When everything that can be shaken is being shaken, we look to traditional authority structures and authority figures to pull us through. Unfortunately, traditional authority is not up to the task. Frequently they are isolated in mini-worlds that have insulated and protected them from change. They have stopped “listening.” In other cases, they defend the status quo in order to protect their own interests.
Yet we need leadership. Where do we find it? In two places.
1. Among the ordinary, yet gifted and called people, who are following Christ. But these are not normally episcopal figures. 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) A friend of mine put it like this: “Never give anyone authority over you who has not washed your feet.”
2. In a communitas of leaders: an order of people dedicated to the kingdom and to God’s mission.
Having spent a week among two faculty and a group of students from Tyndale Seminary, I believe the key to the growth and vitality of this organization is that a communitas of leaders has been created. Tyndale has found a way to actualize a proposal made by Alan Roxburgh some years ago.
At the end of The Sky is Falling, Alan Roxburgh proposes a communitas of missional leaders. A communitas is a creative commons, but with shared purpose and discipline. Roxburgh outlines the reasons why we need a communitas of leaders.
“The potential of communitas is for something innovative to emerge across the differences that have characterized the last several decades. Communitas is the willingness of people to risk entering a new commons where they journey together as God’s pilgrim people in order to discern the future that God’s Spirit might be bringing forward to them. It calls for leaders on both sides of the polarity to recognize the gifts of the other and a readiness to submit themselves as novices to each other.” (111)
Learning conversations don’t happen when we come with our well worn opinions and personal agendas. They don’t occur when we are insecure, although they may happen when we are desperate. In chapter nine of The Sky is Falling Roxburgh quotes Edgar H. Schein in Organizational Culture and Leadership. He shares four engagements that assist us in moving toward an open space.
1) we need to create a common language. Groups and organizations develop their own cultures and their own language. Even our shared practices contribute to a unique culture. The challenge then is to move toward an open stance in our frameworks and language and imaginal architecture. This leads to the second engagement.
2) we must redefine group boundaries and criteria for inclusion and exclusion. All groups want to quickly identify who is in and who is out. Because this is true, there must be intention in keeping the circle of conversation open. We look for commonality. We emphasize centered sets rather than bounded sets, intention and direction rather than current definition. We encourage experimentation.
3) we need to learn to dialogue outside power and status and develop norms of intimacy, friendship and love. We need new rules of peer relationships. Sharing and openness don’t happen by chance but are a function of unspoken codes. The dialogue we need moves beyond surface conventions to a deep willingness to encounter the other.
4) we must move past ideologies. Without the ability of leaders to step outside the assumptions of their organizations they will respond to cultural transition based on what has worked in the past. The new world requires a willingness to deconstruct our assumptions and to listen attentively so we can create an open space for conversation.
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.” In this connection, see “PDX20” and Hirsch and Catchim discussion of the networked church in “The Permanent Revolution.”
So a Seminary may be another kind of “third-place,” but for believers, and not for unbelievers. A “third-place” is the kind of commons we need to explore this strange new world together and discover new ways forward.