DMINLGP

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

Why stop now?

Written by: on November 11, 2017

Finally, a book about the Jesuit order that recognizes them to be better role models than Attila the Hun.  Don’t get me wrong, Attila has a number of good leadership qualities.  His name is incredibly masculine and gives him an aura of mystique.  He was known to be ruthless, not prone to being pushed around.  He had expert horsemanship, enabling him to escape tricky situations like when he left 100,000 of his men dead on the field and lived to tell about it.  He was also incredibly wealthy from all of his pillaging, therefore people emulated him.  It is not difficult to understand why corporate America might look to him as a role model.  Also, it is obvious that corporate America is not known for great powers of discernment.

Much like the one for whom they are named, the Jesuits practice a counterintuitive leadership that turns the traditional power model on its head as, through humility and extraordinary service to others, they alter the course of the world and exact influence far beyond their size or status.  In humanity’s seemingly incessant effort to obtain some form of advantage over another, what if one’s impact was greater through the act of giving rather than taking?  What if the Jesuits stumbled over the secret to unlocking leadership ‘best practices’ without ever developing a mission statement, securing financial backing, requiring compliance with the training manual or following the hierarchical organization chart?  And what if churches decided they will finally forego the obsession with using the business model to structure themselves and instead attempt to develop a system, based on the example of the Jesuit order, that appears to be more akin to one the founder of the faith may have initiated?  Is this just insanity, foolish optimism, and/or blind faith?  Why, yes, it is!  Blind faith has worked for the Jesuits this long, so why stop now?

With a thorough understanding of both the corporate world and the Jesuit order, Chris Lowney is somehow able to navigate through the morass of texts on leadership principles with something fresh and innovative from a nearly 500 year old organization.  He discerns the four key principles that distinguish the order from other leadership models and clearly demonstrates how they have been utilized in context.  Contrasting his experience in the Jesuit order with that of his time in the corporate world provides opportunity to compare the two from an insider’s perspective.

Utilizing this text as a lens through which to understand my particular area of interest generates some interesting insights.  The structure of the Church is largely unchanged over the last millennia.  Particularly when understanding older denominational traditions the Church is big, staid, traditional, hierarchical and prone to provide answers to questions people are no longer asking.  This appears to be the antithesis of the Jesuit order, at least as Lowney describes it.  Their “abilities to innovate, to remain flexible and adapt constantly, to set ambitious goals, to think globally, to move quickly, to take risks”, all sound like characteristics that the Church of the 21st Century could use.[1]

There is some wisdom in considering the idea that one of the things that could be driving away Millennials from the Western Church is that there is very little distinction between its organizational structures and those of other manipulative institutions such as governments and corporations.  When one’s entire life is consumed with surviving the daily grind as dictated by Attila and his cronies why would anyone commit to a community with the veneer of compassion and self-sacrifice masking an identical core to every other institution?  Maybe that outlook places too much blame on the institution of the Church for the apparent withdrawal of Millennials from within its community.  Perhaps it is not as clear as all that.  But, perhaps this is a contributing factor as Millennials attempt to develop their own definitions of what constitutes valued leadership.  Possibly the model espoused in this text, provided by the Jesuits would remedy some of that attrition.

The Millennial generation is much less inclined to follow the traditional path, to obey the rules because those in authority said they should, to accept the status quo until they are given the opportunity to wield some influence.  Again, the Jesuits may empower Millennials by their willingness to recognize “that we’re all leaders and that our whole lives are filled with leadership opportunities. Leadership is not reserved for a few Pooh-Bahs sitting atop large companies.”[2]  In discerning what may be keeping those Millennials who have remained attached to traditional church structures it may be useful to determine whether these principles have been applied thus providing them with opportunities to be connected in ways meaningful to them in the present.

Further, there is little doubt that the cultural landscape is developing rapidly.  It is the Jesuits more than many other Christian organizations that have the ability to “speak to us not as experts in dealing with an antiquated sixteenth-century landscape but as experts in eliciting confident performance despite uncomfortably shifting landscapes— in whatever century.”[3]

If it is the form of leadership the Church has chosen to use that is encouraging the withdrawal of so many Millennials than possibly a willingness to develop what Lowry suggests is evident in the Jesuit order would prove to help the Church adjust to the changing landscape.  He states that leaders “eagerly explore new ideas, approaches, and cultures rather than shrink defensively from what lurks around life’s next corner.”[4]  As the culture goes through further upheaval and meteoric change the example of the flexibility of the Jesuit order to adapt seems worth investigating.  As I endeavor to pursue understanding of the relationships Millennials maintain with the Church this text by Lowry will likely be a useful tool.

BTW – I have some leadership books on Attila the Hun I want to sell if anyone is interested.  They will be heavily discounted.  Also, I’ll be keeping this book on the Jesuits and reading every last word, when I finally get the chance.

 

 

[1] Lowney, Chris. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World: Best Practices from a 450 Year Old Company That Changed the World (p. 4). Loyola Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid p. 5

[3] Ibid p. 9

[4] Ibid p. 29

About the Author

mm

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 young people recognize themselves as children of God and helping them engage with the world in all its diversity. 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.

15 responses to “Why stop now?”

  1. Shawn Hart says:

    Dan, do you hold greater disdain toward Attila the Hun or toward the myriad of church self-help books that seem to plague the shelves of every minister today? Great post. I could not help but pick up on the same nuance in your post that I was hoping to instill in my own in that it seems everyone is looking for a modern day solution when the answer may be much older than that. I had a conversation with church members a short while back that addressed the ability of God to write a Book that was just as valuable and relate-able today as it was 2000 or even 4000 years ago. I fear that today there is too much desire to have the next great idea, that we negate whether the answer has already been given.

    • mm Dan Kreiss says:

      Yet, in responding to the challenges of biblical interpretation and the myriad of conflicts that result, Rob Bell asked the question in ‘Velvet Elvis’, “Is the Bible the best that God could do?” While it doesn’t negate its value it certainly raises a valid question. Searching for new ideas isn’t wrong in itself. We constantly need to be connecting the scripture to our current contexts. I think Lowney is trying to help us see that the example of the Jesuits does that very well.

  2. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Dan! Glad you were able to switch gears and read Lowney. I found this statement interesting:
    Their “abilities to innovate, to remain flexible and adapt constantly, to set ambitious goals, to think globally, to move quickly, to take risks”, all sound like characteristics that the Church of the 21st Century could use. I read some articles which talked about the struggling Jesuit schools. I think we probably both know the struggles of private Christian colleges, I imagine even the Jesuits have had to switch gears, re-brand, and fight for students. Your thoughts?

    • mm Dan Kreiss says:

      I think the foundation laid by the early Jesuits as discussed by Lowney was flexible and dynamic. Like many organizations/institutions they seem to have moved through the 3 phases of ministry, (Mission, Movement, Monument) it just may have taken them a little longer than most. Maybe there remain pockets of the Order that have retained their dynamic connection with the surrounding culture and the flexibility that made them unique.

  3. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks for this post, Dan!
    One of your lines that stood out to me was this one: There is some wisdom in considering the idea that one of the things that could be driving away Millennials from the Western Church is that there is very little distinction between its organizational structures and those of other manipulative institutions such as governments and corporations.”
    The reason is, that you and I both work with the Presbyterian Church, and one of our historic “claims to fame” is that, indeed, organizational structures (like the US government) are based on our church polity! So, it’s an ironic moment to be in, when that is no longer a strength or a calling card, but we’re into this new landscape where it causes millennials and others to be wary.
    I’m also with you, that I will return to this book when we get a break. Really enjoyed it!

  4. Greg says:

    Dan, I am glad you were able to get a hold of my last prayer card photo. I am always amazed how much my brother Atilla looks like me.

    One aspect that bothered me was that Lowney want to use this christian model as a template for companies and corporations. The church so often tries to emulate business world seems opposite for the business world to want to have anything to do with the church. I wonder if Millennials are disillusioned because of the corporate-type churches in the world. The top down structure of a business or a church would probably make millennials flee to places where there is more equality. I do believe training is what we lack in most churches. I think there is an innate fear that tries to keep leadership in power and not trusting the next generation from trying out their new ideas.

    • mm Dan Kreiss says:

      Greg the Hun…..doesn’t quite have the same ring. I believe you are right in understanding the fear of relinquishing power/control to younger generations. However, much of what I am reading seems to suggest that even if they were given that leadership it does not match with the type of organization they want to join.

  5. Dan,

    When considering why Millennials are abandoning church, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s report Hemorrhaging Faith offers some helpful perspective. http://hemorrhagingfaith.com/

    James Penner found that “There are four primary toxins that keep young people from engaging with the church: hypocrisy, judgement, exclusivity, and failure.”

    I saw you included this report in your bibliography. Good call! It’s been a much-referred-to report here that is influencing how Canadian churches become more self-aware.

    • mm Dan Kreiss says:

      You never cease to impress me with your wide range of reading!! I think the Canadian church along with NZ, Oz, and the UK have much to teach the US church about what is likely to be coming. I expect to be doing a great deal of reading over the next couple of years about those contexts.

  6. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Dan,
    Great insight on how the church as it stands today mirrors the corporate world. Have you served in or been a part of a church like this. I have been a part of it, with goal setting days, to do lists and the like. Not that these are particularly bad things, but when we focus on being like a business it seems we are more into making the numbers than being a part of others lives. I had a professor in seminary who served at a church where each pastor was expected by the CEO (pastor) to have at least one person come forward and accept Christ per week. He was worried how the numbers they would report to the SNC would look over everything else.

  7. mm M Webb says:

    Dan,

    I personally like Attila and hope he gets a leadership “makeover” and then you could bring his leadership approach into the 21st Century context. Excellent connection between Jesuit leadership to your Millennial problem in ministry. You might check out Arthur Boers, Jana Riess, and Peter Feuerherd as critical reviewers of Lowney’s work on Heroic Leadership.

    While I like some of the book, I feel Lowney gave a disservice to the Jesuits by secularizing Christ out of their leadership equation.

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

  8. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Dan,

    I really liked your post. Especially because it had a lot to do with millennials. I think you are on to something about this book speaking to this generation!

    Two reasons. One I’ve already called this my new favorite leadership book. Two, I sent this book to a friend of mine who is a leading voice speaking to CEO’s in America about how to engage millennials and told him he needs to look at this and start using ASAP. He hasn’t gotten back to me yet on what he thinks of the content.

    I’m not sure how to explain the millennial drift away from the church, although I have studied and some good answers have been presented by Kinnaman, although it’s evolving and changing constantly I’m sure. Personally, I love generational theory so I hope to stay connected to your research.

    Keep me posted.

    I’ll pass on Atilla.

  9. gamepokerqq says:

    i like that, great post

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