I can’t separate my thoughts about a lot of things from Advent just now. What does Advent say to us in our time of disruptive uncertainty? How does Advent connect to the unfamiliar, hard places where so many of us find ourselves?
Over the last few months we sponsored a series of Leaders Table conversations around these questions:
- Where are we?
- How does Scripture frame another story?
- What kind of leaders do we need?
- How do we become these kinds of leaders?
As we met around the table for conversation, people’s questions changed. The three core leadership practices we proposed (dwell, discern and experiment) created energy, excitement and hope. But they also created something else – concern that they were not familiar practices. This concern came out in questions I heard around the table such as:
- This is a very non-linear way of leading, it lacks certainty, people wont get this.
- There’s not much that’s measurable here – what are the outcomes
- This is not the familiar way of leading.
- It will take a lot of time.
I’ve thought about these questions in the light of Advent. This holy festival keeps getting read through the lens of the story that has shaped us in the modern West since at least the end of WWII. It’s the BIG Story that now colors how we read the world, make decisions and form our ways of church life. It’s a story about progress and productivity through technique and data and the rationalization of all things, including people. It’s the story of our being in control. About us using methods that give us control over outcomes. About our predictions and having measurables as close to certainty as possible. The really good news in all of this used to be that if we’re good leaders, it didn’t need to take a lot of time. Who has a lot of time these days anyway?
This story has determined our leadership and our churches for more than seventy five years. As a friend of mine once said about ministry – it used to be easy, “just add water and stir”. Today, none of us believe this story still describes reality on the ground in our unraveling. But the problem is that it’s still inside us, hence the questions I was hearing around the table.
Advent and Disruption
This returns me to my wrestling with Advent and our moment of disruptive crises.
For any group of leaders in Judea or Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’s birth, there was no straight line between Herod’s rule and this utterly insignificant event. There was nothing linear about it. Herod was working the angles to stay in power and manage the restless populations. He wanted the certainty that troops, organization, and priests could bring. Herod could count children, use data, and get the child that was a threat. He had the tools for controlling the outcomes.
But something happened that was outside of all this management and control. No mapping of the outcomes could account for God-with-us. A vulnerable child, dependent on working class women, was about to disrupt everything. Those who lived in the fear of not having certainty had their worlds turned upside down.
It was more than fair for leaders around the table to ask the questions they did. Our world is also turning upside down. But Advent reminds us of another way and another story.
We are exploring this other way of leading in the Leadership Project. It’s a road worth journeying with others. Consider joining us.