ARE YOU READY FOR SCIENCE FICTION CLERGY?
Increasingly, our world is a "Sorcerer’s
Apprentice" world where powerful changes move beyond our
understanding and control. Something is shattering our man-made
illusions about "church." Something is demanding new roles for
clergy that are almost impossible to grasp.
In other words, there’s no way we can talk about
tomorrow’s spiritual leaders out of today’s context. History
requires looking at tomorrow’s leaders out of tomorrow’s
As a result of our limited vision, the very
leaders who yearn most for renewal may actually obstruct it. The
most "adventurous" Christians may actually stop it. And "big time"
personalities may "big time" block it. Pogo may be right: "We’ve met
the enemy, and it’s us!"
No wonder the church often feels paralyzed. The
roles of future church leaders are almost "unthinkable." They are
almost impossible to define by either past or present concepts. They
are even opposite of what we might expect: They are antithetical,
paradoxical, enigmatic—even absurd! Any visionary, serious enough to
become one of the "new spiritual leaders," risks the stigma that
comes from a life beyond "proper" churches and "respectable"
Indeed, the future roles of church leaders would
fit nicely into science-fiction nonsense. Consider the following
examples. The new man or woman of God is. . . .
An "Otherworldly Visitor"
Though totally normal, he explores the edges of
normalcy. Though normally intuitive, he challenges the frontiers of
the counter-intuitive. And though cognizant of the possible, he
embraces the impossible.
He feels totally comfortable, for example, with
ludicrous contradictions and ridiculous juxtapositions. He believes
that when he is weak, he is strong—when he is a slave, he is
free—when he is humbled, he is exalted.1 He lives a life
bold, yet humble—confident, yet self-effacing—powerful, yet
subtle—single-minded, yet open.
And, not far from the bizaare, he believes he is
"both called and empowered to be an extension of the Incarnation"2—a
living, breathing "Word made flesh"!3 Of course,
society’s reactions to such "arrogant illusions" would not have
surprised St. Paul, for his own converts were embarrassed and
scandalized by similar off-the-wall statements.
Though willing to work within an institution, he
is, at heart, a free spirit, a nonconformist. For his vision of
God’s Kingdom is constrained neither by worn-out conventions nor
He’s not interested, for example, in the worst
manifestations of "being religious." He’s not interested in the
barnacles of past cultures that still burden the church. And, he’s
not interested in the latest goals and gods of secular success.
Instead, he’s interested in the epic
counter-cultural moves of a "moving" Lord of History. He’s
interested in spiritual integrities that embrace a new—yet, far more
profound—orthodoxy. And, he’s interested in quality rather than
quantity—the promises of a distant, yet greater, harvest.
As example, this "careful cowboy" does "triage"
on his own congregation(!)—maximizing his influence on those who
want to grow, those who want to lead, those who want to become
spiritual entrepreneurs of a global, networking world.
A radically selfless leader, he actually believes
the hard sayings of Jesus. He actually accepts failure, crisis, and
hardship as the secret of his success. He actually practices giving
up his life with the full expectation of his life being given back
Everybody else, of course, wants to be loved,
accepted, and appreciated. That’s normal and necessary. But this
transfigured being willingly forgoes being "somebody." Like St.
Paul, who stepped down in a world of status and prominence, this
transcendent spirit knows a similar ridicule and rejection.
More to the point, he has given up a
pastor-centered ministry for a lay-centered ministry. He has given
up receiving accolades for giving accolades. And, he has given up
making himself successful for making others successful.
In other words, he has forfeited turf-protection
for mentoring and networking. He has forfeited personal ownership
for empowering others. And, he has forfeited quick "notches on his
salvation gun-belt" for caring and lasting relationships.
The first rule of "responsible" church leadership
is simple and sane: "Don’t rock the boat." It’s also the second,
third, and fourth rule. So the daredevil deeds of church pioneers
are really not worth the risk. They don’t even make good sense.
True enough. Church leaders should be profoundly
Yet, anyone truly led by the Lord will willingly
risk spontaneity. They will risk—in the same moment!—the awe within
the ordinary, the mystery within the mundane, the numinous within
the natural, and the intuitive within the intellect.
And, with a "wild patience," they will even risk
chaos. For they’ve learned that the miraculous transitions of
unwelcome chaos are far more empowering than the comfortable
retreats of a preferred peace. In fact, sometimes they deliberately
allow discomfort, risking a disharmony that provides the only
possible resolution to a higher harmony.
A "Foreign Language Fanatic"
This man of God always speaks an "other"
language, an intentionally ambiguous and obscure parlance. His
delivery is almost a "sign language"—closer, perhaps, to
"doubletalk" or "doublespeak" than logical discourse. To modern
minds, of course, such "language" is nonsense.
No wonder. This new leader has changed from
charted logic to uncharted "logic"—from a literal world to a
metaphorical world—from facts to phenomena. He has changed from dead
metaphors to live metaphors—from proofs to paradox—from consistent
patterns to juxtapositions. And, he has changed from exaggerated
control to "controlled exaggeration"—from rhetorical flair to
transcendent revelation—from a "real" world to a virtual reality
He knows "straight" language. Yet, he also knows
"God writes straight with crooked lines."4
In a life of endless role changes, he has shifted
from a dry theologian to an inspired artist—from a manager to a
poet—from piety to prophecy. For he’s totally convinced he was
created in the image of a Creative God.
So his empowered purpose now reflects a life of
serious "make-believe." In this, he follows the commands of
Scripture: He continually "makes offers the Holy Spirit can’t
refuse." He "calls things that are not as though they were."5
And he gives creative form to the "substance," "evidence" and
"proof" of things we do not see.6
He is boldly proactive, in other words.
And, in the process, he births the precious
within the worthless. He gives form to the Word within the flesh.
And, he midwifes Divine power within the powerless.
This sensitive explorer leaves the "approved"
highways and looks for the hidden byways. He sets aside the old role
of a doctrinal guide and assumes the new role of a tour guide. No
longer does he say, "Do as I say." Now, he says, "Do as I do."
He may temporarily suspend his analytical mind,
yet his awareness reaches an even higher alertness. He never loses
the integrity of his mind, yet he is led by the even greater
integrity of his spirit. He always excels in talking "about" God and
"to" God, yet—far more important—he crosses the forbidden border and
lets God talk too.
In other words, he’s always "On the Way." With
watchful expectancy, he looks for the unseen. With intense
obedience, he listens for the Lord of History.
And his obedience manifests a peculiar paradox.
He leads, yet he is led—he speaks "in-your-face," yet
"in-His-grace"—he’s dauntless, yet docile. He’s blind, yet he
sees—he moves with faithful uncertainty, yet he knows the certainty
of his faith—he doesn’t know where he’s going, yet always gets to
where God wants him to be.
In other words, he is both proactive and
reactive—creating and submitting, active and passive, doing and
being, speaking and listening, answering and asking. . . .
. . . all in the same moment!
Errors of Pride
In the modern world, none of the above traits are
"normal"—none of them are "logical"—none of them deal with our
notion of "reality." Yet, for those willing to explore this new
world, typical errors remain:
Contrary to opinion, none of these traits
requires "talent." Even those at the top of the "food chain"—the
educated and sophisticated, prestigious and powerful, charismatic
and clever, glib and gifted—provide no "added glory." Still, fleshly
confusion remains between inspiration and invention—intuition and
problem solving—vision and product—calling and accomplishment.
In other words, the heroic narcissism of human
leadership is grossly overrated.
We point to God’s Power only out of the Power to
which we point. We embolden our inspirations only out of the
Otherness in which we embolden. We see eternal visions only out of
the Eternity in which we envision.
Further, none of the "new leader" traits benefits
from our mistaken idea of "spiritual authority." No one, for
example, can claim "spiritual authority" for themselves. It can
never be assumed by man. It is assigned only by God, and it has only
His spiritual means at its disposal.
So future spiritual "authority" retains only its
original meaning—only its original intention. Rather than an
emphasis on controlling others, "True authority consists in
empowering others."7 Indeed, the term "authority" births
from the Latin where it meant "helping others to grow."
Our modern notions of both "talent" and
"authority" reveal errors of pride.
Errors of Humility
But repenting leaders also err on the flip side!
Amazingly, their distorted postmodern world also promotes errors of
With a "naive" humility, some new leaders
relinquish all control. They become totally passive. They permit
anything and everything. Strange, for the Lord of History never
Sure, the empowerment of the laity is a
necessity. Yes, the servanthood of the clergy is a must. But the new
leader never sacrifices "anything in the way of conviction and
firmness."8 He protects, for example, his community’s
purity of vision. He reins in anyone out of line. And he even
removes the "bad apples."
For example, the smiles and wiles of destructive
"demons"—whether intentional or unintentional—are never allowed to
In a similar naive humility, new leaders also
misread the ideals of "openness," "honesty," and "authenticity."
With juvenile folly, they "let it all hang out." With uncautious
candor, they shamefully expose their vulnerabilities.
Then. . . . Problems far
worse than shame show up:
Few "Christian" followers are mature enough to
handle intimate knowledge. They easily succumb to gossip, and some
even take advantage of a leader’s weakness. In short, followers can
get "unholy" rather fast.
For true leaders, there’s a difference between
"reality TV" and real transparency. There’s a difference between
dishonoring the work of God in our lives and walking in transfigured
humility. And, there’s a difference between trivializing one’s
anointing and walking in the grace of that anointing.
We’re living in a new world, but we don’t know
it. We’ve reached the "tipping point" in contemporary culture
between Christian and anti-Christian sentiments, but we seem
unconcerned. More than ever, we need new leaders. Yet, new leaders
can’t be found in any idea of American, modern, corporate,
religious, or any other present notion of "leadership."
We’re confusing the "rescuers" with those needing
Change will be the price of our survival. That
change will include spiritual integrity in the practice of paradox,
enigma, mystery, and metaphor. That change will include prophetic
boldness in the pursuit of a proactive, incarnate life. And, that
change will include humble risk in the purposeful power of spiritual
As computer intelligence increases, the leading
of the Holy Spirit will be the only advantage we have left. And, in
that moment, the difference between the right leader and the
"almost" right leader will be "the difference between lightening and
the lightning bug."9
Those who stake out this new frontier will be the
emerging leaders of the 21st century. And if they "get it," the
world will get it.
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. A few of the many contradictions in the life
of St. Paul.
2. C. S. Lewis, quoted in Leanne Payne, Real
Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p. 143, 144.
3. In this context, the "Word made flesh" is
anytime Divine inspiration takes on earthly form—as in the prophetic
arts. . . .
4. An old Portugese proverb.
5. Romans 4:17, KJ.
6. Hebrews 11:1.
7. Fritjof Capra, The Hidden Connections:
Integrating the Biological, Cognitive, and Social Dimensions of Life
into a Science of Sustainability (New York: Doubleday, 2002) p.
8. Eugene H. Peterson, The Message//Remix: The
Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress,
2003) p. 2162.
9. Paraphrasing the Mark Twain quote: