As leaders there is not only a need to understand our culture (so we don’t make decisions that result in bridges built to nowhere) but to also understand ourselves (to be effective at leading people over those bridges). Effective leadership is clearly a mix of many qualities and gifts but the importance of connecting with others relationally is absolutely critical – especially in this period of liminality.
For us moderns we are all about fixing stuff and we can often do a better job when we understand how stuff got broke. The following few paragraphs are a perspective on how, some of us at least, got broke – disconnected. Perhaps if we understand why we are disconnected it will help us first see that reality and then lead to spaces to develop meaningful relationships. That’s step 1. Step 2 is leading others to those same places – but if we don’t know the way I’m not sure we have much business leading others.
“The modern congregation is not a coherent context which can teach us how the abstracted aspects of our lives fit together to create a unified reality. It is itself an abstraction, that institution which has the function of servicing the “spiritual” aspect of life…
“These modern conditions produce a different kind of person and a different kind of piety. I have insisted that in our past one’s basic individuality was constituted by the interrelations which in turn made deeper levels of self-consciousness and freedom possible. What is left, the interrelations of the nuclear family, is now being discovered to be incapable of completing the task of the healthy formation of character that was once shared by the clan, tribe, community, and ethnos.
“Moreover, the modern individual moves through the day and the week from one functionalized secondary association to the next, playing in each the role which it elicits. Since no context embraces these roles in a “comprehending” way, the modern treats these relationships as external, as “layers” of one’s consciousness which have to be peeled away to discover the true “inner” self which supposedly retains its integrity from one context to the next and from birth to death. Though radically freed to move at will from one “space” to another, moderns are at home nowhere. They can “have” experiences, but self-transcendence as comprehension is almost impossible.
“Therefore the meaning of holiness and piety also changes. Holiness loses its connection with wholeness, either the wholeness of a completed life story or the stewarding of a concrete people of God. Instead of the comprehension of larger wholes and the care of them for God’s sake, piety is sought in “focus” and in “centering” into one’s purported “inner core.” External relations are shut out in the attempt to feel “one thing” intensely, for conversion is not so much the beginning of a larger story as the initial occasion in which the divided self feels coherent. The Christian life to which such a modern looks forward is more the search for contexts in which to repeat this emotional intensity than a life-long process of working out the upward-reaching rhythms of an “organic” spirituality.
“The end result of our modern pieties is the addictive personality. Since the whole of life is no longer comprehensible, we seek to focus on one thing and, in mastering it, to experience ourselves as wholly a single being…”
Is it possible for us to create space for people in our church and community to live in a “coherent context” in which to comprehend the whole of life that comes through the Gospel? I think it is – but that context can only exist in meaningful relationships “beyond church services.”
Quoted from an article written by Delbert Wiens, “Mennonite Brethren: Neither Liberal nor Evangelical,” Direction Magazine, Spring, 1991. Delbert Wiens teaches philosophy and is active in the Mennonite church. He holds a B.D. from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Hellenistic philosophy and religion from the University of Chicago. He has taught at Tabor College and, since 1969, at Fresno Pacific College.