By Owen Gray, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
Godin’s work focuses on tribes—small groups of individuals who gather to support a person, product, or idea. While his work is not specifically descriptive of church work, the themes within it apply to ministry nonetheless.
One element of Godin’s that especially struck me is that “tribes are increasingly becoming voluntary” (pp. 57). While generations prior to mine may well have bought American-made products, joined Rotary, lived wherever they grew up, or indeed attended church out of obligation to their family, friends, or to maintain social standing, people today often feel no such commitment. Whatever members of society (and by default, Christians) choose to do with their time and energy, they do so voluntarily. Therefore it is imperative that spiritual leaders give compelling reasons to continue to participate in communities of faith, rather than assuming peoples’ participation.
Godin somewhat muddies the water on what a “leader” is. He simultaneously holds that “everybody is also now a leader” (pp. 7), but also that “if everyone tries to lead all the time, not much happens” (pp. 47). I take this to likely be an unintended inconsistency, but it might also be interpreted to mean that everyone needs to be a leader in something while needing to be a follower in other venues as well. In either case, his premise requires that leaders in any community must make noticeable and consistent efforts to prove their leadership, not just assume their position (say, a pastorate) will garner followers. The example on pp. 49 illustrates his point well—those who choose to stand up and be heard are the ones people will rally around. There must be a movement; a cause for them to follow.
In an age when congregations are becoming less central to spirituality, a spiritual leader needs to be able and willing to create energy, embrace creativity, and lead boldly whatever tribe they feel called to. Perhaps that is in a congregation. But in that role, the pastor will need to continually find ways to energize the people of the congregation into spiritual practices, mission work, and other enterprises that keep malaise at bay. Ideally this will create a following inside the congregation that spreads outside it, too. Perhaps such leadership will upset those who prefer the status quo. The leader will need to utilize their pastoral care and political skills to maintain unity while also faithfully leading.
Outside of a congregational setting, leaders might have even more freedom. In whatever setting feels appropriate, a spiritual leader can serve as religious expert, pastoral presence, teacher, preacher, confidant, community organizer, or other roles that meet needs of the community. If done in the right way, these enterprises will gather followers that the leader can selflessly minister to in their own way. Maybe this will be in a running club. Maybe regulars at a pub. Maybe via a website or blog. More than likely, these leaders will need income outside of their ministry setting (bi-vocational ministry, as it were). Their status as minister may be questioned by others in authority. But so long as their leadership inspires ministry in the name of Jesus Christ (or even if it leads to secular good works!) there is a strong chance that it will prove itself as good ministry nonetheless.