collapse of the current western civilization life-cycle. Like Harry, I agree with you that the church stands a better chance to take the lead in rebuilding social capital by creating space for people to nurture interdependence, especially in integrating the most vulnerable members of our society. I appreciate that walker emphasized on the need to pay particular attention to the underclass who are on the increase, especially in the majority world, in which context, I work.

  4. mm Mary Mims says:

    Great post, Jenn. I love that you provide a perspective from your own context of Canada. I am thankful for the different views in our cohort, with members from different nations which bring out a global perspective. This is what the program is all about!

  5. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Jenn,
    Thanks so much for articulating your Canadian context. While I am not at all familiar with Walker’s writings relative to capitalism, what could undefended leadership begin to look like within your faith community? I am most intrigued by Walker’s facets of freedom as a construct for true fearless leadership. What do you think about this?

  6. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Thanks so much for your insight into Canadian Christianity, Jenn. You noted that the lingering connection to Christian faith, and Christ’s example of self-denial for the betterment of the whole, offers a possible way forward. I love that! I also appreciated that you explored different ways the church could connect with the people: through deep valuing of familial connections, with space for that to be locally nurtured in reimagined family-like social groupings and through telling a new story of what constitutes health and well being such that it is no longer measured by financial stability and imperial expansion. Powerful ideas, my friend. What’s your next step to help make this happen? You’ve got this, Jenn!!!

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