Friday, May 1, 2015

A Presiding Bishop to Lead A Generous Community Amplified for the Future

With the Presiding Bishop nominations about to be released I wanted to share some thoughts from my new book entitled Church: A Generous Community for An Amplified Age. This is taken from the chapter on vocations. I believe this applies to the role of the Presiding Bishop as it applies for the local bishop. The community, the meetings, and the structure may be slightly different but the leadership skills needed will be the same.


As we look for these leaders, we will be challenged because in some ways they are not like us. Yet we know that the future Episcopal Church is beckoning and calling them into service. It is our work, our vocation, to help call them forward. To say out loud that we need individuals who have the characteristics of the second-curve leader. We must look at the church we have described, and believe lives in our positive future, and we must raise up leaders who are also representative of the great ethnic and social diversity that makes up our context. We need people who come from every kind of background with every kind of skill set. We are looking for mission-focused, entrepreneurial, collaborative, and adaptive leaders. We are looking for people who can see the church that we are seeing. These new leaders believe in and will do anything they can to work towards our positive future of a diverse people of God.

This means that we need leaders who are not only representatives of diverse populations but who are “cross-culturally competent.”[i] Leaders need to be adaptable to shifting ethnic population movement, customs, and social complexity. The younger generations are globally aware and global travelers – even just electronically. This will help them be leaders in the future church. It is important to speak another language, but even that is not as important as being able to be sensitive to the complex social customs of a particular ethnic group. Scott E. Page, director at the Center of Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan writes, “Progress depends as much on our collective differences as it does on our individual IQ scores.”[ii] He believes that crowds/commons that show a “range of perspectives and skill levels outperform like-minded experts.”[iii] Therefore the people we raise up for leadership will need to be able to illustrate in their lives some ability to achieve cross-cultural competency.

The future Church is looking for people who love God in Christ Jesus. They have a deep reverence for the sacraments at the heart of their own lives. They have a sacramental worldview and are able to tell the story of God by using many images and tools. They will be digital natives who are not afraid of the multiplicity of contexts and are able to move in and out of them seamlessly. These future leaders will already be connected and networked through a wide web of social media outlets. They will have an ability to “critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication.”[iv] In other words, they will have the ability not only to navigate but also utilize constantly evolving media. They need to be “new media literate.”[v]

This will mean that we are looking for people who are “novel and adaptive thinkers.”[vi] New situations, new tools, and new cultural shifts in an uncertain world mean that the Church needs to have individuals leading it who can think and develop/create/innovate solutions.[vii] Rule-based solution makers are less effective in the VUCA world. Just as industry will need these kinds of people, so too, the church will depend upon them. In fact, no new church starter should be sent out if they are not novel and adaptive thinkers.

The future leaders will be people who are “socially intelligent.”[viii] Machines, even artificial intelligence (AI), will not be able to assess the emotions of groups.[ix] Teams and collaborations will be essential (even electronic team work now has video that enhances communication). People read people’s faces and situations in a way that today is unmatched by machines. The more we return to an age of living and working in groups/pods the more this social intelligence will become essential. [x]Leaders of the future must be literally able to read the room and use that information for leadership.

These leaders (lay and ordained) will share their story easily and be of interest to their peers and those they engage. People will want to listen and connect naturally – in part because of the three characteristics above. The future Church leaders are trustworthy and accessible. They communicate and collaborate across cultural and ideological boundaries as agents of God’s reconciling love in the face of cultural forces that polarize and divide. They are transparent, but manage to shape shift easily, as they hold to their convictions with clarity of faith, and show a capacity to stay in relationship with many different kinds of people.

The future Episcopal Church leaders are pilgrims. They are themselves making their way through life as seekers. They are authentically on a journey and are interested in their own growth spiritually. These leaders are self-aware of how they are perceived. They tolerate failure in others, they expect to fail themselves, and they are able to talk about failure because they know intrinsically that this is where growth occurs.

These leaders are conveners. They naturally are people who gather others for formation, learning, pilgrimages, studies, conversations, and storytelling. They are able to hand off leadership easily – they share leadership. They build their mini -communities with such diversity that they are always strengthening and gathering for the purpose of the overall health and vitality of the community. They are willing to share leadership but also willing to help do/experience all parts of community life. They do this in person and virtually. They are adept at figuring out the kind of collaboration that is needed, and then the means for making those connections happen. They have grown up in a world of virtual gaming, which mixes real-world parallel play with virtual peer groups. The digital native is accustomed to “immediate feedback, clear objectives, and staged series of challenges.”[xi] The new group of leaders is less limited by time, travel, and the economy, in accomplishing the task. The will naturally work better in groups and they will desire to connect with others for the sake of building stronger teams. They do not see a difference between doing this in person or online. Moreover, and importantly for all supervisors, they are not going to waste their time doing something in person if it can be done just as well digitally. They value their in-person and personal time, and want to use that for themselves.

The leaders of the future will be wise counselors, preachers and teachers. They are able to articulate the deep meaning of things. They do this for religious stories and sacraments. They also do this for secular movies, stories, and for city events. The future will need “sense-makers.”[xii] They are able themselves (before they ever go to seminary) to communicate the Gospel in ways that people and communities find engaging and relevant to their lives: in the pulpit and in personal conversation. Machines and technology will never tell a good story or be able to navigate complex sense-making. Thinking, contemplating, metaphor making, and the sacramental interpretation of life will depend upon the future leaders being gifted sense-makers.

Along with this sense-making skill they will also need “computational thinking.”[xiii] This does not mean that they need to be computers. The amount of information that is traded in a knowledge economy is huge. The complexity of the socialstructured world is illustrated by the variety and number of networked communities. The future leaders, as digital natives, will not see this as strange. They will also be able to “manage their cognitive load.”[xiv] They are able to “discriminate and filter information for importance.”[xv] While the digital immigrants are awash in a sea of competing information bytes, the digital native is able to assess importance quickly, take what is needed, and leave the rest. Those who are able to translate what they see, read, experience, and learn, into abstract concepts and new ideas are the ones who will rise above their generation in leadership.

This means they will also need to be “transdisciplinary.”[xvi] In every axial age, the key people have been those who were not specialists in any one thing, but able to navigate across specialties, piecing seemingly divergent ideas into holistic life strategies, new sciences, and new philosophies. Howard Rheingold, and author, writes, “transdisciplinarity goes beyond bringing together researchers from different disciplines to work in multidisciplinary teams. It means educating researchers who can speak languages of multiple disciplines – biologists who have understanding of mathematics, mathematicians who understand biology.”[xvii] This means we need people who understand church, sociology, culture, history, business, and accounting. It is not that we are looking for people who are experts in everything. We do not need that. Remember these leaders work in commons, networked relationships, and groups. They will build teams of depth. It does mean that we are looking for leaders who are “T-shaped.”[xviii] The people we want to engage will bring a deep understanding of one field but have the ability to speak the language and culture of a “broader range of disciplines.”[xix] It will not be enough to know a lot and be able to put it together in a novel way. In order to truly engage sense-making, the future transdisciplinarian will be able to put the pieces together in the right way so as to make them work. Computational thinkers and transdisciplinarians are the kinds of people the Church will need to help navigate the future mission context.

The future leaders will be people who have a “design mindset.”[xx] The future leader will need to be a person who can look at the task and create a strategy, plan, or ministry to reach the desired outcomes of the mission. It is not just about planting a Christian community. It is about creating a mission in a particular context with a unique combination of people, language, and culture, then after assessing and making sense of it, putting together the pieces to accomplish the goal of a new service ministry or Bible study. They will do this as a secondary act of designing, based upon what they experience and see as needed. The present church simply does what it does. The future Church will depend upon individuals surveying their mission context and then designing the mission to fit it, rather than believing they have the answer to questions that are not being asked or a healthy church for people who do not know they need one. A design mindset looks first and then designs.

Leaders of the future will be humble. They have to be humble in order to tolerate the failure necessary for learning. This will also breed in them a tenacious spirit. Tenacity is not doing the same things over and over again until you accomplish the goal. Tenacity is the willingness to try everything until you are successful. This group of leaders is willing to work hard and spend their own capital in order to achieve their goal. They will use their cognitive surplus to bridge the gaps between where they are and where they believe they (or their community) are heading. This will be seen by many as a deep and abiding sense that they are entitled to very little, but will work hard to experience the creative process. This adventurous, almost frontier spirit, will mean they are vocationally flexible. They enjoy new things and participating in different exchanges and experiences. The future Church leaders, and their families, are willing to move to and go where their interests lie. Meaning, if they are devoted to a missionary opportunity, and there is no full time position, they are more likely to get a secular job so they can make the vision happen, than they are to take a job of less interest because it pays.

These leaders will reshape the nature of the ordained ministry. What seems essential to say is that, as a bishop, I know that looking for all these qualities in any one person, is like looking for the messiah. And, if the leaders of today can raise up such a person, the future Church needs her! Here is the big news though, for Commissions on Ministry, and those who are going to participate in this raising up of future leaders: we are not looking for a person - we are looking for a group. Remember the digital native is a creature of the pack. What we have to do is raise up T-shaped individuals with those Ts fitting together to form a group that will bring all of these skills to the new church. T-shaped leaders are people who have a broad variety of skills with one or two skill expertise. When you put T-shaped leaders together in a group you multiply expertise and cross over skills. The present past Church looks for leaders who are specialists or who can become specialists, and will be solitary leaders. The future Church looks for team members who help build a team that will have a depth of these skills and the ability to scale their other talents with their fellow missionary leaders. This is how the future Church will build its cadre of leaders.


The bishop in the future Church will continue to guard the faith of the church, but will be more of a hub, than a person who polices the boundaries of the Christian community.[xxi] They will be a unifying figure; at ease with their own beliefs and willing to listen and bring others along. The bishop will be a person who redefines the continuing discipline of the Church. They are wise enough to hold quickly to tradition, but transparently and honestly know that things have not always been any one way. The bishop of the future Church will be present in their communities – churches and wider culture. They will be known more by their geographical area than where their office is located. They will have a see and cathedra[xxii] but they will sit in the midst of their Christian communities and sit within the wider cultural context. They will no longer be associated only within their own church but as a community member who desires the best for the people who live within their diocese – and I don’t mean only the Episcopalians. The people of any given area and of any given denomination will know the Episcopal bishop of the future Church. The bishop will be a celebrant of sacraments in the world and within the community. The bishops of the future will be bishops of the people, and go about with and among their people. They will not be one to stay in an ivory tower or diocesan center. No matter what the administrative call might be, the bishop of the future Church remembers that he or she is to be out and going (as an apostle) to God’s people where they are.

Bishops will see the different kinds of ministers that are needed and will raise up people from every walk of life, and of every profession, to take on the mission of the church. This future bishop will ensure that there are many paths to ministry. They will send people to all kinds of programs and courses. The bishop of the future will place the highest priority on the mission – the criteria being the growth of the kingdom of God and the transformation of the world through the reconciling power of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore they will make the measure of success not one of degrees but on how well the life of the future Church leader accomplishes the work we have discussed throughout this book.

The bishop of the future church is a bishop who is himself or herself a second-curve leader with all of the criteria and characteristics we have already discussed. They are people who work with other bishops of the same kind to move the future Church and its vision forward. The future bishop represents well the best of leadership throughout the ages and is always willing to be a prophetic voice. Yet the bishop of the future is not one to shake his fist at the wider world. No. The future bishop is willing to offer leadership to change those institutions that must be changed. This kind of a bishop is willing to work hard to make change happen in those areas of the culture where change is needed. Words without deeds will be a foreign concept to the bishop of the future Church. This bishop is a bishop of hope.

The future bishop believes in the positive future of the Church they serve. They believe that life and vitality are present and they offer a living vision of a living Church to their people. The bishop is willing to work towards that vision, making hard decisions along the way. The bishop believes. The bishop joins God on God’s pilgrimage to reconcile the world. The bishop is always willing to serve and figures out ways in which the most good can come from the church’s presence in any community. The bishops find joy in upholding and supporting the many ministries of their diocese. These bishops of the future love their work and would do nothing else. They thrive in a sea of challenge and are excited (which shows) by the prospect of making a difference.

The future bishop lives a particular and disciplined life. He or she is faithful, and continues the practice of studying. The bishop knows the scriptures and the life of Christ and the saints well. The bishop is also willing to seek revelation and vision from other sources because the bishop knows that God in Christ is present in the world too – drawing the world into communion. It is important for the bishop to study the world and to know and understand the forces at work and the people behind them. The bishop is therefore willing and able to speak the language of their mission context. They are able to proclaim a vision of the Gospel of Good News of Salvation to their people, in a language and using symbols and images they understand. The bishop speaks as one of the people and is able to move the hearts of men and women for the work of ministry.

The future bishops will accomplish this work because they will support all the baptized to be sure. This bishop, though, must be connected in ways unseen since the early days of the Church. They are known, and they know their people, and those who minister to them. They are able to be continually in touch, and through this connection, build-up the wider community. The bishop is a unifying pastoral presence for the people entrusted to their care. Through the network of relationships, with the bishop as the hub, the internal life and ministry of the church, its members, the secular leaders, and those who are seeking are all connected into a much broader family of God which is greater and stronger than any particular group that gathers on any given Sunday morning. It is in this way that the bishop is able to marshal support for those who need it, those without a voice, and those without a community. The bishop of the future Church will no longer be given authority or be considered a prince of the church because of station. The bishop of the future Church will be the chief servant of all, the friend of many, and will receive leadership because of her humility and careful guiding hand. The bishop of the future Church is seen as the shepherd and spiritual guide of her people. This will all be done, not by lording power over those in their care, but rather by working with them.

[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Ibid.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Ibid.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] Ibid.
[xiv] Ibid.
[xv] Ibid.
[xvi] Ibid.
[xvii] Ibid.
[xviii] Ibid.
[xix] Ibid.
[xx] Ibid.
[xxi] BCP, 517ff. Adapted.
[xxii] A cathedra is the bishop’s chair in the cathedral

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball