By Pam Hrncir, 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?
This IS THE QUESTION for me and my seminary studies. I wasn’t sure seminary was for me because I didn’t know if I wanted to serve in a traditional church. I was also wondering if “the church” was still relevant. Despite my doubts, some wise people encouraged me to go and to stay at seminary. These readings are providing a fresh perspective on leadership, filling me with transformative hope to imagine the possibilities of how to be the church in today’s world.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the foibles of a corporate culture and the systems that have been built over time, but they have nothing at all to do with the faith that built the system in the first place” (Godin, 84).
There, in a nutshell, is today’s church. Before I critique, let me say that I appreciate that there are good things going on in corporate church. However, people are struggling to make sense of this polarized, hurting world and “the faith that built the system in the first place” isn’t reaching them. Don’t do away with tradition, but instead add ways to build relationships specific to one’s own community context and calling.
I moved from Texas about five years ago. In my west Texas town, everyone went to church and Wednesday nights and Sundays were church days. Then we moved to Williamsburg—it seemed we were part of a few who went to church regularly. Paul Adam’s book Grouped about inner, middle, and outer circle relationships explain my experience moving to Williamsburg. Prior to Williamsburg, my inner circle relationships were in church. Now my outer circle relationships are at church and my inner circle relationships are through sports, band, and my kid’s school. Through these activities I met people I normally wouldn’t meet—different faiths, different socio-economics, different ethnicities. Sitting on a soccer field for a couple hours, or 12 hours in a volleyball or basketball tournament, or chaperoning a band trip, you get to know people. There is more opportunity for ministry in those settings than I ever encountered in church. I also found that we really cared for one another and really cared for each other’s children. Genuine relationships can’t be built through a few minutes of passing the peace, coffee hour, and a Sunday school class.
Spiritual leadership in post-Christendom is about sincere, meaningful God experienced relationships. Spiritual leadership takes time to help people see the world in a new way, an alternative way which centers on the reality of experiencing God. Godin says “Leading someone toward giving up one world view and embracing yours isn’t easy and it’s not always comfortable…it’s the micro-leaders in the trenches and their enthusiastic followers who make the difference” (Godin, 56). We need micro-leaders in the trenches loving and building relationships on the soccer field, in the schools, in the retirement homes, in the homeless shelter, in American Fitness, in the neighborhoods. It just isn’t happening in the four walls of the church for a great deal of people. The declining numbers in denominations support that view.
Godin writes at the end, “Every tribe is different. Every leader is different” (146). This idea is very important. We have a tendency as a church to develop a one-size-fits-all model. I went with the seminary to Philadelphia to visit Broad Street Ministry, a worshipping community that is an example of risk taking, out of the box leadership to minister to the homeless. This church spawned a sister church called Beacon which is in an Irish Catholic neighborhood. The need this church meets is after school programs in reading, writing, and art for neighborhood children. Two very different churches that are taking risks to serve their respective communities.
Spiritual leadership in post-Christendom does not mean throwing out our traditions. It’s about taking that which is formed out of the faith that made those traditions into our communities to build RELATIONSHIPS with people and experience God together.