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 context.

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" seminaries.

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.

A "Maverick"

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 blind commitments.

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 "Nobody"

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 again.

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.

A "Risk-Taker"

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 cautious.

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 world.

He knows "straight" language. Yet, he also knows "God writes straight with crooked lines."4

An "Artist"

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.

A "Pathfinder"

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 humility.

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 needs "pushovers."

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 take over.

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.

"Getting It"

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 "rescuing."

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 gifts.

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. 89, 100.

8. Eugene H. Peterson, The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2003) p. 2162.

9. Paraphrasing the Mark Twain quote: http://www.twainquotes.com/Lightning.html

Future Church Administrator