Had a really interesting conversation the other day with someone who is going through a part of faith’s journey in which they emerge from a “blind faith” model into a deeper, richer, more questioning phase. They really seem to be doing the work faithfully to the Spirit’s leading and also conscious of the inward sense of alienation from their congregation who are, at least publicly, speaking a much more authoritarian and confident form of God-talk. I find this to be a less and less rare experience, as shown by book’s like Rachel Held Evans’ and models like Scott Peck’s “Four stages of spiritual development” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._Scott_Peck#The_Four_Stages_of_Spiritual_Development .
The topic that really got me thinking is about how to handle church leadership responsibility as one is going through the transition. Should one, as my friend assumed, resign from leadership roles during this period? That implicit question struck me as indicative of a number of assumptions about leadership and authority in the church which should perhaps be unpacked. In Peck’s stage two (blind faith and obedience) authority is often seen as a function of knowledge and certainty. The leader therefore is someone who knows the Scripture better than the congregation and is more assured and confident in the propositions of the faith. This provides a platform, from which to teach, instruct and lead. The implied model is “I KNOW, you don’t, so I’m in charge.”
If that is the model of leadership then I suppose the assumption that one should resign if one is exploring a more questioning and subtle way of faithfully following Jesus is quite understandable. In this model of leadership then someone with a lower level of knowledge or certainty can’t lead someone who is more knowledgeable or certain.
But with a revised model of faith might come a revised model of leadership. Rather than “I know, so I’m in charge”, leadership could be seen as being more like “as none of us can fully know, but I have been blessed with some experience, knowledge and skills, I will use my gifting and calling to help others to grow too.”
From here we can lead people who are more advanced in the faith than we are, or less. We can lead people who are less certain than we are, or more. Leadership or teaching becomes less about downloading all that is in our heads into the learners’ heads and becomes more about posing the question, creating the space and being in relation to the learners so they can grow and perhaps also teach us something in the process.
Peck’s level three often gives way into the beautiful mystery of level four, and similarly a leader often matures from a dogmatic teacher of truth to a prophetic and pastoral witness to truth and facilitator of spiritual growth. We need our leaders to hang in there as they grow “from one degree of glory into another, and we need collectively to support them on their inner journey, which will enrich us in the process.
I detect my friend’s reticence to carry on in leadership when he was no longer operating from the blind faith and certainty model comes from his deep integrity – “how can I teach something I no longer believe in the same way?”. But the deeper truth is that even as we transition from stage two to three, we are still held by the same God and still relating to the same Way, the same Truth and the same Life. Our language for describing that changes, but the deeper truth is still deeply true.
I think I’ll encourage my friend to faithfully hang on in there.
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