Book Note: Stained Glass Ceilings: How Evangelicals Do Gender and Practice Power

I learned from Scot McKnight’s Substack about a new book, the Introduction to which is riveting. It’s called Stained Glass Ceilings: How Evangelicals Do Gender and Practice Power, by Lisa Weaver Swartz, a sociologist at Asbury University in Kentucky.

In it she profiles two seminary communities in Kentucky: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Asbury Theological Seminary. Southern has a “complementarian insistence on male headship,” whereas Asbury “rejects overtly gendered hierarchies.” This comparative study already piques my interest. I expected it to be a takedown of Southern that held Asbury up as a shining example of how to “do gender and practice power.” Indeed, McKnight writes here about Weaver Swartz and “Southern Seminary’s ‘Godly’ Man.” McKnight calls it “faux masculinity” where “the power dynamic becomes asymmetrical, which itself is fertile ground for abuse.”

But Weaver Swartz notes in the introduction, “Asbury, however, has struggled to achieve the demographic equity it prescribes.” Even this seminary with a so-called egalitarian theology has a narrative that “limits women much more subtly.” There is at Asbury Seminary an “individualistic genderblindness” that “limits gender equity.” And so, “Combining theology, culture, rhetoric, and embodied practice, both seminaries narrate powerful institutional stories that center men and limit women’s agency.”

Phew! That’s all from the first few pages. And the title, Stained Glass Ceilings, is really clever. Not to mention a beautifully designed cover.

Check out the book here at the publisher’s site. I’m eager to read it.

What Does It Mean to Call the Bible “Inspired”?

“St. Paul Writing His Epistles,” by Valentin de Boulogne (17th Cent.)

 

I preach from the Bible whenever I preach. God spoke through and to humanity by the Word. My primary goal as a preacher is to create a space where we can hear God speaking to us today again through that Scripture that is “living and active.” And that we would respond faithfully.

Rare, however, is the full sermon I preach about the Bible: what it is, how we got it, what it does, and how we can respond. I had that privilege this last Sunday, as I preached on the first of five parts of our church’s vision: Scripture guides us. To say Scripture guides us invites reflection on at least two questions: (1) what is Scripture and (2) why should that be what guides us? (Not to mention: how would we know, months and years from now, if Scripture actually were guiding us?)

Despite 40+ years of my life steeped in the Bible, despite memorizing whole books of the New Testament as a kid, despite reading the Bible through multiple times, and despite reading it in Hebrew and Greek… I found it surprisingly challenging to concisely share about, “What is the Bible?” and the follow-on question: “So what?”

In the end I broke it down broadly into two -ations: Revelation and Invitation. God’s Word is revelation. God’s word is an invitation.

To call the Bible revelation means that it is a received word. It is a given word. It is not something we went looking for and figured out by pure reason or emotion or will—in contrast to starting points in other disciplines, like philosophy. All the world’s Pulitzer Prize winners combined couldn’t conjure up God’s Word if they tried. Scripture is God’s self-revelation, and we have it, available to us. Deuteronomy 30:11-14 says:

This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you, and it is not beyond your reach. It is not kept in heaven, so distant that you must ask, ‘Who will go up to heaven and bring it down so we can hear it and obey?’ It is not kept beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear it and obey?’ No, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.

Notice who is doing the work, so to speak, in finding “the message”—not you! Not me! God says the people of Israel already have it—on their lips and in their heart. Not because they set it there, but because God put it there. In the 21st century, we might add that we have God’s Word at our very fingertips—just a search string and a click away.

The more specific word Scripture uses for revelation is inspiration. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Maybe a better English word (or at least a more literal one) for “God-breathed” would be theo-spired. God breathed his words into the Bible. Just as he breathed life into Adam and Eve and created them in his image, he breathed himself into Scripture, showing us even more of his image. Scripture is not just humans guessing at who God is; it’s God himself telling us who he is.

Millard Erickson, in his wonderful Christian Theology, puts it this way:

By inspiration of Scripture we mean that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on the Scripture writers that rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or that resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.

Just how does inspiration work? If the Bible was both written by God and written by humans, what percentage of each author is at play in each passage, or across the whole Bible? Or is that the wrong way to think about it? Is it more like the incarnation: fully divine, fully human, both at once?

I think the best answer to this question is: we just don’t know. Erickson says it more articulately:

It is our contention here that inspiration involved God’s directing the thoughts of the writers, so that those thoughts were precisely the ones that he wished expressed. At times these thoughts were very specific; at other times they were more general. When they were more general, God wanted that particular degree of specificity recorded, and no more.

I suppose Erickson’s claim could be seen as a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc , where someone infers causation (or intent) just because one thing chronologically follows the other. In other words, “We have it how we have it, so God must have wanted it that way.” But I believe he’s right, and so do millennia of interpreters.

Speaking of philosophy, Erickson tells this story about Edmund Husserl:

Edmund Husserl, the phenomenologist, had a devoted disciple and assistant, Eugen Fink. Fink wrote an interpretation of Husserl’s philosophy upon which the master placed his approval. It is reported that when Husserl read Fink’s article, he exclaimed, “It is as if I had written it myself!””

So, too, God’s relationship to Scripture.

That’s all revelation. But this revelation of God calls for a response: it’s also an invitation. I’ll write more about this in a future post.

Learning to Love God’s Wrath?

“But when we continued to sin against your ways, you were angry. How then can we be saved?” — Isaiah 64:5

Passages about God’s anger might not be the best worn pages in our Bibles. Our great and merciful God, a God of wrath also?

A few months into the pandemic I read an excellent book called, But What About God’s Wrath?: The Compelling Love Story of Divine Anger, by Kevin Kinghorn, with Stephen Travis. The sub-title drew me right in: “The Compelling Love Story of Divine Anger.” Love story? It might be enough for me to make peace with God’s wrath. Or be saved from it somehow! But could I learn to love God’s wrath, too?

For Kinghorn, God’s wrath is “God pressing the truth on us.” We need the truth, but sometimes we’re more motivated to hide than seek it. As Scott Sunquist says, “It’s not loving to hide the truth, and the truth is we’re not healthy…; we need to be restored, even revived.” Or if you prefer Jay-Z, by way of Omar: “You cannot heal what you don’t reveal.”

God’s wrath, then, illuminates the truth, even “pressing” it “on us.” In his wrath, God is restoring us, reviving us, and seeking to free us from the deceptions we too often tolerate or wink at or—worse—embrace.

Isaiah 64, cited at the top of this post, goes on:

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

Isaiah remembers how “all of us” have failed to call on God’s name; we have not strived to lay hold of God. So God in his loving wrath has given over his people to the consequences of their sins. At times we see these just as natural consequences, but ones that are imbued with the intended goal of restoration, of returning to the Lord.

In this way Kinghorn successfully makes the point that God’s wrath does not stand in contrast to God’s love; rather, God’s wrath is perfect and in fact is “entirely an expression of God’s love, in specific contexts.” Everything God does is motivated by love and is loving, because God is love.

This is not just a neat apologetic trick to avoid some kind of epic, Star Wars-like Wrath vs. Love saga. Kinghorn makes the compelling case from Scripture that “the starting point” is God’s love, and that wrath is a sub-trait of God’s love. Is it loving, after all, to simply leave someone to their own folly, without at least first attempting to press the truth upon them? “If there is one kind of truth that we humans are adept at avoiding, it is the thought that we have been acting in a morally defective way,” writes Kinghorn. Chapter 6 (“Truth as God’s Response to Sin and Self-Deception”) is especially powerful in developing these thoughts. We need God’s wrath, because it saves us from ourselves.

The Psalms, especially the Psalms of vengeance, virtually require God’s wrath for God to be just, loving, faithful to his promises. Will this God right wrongs, or won’t he? Kinghorn puts it like this:

God is not like a judge in a courthouse, suspending his personal feelings in order to act objectively. He is more like a partner who feels affronted when her daughter is bullied in school and who takes steps to confront the offender.

This confrontation, by the way, is a kindness to both offended and offender. This is true even when the offender and offended are the same person, as in the case of “self-destructive behavior.” Hurting oneself angers God, too. Kinghorn cites Jeremiah 7:18-19:

“They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger. But am I the one they are provoking?” declares the LORD. “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?”

“A God who cares about us would naturally be troubled,” Kinghorn concludes, “for our sake, at our sins against him.”

God’s wrath is “more than an emotion,” though. It seeks to lead people to repentance, which leads to fullness of life.

In the end, there’s a sense in which “wrath” is in the eye of the beholder: “Whether we experience God pressing the truth as God’s wrath or as God’s faithful care is, in the end, up to us.” How will we respond to God’s overtures, even when they are uncomfortable?

When I read the book two years ago, it profoundly affected me. It encouraged and strengthened me in my ministry practice. The blend of philosophy and biblical studies (assisting author Stephen Travis) is like enjoying delicious, freshly baked tortilla chips, only to have homemade guac come out a minute later to dip the chips in.

It’s no exaggeration to say I loved this book. It both fired up my theological/philosophical synapses and ministered to me, heart and soul. Never would I have expected that about a book on God’s wrath! But that may just speak to how anemic my understanding of God can be. Kinghorn and Travis will help any willing reader grow in their understanding (and love) of God.

I highly recommend the book. Check it out here.

 


Thanks to IVP Academic for sending the review copy, which did not (at least not consciously) affect how I reviewed the book.

Great short read: “Help Your Team Do More Without Burning Out”

Someone refill this poor man’s coffee cup. Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash
 
I found this article really helpful for my practice of leadership: Help Your Team Do More Without Burning Out, by Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg.
 
It’s not written from a religious perspective, but I thought it applies especially well in the body of Christ. Summary:
Earlier in our careers, speed and energy are important components. But there comes a point where you actually can’t speed up any more. You need to rely less on what you can personally achieve (your “ego-drive”) and more on what you can achieve with others (your “co-drive”). Instead of being energetic, you need to become energizing. Instead of setting the pace, you need to teach others to self-propel. Instead of delegating, you need to allow people to congregate. As you shift from proving yourself to helping others perform, your key question is not “How can I push harder?” but “Where can I let go?”
I read it in this excellent little book I’ve been benefiting from lately.

François Fénelon on Not Knowing What to Pray

Quite some time ago I purchased this little book by François Fénelon from a used theological bookstore:

 

Meditations and Devotions by François Fénelon (book cover)

 

The first section of the book has meditations on some sentences of Scripture. Here is one I appreciated reading yesterday:

 

Image from text is reproduced below

 

Here is the text from the image above:

Teach us to pray.–ST. LUKE 11:1.

LORD, I know not what to ask of Thee. Thou only knowest what I need. Thou lovest me better than I know how to love myself. O Father, give to Thy child what he knows not how to ask. I dare not ask either crosses or consolations. I stand before Thee. I open my heart to Thee. Behold my needs that I know not of; behold and do Thou according to Thy mercy. Smite me or heal me, depress me or lift me up: I adore all Thy purposes without knowing them. I am silent. I offer myself to Thee. I yield to Thee. I no longer have any desire but to do Thy Will. Teach me to pray. Pray Thou Thyself in me.

 

Mental Toughness: A Review

First, a three-sentence review of the idea of “mental toughness”:

  1. I want it, I work toward it, and I want my kids to have it—especially given the global and local challenges facing us in 2022.
  2. As a practicing Christian, I wonder what “mental toughness” looks like in light of 2 Corinthians 12:9: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’”
  3. Those lines come from the Apostle Paul, who was as mentally tough a person as I know of, and yet he rejoiced in his weakness, because—perhaps counterintuitively—his weakness was the site of God’s strength made perfect.

Even with that re-framing in mind, “mental toughness” is a desideratum for me. So I read in its entirety HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Mental Toughness, from Harvard Business Review Press. At 160 pages—and with compact trim size—it’s one of the shorter volumes in the 10 Must Reads series, but it’s full of powerful and inspiring ideas.

Here’s the list of 10 (actually 11, counting the “bonus” article) articles in the book:

  1. “How the Best of the Best Get Better and Better,” by Graham Jones
  2. “Crucibles of Leadership,” by Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas
  3. “Building Resilience,” by Martin E.P. Seligman
  4. “Cognitive Fitness,” by Roderick Gilkey and Clint Kilts
  5. “The Making of a Corporate Athlete,” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
  6. “Stress Can Be a Good Thing If You Know How to Use It,” by Alla Crum and Thomas Crum
  7. “How to Bounce Back from Adversity,” by Joshua D. Margolis and Paul G. Stoltz
  8. “Rebounding from Career Setbacks,” by Mitchell Lee Marks, Philip Mirvis, and Ron Ashkenas
  9. “Realizing What You’re Made Of,” by Glenn E. Mangurian
  10. “Extreme Negotiations,” by Jeff Weiss, Aram Donigian, and Jonathan Hughes
  11. “Post-Traumatic Growth and Building Resilience,” by Martin Seligman and Sarah Green Carmichael

Every article has good ideas worthy of implementation. And across the 160 pages there are a handful of ideas I could probably do without. Here are some highlights:

  • In Martin Seligman’s “Building Resilience,” he talks about “post-traumatic growth” (my emphasis), a phrase I’d never heard before reading this book. He mentions post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and then asks: what about the growth that can ensue after traumatic events? The best sentence in the whole book describes people who have post-traumatic growth: “They, too, first experience depression and anxiety, often exhibiting full-blown PTSD, but within a year they are better off than they were before the trauma” (29). Better off than they were before the trauma!

  • Similarly, “Crucibles of Leadership” (Bennis and Thomas) is encouraging, as it tells stories of leaders who “emerged from the crucible stronger and more sure of themselves and their purpose” (11).

  • “Cognitive Fitness” (Gilkey and Kilts) offers a two-page spread (48-49) titled, “Exercising Your Brain: A Personal Program.” Many of the ideas they offer are common sense but easy to forget (“ready funny books,” “play games,” “try new technologies,” “learn a new language or instrument,” etc.).

  • “Stress Can Be Good Thing If You Know How to Use It” (Crum and Crum) was such a good article, I emailed a link to it (with my own reflection) to my church’s elders right away. Best line: “[W]hat did you expect—that climbing Everest would be a walk in the park?” (73) The authors recommend “reframing anxiety as excitement” (74).

  • Scattered throughout some articles are pep-talky ideas I’m ambivalent about. On the first page of the first article (“How the Best of the Best Get Better and Better”), for example, there is, “[I]n sports as in business, the main obstacle to achieving ‘the impossible’ may be a self-limiting mind-set” (1). Yeah, may be. But for some things “mind over matter” may itself be a limiting approach, since it may fail to take into account external factors.

  • “How to Bounce Back from Adversity” (Margolis and Stoltz) is excellent, although I disagree with the authors’ conclusion that when analyzing setbacks, we need to stop thinking about their causes and focus instead on our response. Why not both? Interestingly, another article (“Rebounding from Career Setbacks”) has a section called “Figure Out Why You Lost” (90). On the upside, Margolis and Stoltz’s “resilience regimen” offers a series of practical and empowering questions that almost ensure forward movement. For example:

       “Visualizing: What do I want life to look like on the other side of this adversity?

       “Specifying: What can I do in the next few minutes, or hours, to move in that direction?

       “Collaborating: What sequence of steps can we put together as a team, and what processes can we develop and adopt, to see us through to the other side of this hardship?” (86)

  • Glenn E. Mangurian’s “Realizing What You’re Made Of” is the most inspirational of the articles. It begins with the provocative (ridiculous?) claim: “Those who have survived a traumatic, life-altering event often convey a curious sentiment: They wouldn’t have it any other way” (97). He then talks about working through (and with, not against) his own experience of paralysis. It’s a moving read. “In my new life,” he says, “I am able to use all of my assets, including my paralysis, to be a new kind of leader” (106).

  • There is some overlap between this and other published HBR collections. As HBR continues to publish its 10 Must Read series, and multiple other best-of collections, they’ll want to keep an eye on not overusing certain articles.

I’ll refer back to this volume again, and it took me about a year to work through it, because I kept savoring/procrastinating working through the ideas and exercises.

Find the book here, and thanks to HBR Press for sending the review copy, which did not (at least not consciously) affect how I reviewed the book.

Treasure Trove of a Website for Bible Translation (or just richer Bible reading)

 

I just learned about this fascinating Website intended for Bible translators, which is also useful for preachers or anyone who wants to better understand the Bible. It’s called TIPs, which stands for “Translation Insights and Perspectives.” Here’s the site description:

God’s communication with humanity was intended from the beginning for “every nation, tribe, and language.” While all languages are equally competent in expressing the message of the Bible, each language has particular and sometimes unique capacities to communicate certain biblical messages in exceptionally enriching ways that other languages cannot. The Translation Insights and Perspectives (TIPs) tool collects these outstanding translation insights in the form of stories so they can be made available to everyone in the church as well as researchers and other interested parties.

There’s a great explainer video here.

You can search the site by word or phrase or even language.

Here’s just one of many insights at the TIPs site. Revelation 3:20 says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (NIV). Searching the TIPs site yields this translation anecdote:

For the translation of this verse into Maasina Fulfulde Doug Higby tells this story:

“[We] had the word for ‘door’ and also a word for knocking or ‘hitting’ a door. But as I thought about it, Jesus was coming to visit! The Fulani don’t even have doors on their traditional huts, and they certainly don’t bang on the reed coverings used to keep the dust out of the doorway. If Jesus came, he would go to the entrance of the courtyard and say, ‘Salaam Alaikum.’ This would announce his presence in the same way that knocking on a door would in Western contexts. But I was concerned… the Greek text says ‘door’ and I wanted to be faithful to the original. Yet, I felt the Fulani customary greeting was exactly what Jesus would do in this context, so I continued. To my great surprise, the next part of the verse went: ‘Anyone who hears my voice and opens the door…’ Voice?! Who said anything about Jesus speaking, I thought he was knocking… So now the Fulani greeting makes even more sense with the cultural version which goes like this: ‘I stand at the entrance (to your courtyard) and greet (in peace). Whoever hears my voice and lets me in, I will enter and eat together with him.’ (Hettina, miɗo nii darii e damal miɗo salmina. Neɗɗo fuu nanɗo daande am so udditi, mi naatan galle mum, mi ɲaamda e mum.).”

You can access the site here.

Reflection on stress, pain, growth, and… God

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash


In a recent chapter of Uproar that our church’s elders read together, Peter Steinke writes, “Distress is not always an obstacle to learning. Pain can be a teacher. Real learning begins when the threat of pain emerges.”

There is the idea that our call in the church is not to shield people from pain1 but to walk with them through it.2 You may seen this described as a “ministry of presence,” “accompaniment,” or just “sitting in the mud” with someone. If we can’t make the hard stuff go away, at least we can be there.

In a similar way, an author and leadership consultant, Jack Shitama, writes:

A big mistake we make is to think we can relieve other people of their emotional pain. This does them no favors. In life, pain is an opportunity for growth. The best thing you can do for a friend is stay connected to them, go alongside them, while they deal with their own pain. They will be stronger for it.

Theologically, it helps me to remember that pain by itself does not make us stronger, but inviting the presence and power of God into our pain can transform it and actually strengthen us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Then, with God’s help, we can ask how pain might become an opportunity to grow. We can ask how we might channel anxiety to motivate positive change.

I read an article recently called, “Stress Can Be a Good Thing If You Know How to Use It.” You can read it here. The article is good as is—I would just add that reading it as a Christian, we can also say: Stress Can Be a Good Thing (Or Turned Into a Good Thing), If We Give it to God and Allow God to Use It!

 


  1. as if that’s even possible!
  2. BUT… If the pain is coming from, for example, an oppressor or system of oppression, we ought to consider how we might actively stand against the source of pain.

Review: Prof. Dana M. Harris’s Greek textbook, workbook, and video lectures in Accordance

A new integrated trio of Koine Greek resources just came out in Accordance. I review them in the was-going-to-be-short-but-ended-up-longer video below. Product page links follow.

Curious to hear, especially from Greek-teaching types, if you’ve used this still newish resource from Dr. Harris, and just generally what you find helpful in teaching Greek in classroom settings.


An Introduction to Biblical Greek Grammar: Elementary Syntax and Linguistics (LINK)

An Introduction to Biblical Greek Workbook: Elementary Syntax and Linguistics (LINK)

An Introduction to Biblical Greek Video Lectures: Elementary Syntax and Linguistics (LINK)

I’ve just had this resource for a week, so I feel like I’ve barely plumbed its depths. I am planning to offer a short, four (or so)-week Greek course through Accordance soon, and I expect to be drawing lots of inspiration from Dr. Harris’s resources.

Update: for an even better review, see Brian W. Davidson’s post here.


Disclosure: Accordance set me up with volumes to review. And I lead Webinars for Accordance. That did not influence the objectivity of this post.

Uproar: Why the Yankees Can’t Buy Their Way to a World Series

Credit: AP

A “system” is a process with its distinct yet interrelated parts. An organism or institution may consist of multiple systems. For example, various interlocking systems (nervous, skeletal, respiratory) make up the one human body. The human body is its own unified system with all these smaller systems working together. The church is a system full of complex humans—a system full of systems, you might say.

The Bible uses systems imagery in Romans 12: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

In a healthy human body, all the systems do their part and work together as one. In a healthy church, all the “systems” (interrelationships) work together toward unity in Christ. Peter Steinke says, “Health is a continuous process, the ongoing interplay a of multiple forces and conditions.”

This is why, for example, the New York Yankees can’t just buy their way to a World Series. They could have all the best players, on all the most expensive contracts, but if they don’t work well together as a team (“one body”), they won’t win. The Red Sox (or the Tampa Bay Rays!) will beat them every time. It’s not just about all the parts, but how the parts connect and work together as one.

Because you and your leadership do not exist in isolation, what you model as a Christian leader can ripple through the whole congregation (system). This is true of attendees who are not leaders, too. Think, for example, about how “contagious” giving can be, and how matching gifts can enact a process where people are inspired to give.

The downside to a system like the church, where patterns can be contagious, is anxiety. Anxiety is about as catchy as the omicron variant of COVID. Because the church is one body—interconnected with various systems and processes that affect each other—anxiety in one part of the church spreads and affects what is happening in another part of the church. For example, if there’s anxiety about a budget-setting process, that can spread into other parts of the church, like how we relate to each other in small groups. Or a parishioner might lose a loved one and direct the anger outward at a church leader or other member. Or this classic example: Bob has had a stressful day at work, because his boss yelled at him (because his boss fought with a spouse before work), so Bob comes home and kicks the dog. The dog isn’t legally employable, and yet the anxiety from Bob’s workplace (and Bob’s boss’s marriage) has spread to the poor pooch. Steinke refers to this as “shifting the burden” or “blame displacement,” also known as scapegoating. Systems crave stability, and sometimes the drive to release anxiety causes members to act in reactive and unhealthy ways. Anxiety is normal. It just needs to be regulated.

In his book Uproar: Calm Leadership in Anxious Times, Peter Steinke calls leaders to be a non-anxious presence: “To be a non-anxious presence,” he says, “means to acknowledge anxiety but not let it be the driver of behavior.” “Non-anxious” is the ideal, but a bit of a misnomer. Everybody has some anxiety. But good leaders strive—with God’s help!—to be at least a less-anxious presence.

Uproar, Introduction

In an “emotional system,” the emotional temperature comes from the people, and from the relationships people have, and from the culture and processes that are embedded there. An emotional system can be a congregation, a non-profit, a medical practice, a denomination, a family, or a small group.

Steinke lists some key ways that “leaders impact a system.” Then he says, “The overall health and functioning of any organization depends primarily on one or several people at the top who can exercise the above characteristics well.” He says, “Any social system—a family, workplace, or even a whole society—improves when people function less and less in reactive ways and more and more on the basis of values and beliefs sustained by clear goals.”

Uproar, chapter 1: “Living Nowhere between Two Somewheres”

Steinke writes:

Living nowhere between two somewheres has been called “the liminal experience,” the “neutral zone,” and the “transition space.” My own term is “Uproar.” Uproar is a time of dislocation; everything is “up in the air” or “at loose ends.”

We live in anxious times. And anxiety wishes to resolve itself, to be relieved. We don’t always pursue this in healthy ways. Sometimes we look for (or try to be) “rescuers,” placing unreasonable expectations on our leaders. But:

If the leader becomes anxious and forfeits calm reflection, the system is essentially leaderless. Anxiety tumbles down like loose rock dislodged from a high position. In a time of Uproar, the leader cannot be as anxious as everyone else.

The non-anxious leader should be differentiated, having a clear sense of self. They are neither overly close to others (emotionally “fused”) nor too emotionally distant (“cutoff”). Many people have stories about family members who were co-dependent or overly distant. The church is not immune to this dynamic.

Well-differentiated leaders know who they are. They find their identity in Jesus, and are not afraid to let other people be who they are, even when they disagree. Differentiated leaders do not change themselves to match other people, nor do they automatically withdraw from people or coerce them when there is disagreement.

Steinke:

What does this mean for leadership functioning? Either the leader becomes unengaged with others (acts rigidly, dominates, withdraws, becomes overly dogmatic) or too close (panders, seeks consensus, shifts with the wind for the sake of harmony). …In highly anxious times, people tend to tilt toward one or the other extreme in order to survive.

I’d sum it up like this:

  • Well-differentiated leaders know who they are
  • We find our identity in Jesus, and are not afraid to disagree
  • Differentiated leaders do not change themselves to match other people
  • Differentiated leaders do not withdraw from people or coerce them when there is disagreement.

We can pray that God’s peace would empower us to be a loving, non-anxious presence in our congregations.