In Part I we considered the five-fold ministry and the new expression of those ascension gifts we are seeing in the west in our day. We looked at the leadership of poets, prophets, apostles and pastor-teachers. Today we’ll consider the context of these gifts and then add the fifth leader type: the synergist.

In the closing chapters of The Forgotten Ways Alan Hirsch uses a number of word-pictures to describe the challenge of a changing environment, including the “fish bowl” analogy (a closed system). Picture “Finding Nemo” where the safety and stability (living death) of aquarium life is contrasted with the expanse and adaptive challenge of the untamed ocean.

A fish bowl or aquarium is a stable environment. It is safe and predictable (and relatively boring) and requires constant maintenance in order to survive. Food and oxygen must be supplied from external sources. The system is stable but stability hangs by a thread (turn off the air pump or quit supplying food or change the temperature) and there are no natural stressors.

The ocean is a somewhat different environment! It is always changing, and always dangerous.

In the Industrial age we had relative stability and predictability and our churches became fish-bowls. We could drop a new fish in from time to time and pretend we were having exciting times, but for the most part there was little change and no perceived need to change. Suddenly the fish bowl has been dropped into the ocean – the boundaries and rules have changed, and we now face all kinds of adaptive challenges to our survival. These stressors will either make us stronger — or destroy us — depending on our ability to respond.

In chapter 4 of The Sky is Falling Alan Roxburgh describes the change process using the lenses of systems theory and organizational theory. To this end he outlines five phases: 1) Stability (and equilibrium); 2) Discontinuity; 3)Disembedding; 4)Transition; 5) Reformation. (I find myself thinking of “Presence” and the seven capacities for embracing a new paradigm: Suspending, Redirecting, Letting Go, Letting Come, Crystallizing, Prototyping, and Institutionalizing. See also “maps for transition and change.”)

Instead of the “U” of “Presence,” Roxburgh’s diagram looks like a figure eight turned on its side, or a racetrack. Stability is below the first circle on the left, which then climbs left and up around the first ring to become discontinuity. Roxburgh suggests that the process itself is non-linear, where we cycle out of and into periods of stability and transition.

1. Systems seek stability. One of the ways they accomplish this is by forming traditions and standardizing roles. Change during stable phases of cultural life is marked by gradual and manageable change. The role of leadership in these phases is well understood.

2. When stable phases shade into instability, or discontinuity, patterns emerge that alter the way the world works. Leadership roles generally fail to change much, however, instead trying to respond to discontinuity with known skills, failing to question fundamental frameworks, leading inevitably to burnout as leaders try harder.

3. Discontinuity increases until the power of tradition can no longer withstand the forces of instability. Relational alliances shift; new networks grow up; power struggles and blame shifting ensue as the system breaks down. This disembedding is painful and necessary, both local and cultural. Roxburgh notes that it is in this phase that many break with the past, leading to further disorientation. Leaders in this phase often revert to old skills which cannot enable a meaningful engagement with the new context.

4. When stability, predictability and control are gone the transition phase has arrived. (Interesting that “transition” is the word used by mid-wives to describe the fearful sense of loss of control moments before birth). One common response is pragmatic.. to search for what is working, here or elsewhere. At a similar point Israel wanted to return to Egypt.. but there is no going back. This is a painful and potentially creative time.

“Strictly speaking one ought to say that the church is always in a state of crisis and that its greatest shortcoming is that it is only occasionally aware of it…” David Bosch

In The Missional Leader (Jossey-Bass, 2006) Roxburgh and Romanuk describe the role of leadership in our time: “to cultivate environments wherein the Spirit of God may call forth and unleash the missional imagination of the people of God.” A huge component of cultivating imagination is cultivating safe environments to explore new questions and new challenges. This requires a “creative commons,” a safe space where we leave the safety of our offices and roles and titles and become vulnerable together.

The first step in opening a creative commons is leaving behind the tacit agreement that we will not express our fears and anxieties around change and leadership. To the extent that these hidden agreements are not expressed they limit our ability to grieve the loss of familiar places and to explore new territory together. We become bound by realities we cannot name and assume those boundaries are communal norms. Roxburgh and Romanuk write, “Missional leadership involves recognizing these barriers and facilitating articulation of habits and practices that block the capacity to name what is experienced” (77).

One of the key functions of poetic leadership is to name these tacit realities while offering hope that God’s future is truly among us if we have the eyes to see. Meanwhile prophetic leaders enable us to reengage with God’s story. Key narratives of change and liminality are found in the exile, Joseph in Egypt, the Exodus and the period of the Judges (in the NT both Peter and Paul offer such pictures of change and growth).

The function of apostolic leaders is to hear the voices of the poet and prophet and set about to make what God is saying through them a reality. Apostolic leaders like Nehemiah emerged in the exile with new vision to make God’s plan a reality. The apostolic function is to lead God’s people into the missio dei – the “mission of God.” “Apostles stand at the doorway between an old world that has died and the transition world that lies ahead and call people to action.” (Sky, 171-2)

The pastor-teacher became the dominant mode of leadership during the relatively stable period following the Industrial revolution. These leaders, trained with the managerial skills appropriate for stable and predictable times, are increasingly lost and confused, often reacting defensively to the challenges they perceive. So long as leaders react and retreat into silos or attempt to defend authority that accrues to position or education they will be unable to enter the communitas that is offered by the new challenges we face. Any time the system is disturbed, we have an opportunity to enter a liminal space together. (As with the fish bowl, equilibrium is death).

Most of us love to be the bearers of good tidings. This was the experience of Neville Chamberlain who faced a war weary public with the announcement of “peace in our time.” The adaptive leaders like Churchill had been frozen out. No one wanted to believe his prophecies of impending war with Germany. Heifetz notes that, “followers often turn to authority as a bulwark against the associated uncertainty and risk. The essential work of adaptive leadership is to resist these appeals. Instead they must hold the collective feet to the fire, regular distress… manage avoidance mechanisms.. ” (Leadership Without Easy Answers, 1999, 250-276).

Adaptive Leadership and Apostolic Teams

Adaptive leadership is required during times of discontinuous change. The challenge is to learn to thrive in instability, constantly adapting to a hostile and changing environment. This will not be possible with the sola pastora model. Not only does a single leadership type lack the competencies needed in periods of discontinuous change, but also the tendency is to offer solutions and retreat into a new (and deadly) homeostasis. The lifecycles of organizations typically move from Man –> Movement –> Monument –> Museum (Hirsch offers a helpful discussion in The Shaping of Things to Come).. In the latter stages prophetic and apostolic gifts are quickly marginalized. The only way to escape this cycle is to cultivate the diversity of apostolic teams (AT).

The managerial tradition in the Industrial Age was built on the premises of social engineering:
* Leaders as Head, Organization as Body
* The Premise of Predictable Change
* An Assumption of Cascading Intention
But these tenets are not compatible with living systems.

“Living systems cannot be directed along a linear path. Unforeseen consequences are inevitable. The challenge is to disturb them in a manner that approximates the desire outcomes.” (Surfing the Edge of Chaos, 2000. p.6)

Note that I am not arguing for teams in the secular business sense. There is no “ranking” in the apostolic team, and roles are flexible and adaptable. The team is not ordered or directed by a manager. Instead of the industrial or mechanistic metaphor, think of a living system. An AT is a living and growing organism, sharing a common purpose, that flexes and adapts to a changing environment. In a secular team roles are often set in cement; in an organic team roles are functional not positional and leadership is shared and is a characteristic of the team.

According to Lawrence M. Miller (Barbarians to Bureaucrats, Fawcett Books, 1990) the key to holding together diverse communities of leadership types is the synergist. Miller describes a synergist as “… a leader who has escaped his or her own conditioned tendencies toward one style and incorporated, appreciated and unified each of the styles of leadership on the life-cycle curve. The best managed companies are synergistic.”

The synergist guards this ethos and her role is to foster and maintain a creative and open space within the team so that no one role dominates. She helps maintain clarity of vision and her investment is in internal capital. As Mort Ryerson put it, the primary task of being a leader is to make sure that the organization knows itself.

“That is, we must realize that our task is to call people together often, so that everyone gains clarity about who we are, who we’ve just become, who we still want to be. If the organization can stay in a continuous conversation about who it is and who it is becoming, then leaders don’t have to undertake the impossible task of trying to hold it all together.” (Quoted in Wheatley, “Goodbye Command and Control”)

A healthy functioning AT may look different tomorrow than it did today. It exists as an expression of a growing set of relationships in a living network, in the way marriage partners regard their marriage itself as if it were a living and breathing soul.

The Synergist might be found in the description offered by Jen Lemen,

“I wonder if the point of the post-whatever-pastor is simply about holding space. Not space so you can examine me and try to be just like me as your leader, but space so that you can think about who you need to become, about who you are already in relationship to this alternate reality we call the kingdom.
“The leader just shows you how not to be too afraid while you do that, how to relax a little, how to plunge ahead into chaos lighthearted and pull yourself out of the fire unscathed. A leader shows you by living beside you what it means to be terrified yet faithful, doubtful yet full of hope…”

Miller asserts that the synergist is a dynamic combination of the other roles styles and is best described by a set of principles (my adaptation here).

1. Spirit – corporations are spiritual/material bodies. Health is maintained by unifying the two assets.
2. Purpose – The purpose of the organization is to create “social capital” by serving its telos. Leadership guards the ethos and ensures that the team knows its purpose.
3. Creativity – The first and most important act is the creative act. Change, youthfulness and energy are requirements until death.
4. Challenge and response – The task of leaders is to create or recognize the current challenge, respond creatively, and avoid a condition of ease. Reliance on yesterday’s success leads to decline.
5. Disturb the system – The urgency to decide and act promptly leads to expansion and advance. Equilibrium is death.
6. Unity and diversity – Advancing cultures are socially unifying and become diverse in character. Leaders resist the tendency to homogeneity in personalities and skills.
7. Specialized competence – Specialized knowledge and skills and the integration of those competencies must be pursued vigorously. Efficient methods are derived from specialized competence; however, specialized competence leads to inefficient methods.
8. Efficient administration – is required to achieve integration as differentiation increases. Unchecked administration leads to bureaucracy and self-protection.
9. End Command and Control – Decisions should be made by those on-the-spot. The further decisions are removed from the point of action and knowledge, the worse the quality and the higher the cost.

Discovering and Inviting Synergy

Alan Roxburgh describes the role of the Synergist in comparison to the leaders of Celtic communities in the fifth to ninth centuries. These Abbots and Abbesses did not function as authoritative command and control personalities, but rather they were people who best embodied the living ideals of the community. They were concerned more with cultivating healthy environments rather than shaping specific actions, setting direction or developing programs. They were not managers, but spiritual elders. Joseph Myers writes in The Search to Belong that the leaders of tomorrow “shape environments as opposed to creating groups. When the environment is healthy, people will find connection on their own..”

But how do we find such people? The sad reality is that we have all but lost knowledge of this role and these leadership types. There are now few within our communities with memory or capacity for this leadership architecture.

It seems a question of the chicken or the egg. Which comes first? I believe that the Abbots and Abbesses are already in training, mostly outside of the organized and inherited church system. They are people who understand process, they are ready mentors, and they are friends of time. They have gifts of wisdom and walk with a deep sense of the living presence of Christ. They are natural fathers and mothers to those around them. They regard life as sacramental and they are lifelong learners. I believe that most of these people are working in trades, though some are professionals. Many have felt rejected by the Church they love, marginalized as disloyal critics because they do not accept the status quo and they ask uncomfortable questions.

When you focus on winning, you will lose.
When you focus on not losing, you will lose.
Pay attention to your inner balance.
Then perhaps you have a chance to win. 
(Surfing, 242)

If We Build It They Will Come

In the film The Mask of Zorro Antonio Banderas plays the aging Don Diego who must look for a disciple to replace him. He has an inner confidence that at the right time he will find the right person, prepared by life experience and the guiding hand of fate. At the same time the young apprentice is looking for a path toward vengeance as well as justice. Without the wisdom and guidance of the experienced mentor, he will only meet a quick and ugly death. Zorro meets the young man and tells him, “When the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.”

In the film Field of Dreams Kevin Kostner plays Ray Kinsella, the son of a baseball player who never completed his first season in the big leagues. He hears a voice while working in his corn field, “If you build it, he will come,” and then later, “ease his pain.” He doesn’t know the full meaning of these strange directions, but he risks everything to follow his intuition and mows down acres of corn to build a full size baseball field on his farm.

“If we build it, they will come.” We are working today on founding a missional order around a shared rule, not unlike the Celtic monastic movement, or the Benedictines. These orders provided a new wine skin that anchored missional engagement and societal transformation in living communities for centuries.

Some of those with apostolic, prophetic, poetic and pastoral gifts must be willing to build that which might fail. There are synergists in training — Abbots and Abbesses who do not fit traditional molds — and who are true spiritual elders. As we witness the collapse of the old temples (remember 70 AD) and a new diaspora, and as the Lord calls us toward memory and toward hope, He is building and renewing faithful communities of presence. These are islands of safety and of refuge in a fragmented and lonely world. He is renewing purpose and releasing new vision and old dreams. New and decentralized networks are rising to replace systems which are broken and failing, and in these networks new leaders are in training. Most of them do not yet know themselves. When they discover their calling, they will begin to build “for a future not our own.” They will build something new with fumbling steps and will dig old wells that will produce fresh water.

Synergists and Abbots

Abbots and spiritual directors are nothing new, just something old that we misplaced. In the early days of the church elders were given honor and authority through their sacrifice and their care for the flock. During the industrial age this role was increasingly awarded to competent managers, because churches were increasingly run as corporations.

As a result, those whose gift was to guide, shepherd and care for people found themselves marginalized, and the communities in which they lived were increasingly a kind of soil that did not produce mature and healthy spiritual leaders. Consequently, leaders who attempted to function as spiritual guides often lacked either the wisdom or maturity necessary. We have continued to have spiritual elders among us, but they are too few and have often gone unrecognized and have rarely occupied official positions. Even when office and person were congruent, systemic issues have limited healthy functioning. The body has suffered as a result.

Earlier this year I relocated Elizabeth O’Connor’s Journey Inward, Journey Outward on my book shelf and I got caught up in the chapter on “preparing for mission.” In their “School of Christian living” Gordon Cosby covered the three types of relationships we need in order to keep growing. We need those who are further along the way; we need peers and fellow pilgrims; and we need those who are not as advanced as we are — a little flock to tend and nourish.Elizabeth quotes Gordon Cosby,

“All these relationships are utterly necessary to our spiritual development, but the one I want to look at in this class is the one of being shepherds, because it is at this point most of us will feel the most hesitancy or timidity. We will feel that is it pretentious for us to be guides to others at the point of their life in Christ.” He then outlined three reasons why we shrink back and commented on each.

1. a sense of unworthiness; 2. fear of involvement; 3. a sense of the impossible.  “Be a spiritual director? Who am I to do this?” But there will be thousands who will be open to no professional, when they will open to you.

Sandra Cronk uses Moses as an example of this leader who does not know his own gifts.

Moses did not (indeed, could not) sit down and identify his skills as ones that would make him a good liberation-leader. Just the opposite was the case. When God spoke to him from the burning bush, telling him that he was the one called to bring forth God’s people from slavery, Moses replied, “Who am I?” He presented every argument he could think of to show that he was not gifted for the task. He did not know God’s name. People would not believe his call. He was not an eloquent speaker. As Moses’ questions were answered one by one, he realized that his strength was not in himself but in God alone. This is precisely the power that he had to offer his people: God’s power. Paradoxically, it was ultimately by obeying God’s call and relying on God’s power that Moses was able to use skills and strengths he never knew he had.

Similarly, Henri Nouwen writes in Reaching Out of the three fundamental requirements for sustaining vital spiritual life: dwelling in the Word, quiet time in the presence of God, and a spiritual guide. But how do we find a spiritual guide? They don’t grow on trees ;) He writes,

“At least part of the reason for this lack .. is that we ourselves do not appeal to our fellow human beings in such a way as to invite them to become our spiritual leaders. If there were no students constantly asking for good teachers, there would be no good teachers. The same is true for spiritual guides. There are many men and women with great spiritual sensitivity whose talents remain dormant because we do not make an appeal to them. Many would, in fact, become wise and holy for our sake if we would invite them to assist us in our search for the prayer of our heart.

“A spiritual director does not need to be more intelligent or more experienced than we are. If is important that he or she accepts our invitation to lead us closer to God and enters with us into the scriptures and into the silence where God speaks to both of us… Often we will discover that those who we ask for help will indeed receive the gift to help us and grow with us toward prayer.” (98)

As we move toward the founding of a missional order, we must be watching for people who have this special kind of authority. Many of these people have experienced multiple failures in ministry. They are broken and often lack confidence; but there is something special in them. In the western church we have had many teachers, not many fathers. I believe the Lord wants to change this. We have some work to do to rediscover leadership as primarily a spiritual vocation, and we have other work to do to unlearn a professional model of ministry and relearn a vocational model. Sandra Cronk talks about this same struggle within the Society of Friends:

The professional model assumes that ministry is primarily a skill or body of knowledge that is offered to recipients. These skills are part of a job. But in earlier years Friends saw ministry much more as a way of being and relating. Ministers were recognized for their skills, to be sure, but they were leaders more because their whole way of being pointed toward God or conveyed God’s love and caring. Their words, actions and relationships were their ministry. In this old Quaker conception, ministry is not just a matter of doing but of being.

There are problems with the kind of structure which compartmentalizes life into private and professional spheres. This kind of division tends to make ministry a task. It prevents a full relationship with another human being in which redemption can happen.

It won’t be an easy task to recover this older model, because we have seen so many abuses of spiritual authority. Given our negative experience with authority and the fear generated from these, we have work to do to rebuild trust. (See Brad Sargent’s summary of the five “core needs” for transformation. Also related, “The Speed of Trust.”)

Given the individualist culture we live in and our natural desire to center our world around our own small selves, we have work to do to rebuild our common life. Bonhoeffer writes that, “The desire we so often hear today for ‘episcopal figures’ .. springs from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men.. because the genuine authority of service appears so unimpressive.” (109) And later he writes, “The question of trust.. is determined by faithfulness to the service of Jesus Christ.. never by the extraordinary talents [one] possesses. Pastoral authority is attained only.. by the brother among brothers.” (Life Together)

Finally, Alan writes, “In a city or town, a combination of congregations, church plants, and house churches would form a common leadership communitas under the direction of an Abbot/Abbess. It functions for all the communities to call forth missional life in, and among, between and across the groups… They function as a missional order…” (182) Alan closes with a vision for a local communitas of leaders. The communitas is a missional order composed of men and women committed to the rule of that order. Some components of the rule would be:

•    a commitment to place – the geographic area and its neighborhoods – more than just the congregation, house church or new church expression
•    Keeping the Daily Office as a community, which is an appropriation of an ancient practice observed daily by millions of believers worldwide
•    Commitment to the oversight and authority of the team by the Abbot/Abbess
•    The order is focused on discerning the form of the missio Dei in the various worshipping communities
•    Callings and gifts are shared for the sake of the whole rather than any specific group within the overall community of believers

Alan describes this kind of leadership as displayed in Acts 13 where the Antioch church was comprised of an assortment of leaders working together. Practically, we see a great need for such a leadership communitas. Many congregations, house churches and new church expressions (NCDs) tend not to have the leadership types they need among themselves. The result: burn out, decline, discouragement. This means not just a loss of needed leaders, but also a loss of small, local congregations rooted in their neighborhoods. We therefore need a new imagination for “local church.”


If you are like me, you hear both the promise and the risk inherent in this vision. It will not be an easy road forward. There are many forces that will oppose such a movement, not least our own immersion in a consumer oriented, quick-fix, and individualist culture. But like me, you may hear the voice of the Lord in all this. How will you respond?
Download Part I and Part II in PDF format.