Note: The following is a short piece I wrote for a leadership class I recently completed at the liberal seminary I attend. The class drive was toward what was called “transformative leadership.” The practical and theological question(s) inherent to my following reflections are being asked from within a specific context, and speak directly to this context. What is this context? The context is one wherein a liberal religious organization is proclaimed before an authentic religious center is identified. I am simply at a loss as to how one can in fact become a “transformative leader” in an organization which lacks something tangible to actually transform. I am not a religious liberal, or a progressive Christian. I am a Deep Evangelical who is dedicated to orthodox Christianity and practice. I am thus largely because of time spent bewildered in liberal religious settings, which only resulted in questions as follows.
The readings and class discussions shared as of late have left me with one very relevant question regarding the so-called need for “transformative leadership” in ministry: “What exactly are we attempting to transform?”
The question of what exactly it is we are attempting to transform is ridiculously important. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, if one is lost - or in this case/scenario an entire group or organization - the most detrimental response is to set off wandering in search for a direction; searching for direction while lost only results in a deeper and more defined confusion. A group must first admit that it is lost, then proceed toward healthy organizational grounds.
The present pluralistic context here at the seminary forces me then to ask, “What exactly is it that we are trying to transform?” Is there honestly something here that can be transformed through “transformative leadership,” or is there only a deeper and darker confusion waiting? I honestly feel there is only a deeper and darker confusion. It is only my opinion, but I stand firm beside it.
The increasingly prevalent lack of a center in Mainline Churches presents us with the same problem we find here at the seminary. The lack of center here at Seminary is probably a reflection of the lack of a center in the churches from which students come. Too, the opposite may be the case, albeit to less of a degree, I think, given the average age and second-career status of the majority of seminary students. At any rate, I can’t help but wonder what it is we would transform in the Mainline Parish? There is a fading center there too. Should it’s fading center be rescued and transformed? If not, then what?
I cannot help but to enact a hermeneutic of suspicion when I hear a call for “transformative leadership” in this setting because I am totally unsure of what exactly is being held up for transformation. Again, what are we trying to transform? There must be identifiable problems with and within the status quo, right? If it were not so, then why the call and/or need for transformation and/or transformative leadership in the first place? What are these problems? Are they really problems? Maybe those things that are being called “good” are in fact “bad” and detrimentally affect the entire organization and/or ministry of the Gospel of Christ? If this is the case, how aware and/or honest are the current crop of leaders concerning it? Maybe the status quo is actually the problem! Maybe the seemingly blind dedication to pluralism and/or theological relativism is a detrimental product of a preferred reliance upon liberal social and political values over historic and traditional Christian and theological values. Maybe? Are people even willing to consider it? I doubt it! This scenario forces me to question the whole idea of transformative leadership and its applicability to the current program. What exactly are we trying to transform?
I question the idea of transformative leadership in this context because I wonder what the end goal really is. It seems seriously counter-productive - if not a bit disillusioned - to try to apply liberal religious methodology to a larger society in which it will neither work, nor be accepted. Do we really think people will buy what we are selling if we simply adjust the approach? Do we really think people are so disengaged theologically that they will actually toss their religious heritage, gut Biblical Christianity and visit our churches on Sunday just because we make a slight adjustment to our approach to leadership? What about the deeper issues, such as doctrine, relevance, tradition and the difference in life made possible only by the revelatory aspects of a Christianity now gutted and discarded in the name of progressive and liberal social values? So, I must ask, again, “What are we seeking to transform?” What is in fact left to “transform?”
I wonder too what exactly are we inviting people to come and experience, if that is indeed the goal of a “transformative” sort of new leadership. What - or who - are we worshiping? How will a transformed leadership help make whatever it is we worship more accessible to the masses. What is church even about anymore? Is it myth? We, on the one hand, tell people the Bible is a time-trapped, misogynistic, and relativistic piece of everyday literature; on the other hand, we try to convince the marketplace of its dire importance. How is this possible? Do we actually think people are dull enough to buy what we are selling? Do we even realize what we are doing? Is it even Christian anymore? How will simply transforming our leadership make any real difference? I ask for the last time, “What are we trying to transform?”
I think something serious is going to have to happen with the foundation before we try to maximize mass accessibly to it via transformative leadership. A leader can only be as good as the organization being led. An organization can have the most transformative and dynamic leadership on earth, but will go nowhere as long as what is being led is bankrupt and irrelevant to the larger marketplace. Jesus said old wineskins would not be the best containers for new wine. New wine poured into old wineskins would burst the skin. The wine would be lost. Jesus said we should use new wineskins for new wine. Today many Christians lack wineskins altogether; there are none available it seems, new or old. I wonder what Jesus would say about our present lineup of good-hearted folk with hands extended and cupped … patiently waiting for someone to pour in a bit of new or transformative wine. Note: Transformative leadership is only as viable as the foundations of that which is being lead. A Christianity strapped to relativism is no foundation for this marketplace of ours, no matter how dynamic the leadership.
What is our wineskin? What are we trying to transform? Is whatever we are trying to transform, transformable? Will it work in the marketplace? What do we worship? What do we want to give to the marketplace via our transformative leadership?
Oh, that we all would just return to the authority of the Scripture and the basics of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.