By Trent Holden, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
What does spiritual leadership look like in a post-Christendom environment of fewer congregations, shrinking memberships, and limited jobs in established churches? Though this question frames a negative context for spiritual leadership, I have a feeling that Seth Godin, in his book Tribes, would answer this in an affirmative context: these churches and congregations are ripe for change and need leaders that say yes to leading that change. The context of fewer established churches and shrinking memberships reinforces Godin’s claims that the old ways of doing things do not work and I agree with him.
Godin calls them heretics in his book, but I interpret this to mean people who believe in what they are doing and are willing to take risks regardless of the consequences they may face. These are the people who will face the fear of failure and try something new. These people will also be willing to face the critics. Godin challenges these potential leaders to ask themselves the question, “How can I create something that critics will criticize?” (48). This is indeed a challenge because many people have a fear of criticism and it limits our interactions with each other. It has become necessary for spiritual leaders to subdue this fear and embrace criticism. In fighting these critics, leaders need to push back on people who delay change. Godin says that change never happens to early, but it can fail if its too late. (119)
It is also important for these leaders to tighten communications between the members of the tribe and create more connection points for the members of the tribe to communicate sideways, with each other. This in turn is what makes a tribe bigger. Part of being in a tribe is recognizing everyone’s leadership potential and allowing them to have a voice to create their own change. These spiritual leaders will also focus on fans rather than increasing numbers. This means finding the people who love your church the most and giving them a voice to share their love, or showing them that they already have that voice and giving them opportunities to share it in meaningful ways. Leaders need to help other members of their tribe see their own leadership abilities and support them.
Spiritual leaders need to fight the status quo and mediocrity. One point Godin makes that resonated the most with me comes from the following short quotes all taken from page 31 of his book:
“The most important tribes are bored with yesterday and demand tomorrow.”
“If you want us to follow you, don’t be boring.”
“’Good enough’ stopped being good enough a long time ago. So why not be great?”
When you feel bored you feel like you’ve wasted your time and you gain nothing worthwhile when you are a part of something boring. So much of what churches do and are are boring and its become painful to sit and participate. Showing up and doing the same routine every Sunday makes me cringe. I used to get embarrassed when I’d bring unchurched friends to a boring church service, now I just don’t bring them. There are so many better things they can do on a Sunday morning than suffering with me through another boring sermon. Our spiritual leaders will need to fight the boredom that exists in these failing churches.
A final thought from reading Godin’s book is that leading change doesn’t happen over night. Our spiritual leaders need to stick with their dream for better churches and congregations. I know it sounds weird saying ‘better churches’, but its true, we need better dreams for our churches and congregations, big dreams, not just figuring out how we are going to balance our next budget, or what to do with our low attendance numbers. We need to focus on dreams that bring people back into the churches and then stick with it until we see change happen.