Wisdom from Babylon (1)
I have a new publication due out within the next couple of months: Wisdom from Babylon: Leadership for the Church in a Secular Age [IVPress, 2020]. Here is a link to the promotional page at IVPress: https://www.ivpress.com/wisdom-from-babylon.
The essence of the argument in this publication is something, it seems to me, that is at the heart of what it means to give leadership for any organization at any time. Yes, in this case, I am speaking specifically to what it means to be the church and to lead the church. it is my contribution to the whole question of what it means to provide theological formation for leadership for Christian communities. And yes, I am speaking in this case to what it means to give leadership in a time of emerging secularity. But the central premise is about what it means to lead an organization when the context or the environment has changed and changed in a way that is fundamental and paradigmatic.
Effective organizations are marked by many things. But central to effectiveness is surely this: the capacity to read the environment and respond in such a way that the organization continues to flourish and the mission of the organization continues to happen. This involves two things. First and fundamentally, that collectively we ask what has changed and perhaps changed fundamentally: What is it about our world, our culture, or society or our immediate context that is not as it used to be? And the genius of great organizations is that this new reality is, first, accepted and then second, actually embraced – that is, the new reality is one that is viewed to be not so much a threat as an opportunity.
I will get to the second point – embracing the new reality. But the question of acceptance needs to be highlighted and belaboured. So frequently organizations – non-profits, business, churches and even countries – can get caught up in a nostalgic pining for a previous time when, it is assumed, things were rosier. We live look back to “the good old times”. As a rule, this is a false read of a previous time – whether it is the “make America great again” trope . . . in which we ask, which particular time are you thinking of, when you say this?, or the “Britannia rules the waves” nostalgia that looks back over a century to a time that is so distant in the past that literally no one was alive at that time. Britannia has not ruled the waves for over a century. Or the church or denominational group that longs to “win this country” back on the assumption that it was once “Christian” and we will make it Christian again by restoring a privileged voice for the Christian community. That is, in each case I would suggest that on a national level we come to embrace the world as it is, not as we wish it to be; Britain is no longer the primary naval force on the oceans; they are now part of a multi-lateral nation that is part of NATO and on multiple levels part of Europe and . . .well I could go on: you get my point.
Effective organizations read the situation and note what has changed and changed fundamentally. And rather than resisting this development, they accept it. And then, second, they go one step and a crucial step further: they embrace and leverage and steward this new reality and ask what opportunities emerge within and precisely because of this new reality. The church asks how secularity is actually an opportunity for the church to flourish. An organization can observe that perhaps ask how the new circumstances, even if they seem to pose a problem or a set back, can be leveraged in ways that could not have originally perhaps been anticipated. What is the silver lining? What new learning and new opportunity that this change in our environment presents to us?
Thus, two steps. First, we accept our new situation our new context, resisting any propensity for nostalgia. And second, rather than looking back we look forward and see what new opportunities emerge.