The Humble, Subversive, Smack-Talking Leader ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Humble, Subversive, Smack-Talking Leader

Is the Right Lane the New Left Lane?

Back in 2000, I drove to Chicago with a friend for a sales convention. His red coupe could become a red blur in seconds, which it occasionally did, but he spent the whole trip hugging the right side of the road. These days, whenever I go out driving, I meet the same dynamic.

Cruising in the left lane is passé. Maybe it’s because elderly drivers and parents with small children are genetically biased toward all things left, or maybe it’s because jetting by on the right seems crafty and subversive—but there seems to be a new speed culture on Kansas City’s I-35.

Which makes me wonder (chalk it up to free association): Could there be a similar dynamic at work among today’s emerging leaders? Where emerging church is concerned, I hear a lot of people calling for grassroots influence, applauding the leader who comes alongside instead of leading out in front. “Humility” and “equality” are in vogue as today’s fast track—at least as buzzwords and hopefully as reality.

I think there is a strong movement to (re)define leadership as subversive, non-recognized and organic, and part of me really likes it. “The greatest among you will be the servants of all,” said Jesus. “You will change the world by laying down your lives, not by yelling louder.” (My between-the-lines paraphrase.) Part of me also questions aspects of the impulse.

I’m convinced that leaders need to be strong (like Jesus) and they’ll need to go beyond suggesting and luring to preaching and calling people out (like Jesus). I’m also very aware that the non-assertive, non-confrontational, who-am-I-to-lead-you? posture is a symptom of the postmodern air we breathe, and can be an abdication of true leadership, which is a risky venture that often leads to muddy airspace.

So I welcome the current emphasis on subversive, gentle, persuasive, grassroots influence—while believing that biblical leadership embraces it and extends beyond it into the realm of prayerful authority and humble theological smack talk.

As usual, Jesus brings together elements of life that, left to ourselves, we would label as opposites.

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Grant Warkentin said...

Interesting post, I find myself sharing some of your thoughts. But remember that Jesus himself said, "Why do you call me good?"

That was a subversive challenge to get people really thinking about why they bought into his teachings. A different method than top-down leadership.

I am interested in the emergent movement, or whatever you want to call it, because it offers a valuable perspective on viewing the Bible and Jesus and what he said and did. But a lot of it is just an exercise in label-making and back-slapping that talks a lot about doing good but does little.

Ariel said...

Thanks for the comment, Brent. I agree, Jesus wasn't a top-down political maneuverer. At the same time, he didn't shrink from speaking in black & white when necessary. He told parables and also confronted the Pharisees. That's the paradoxical dynamic I'm pointing to.

Good luck as you explore "emerging church." I've found the label includes a wide diversity of opinions, some of which have a lot to offer, others of which are sliding away from orthodoxy.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife