Tuesdays with Walter Part 06 – The Language of Leadership is Theological

I’m in the midst of a long term experiment with the staff at Redemption Church where I pastor. Over the past few decades it has become popular for the typical church staff to study leadership books. Evangelical pastors in our society are expected not only to be theologians, preachers, and pastors, but they are expected to be leaders. The paradigm for the pastor-as-leader has undergone a significant change over the past decade as business paradigms have come front and center. The pastor, we are told, is now a CEO who must learn the methods and practices of a CEO in order to be effective.

Or maybe not…

So, we are taking an open ended break from reading leadership books. We are trying to read theology instead. We are trying to read the scriptures, and talk about the story of God so that we can catch a vision for the kingdom come. Our hope is that we can become so captivated by God’s vision for the world that we’ll lead out of that hopeful vision, not out of a bag of administrative and leadership gifts that can produce desired results. We seek not to be effective, but to be faithful. If you want to catch up here are links to: Part 01Part 02Part 03Part 04, Part 05.

Walter Brueggemann’s great work The Prophetic Imagination is our current text. Brueggemann’s paradigm for prophetic leadership is that most of our society is dominated by what he calls the Royal Consciousness. The job of the prophet is to present an alternative consciousness (way of meeting reality), that “can energize the community to fresh forms of faithfulness and vitality.” (59). Brueggemann proposes this hypothesis:

“The royal consciousness leads people to despair about the power to move toward new life. It is the task of prophetic imagination and ministry to bring people to engage ythe promise of newness that is at work in our history with God.” (59-60)

The hopeful future calls into question all current narratives of despair. Those who seek the kingdom reject hopelessness; reject the notion that the way things are is the way things have to be; reject any story that is not anticipating a new reality that is breaking into the world in and through Jesus and the people he has called.

Brueggemann writes,

“The task of prophetic imagination and ministry… is to cut through the despair and to penetrate the dissatisfied copying that seems to have no end or resolution. A prophet can do little in such a situation of hopelessness.”

Brueggemann suggest a three pronged approach.

  • The offering of symbols: that contradict the situation of hopelessness. We birth symbols of hope and hold them high. Hope about the future brought about by God’s grace defies the managers of this age. Symbols of hope grow only from a people of hope. To find these symbols of hope we must 1) mine our history and collective memory for stories of hope, and 2) to use language creatively and actively as a tool by which hope contradicts the language of empire and death. This job, Brueggemann says, is much more like poetry than management. This is part of why you read books like this instead of leadership/management manuals. The manager cannot do this. It takes a poet.
  • Bring to public expression our hopes and yearnings: WB says, “Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion; and one does that only at great political and existential risk.” (65). In other words, if you bring this hope into public, you will be attacked. (If you don’t believe WB, then go to my articles at the Huffington Post, scroll down, and read the comments. I am consistently attacked by both the conservatives and the liberals.) Brueggemann argues that this speech is not practical, not argumentative, and not technical or scientific. This speech is primarily theological – lyrical. It’s a creative articulation of the reality that God is in relationship with God’s people.
  • The prophet must speak metaphorically about hope but concretely about the real newness that comes to us and redefines our situation. The prophet will name names in the present, and catalogue the reasons we are in exile. But the prophet lives off of the energy that comes from hope – literally from the future – not from the energy of dissing the present. The prophet speaks the language of amazement.

Observations for our leadership.
The first language of the leader cannot be about best practices. Our first language must be theological. It must not be pragmatic. Our vision is not about successful ministries, but faithful people. Our goal as prophetic leaders can not be to implement programs of management and control. Our vision must be to call into being a new future, one that is impossible to imagine apart from the memories of a people formed in the hopeful story of God, one that is completely dependent upon God; one that comes not via well conceived and executed strategies, but via the character of the prophet who is consumed with a vision of the kingdom.

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