"What are you looking for really?"
I've got this colleague who's trying to form a new clergy group. She sent me an email today, asking me (and a few others) to describe the kind of small, professional group we think could be helpful to us as pastors. I've had occasional experiences of clergy communities that were remarkably helpful, but they were short-term: the CREDO conference a few years ago, and a pilgrimage on the Isle of Iona recently, come immediately to mind.
Her question got me thinking--feeling actually. And I figured that what I'm hungering for isn't isolated to me or to pastors. I'm guessing it's a common human experience and that you'll resonate with the yearning whether you're a pastor or not, Christian or not.
Here's what I told her:
First, here's what I'm not looking for:
- A reading group (good gawd, I already have a stack of unfinished books I want to read)
- A therapy group (I already have a pretty good therapist, thank you)
- A let's-compare-our-congregations-and-who's-better-at-leading-them group (totally not useful)
- A drinking group (don't need that either; though beer or wine together wouldn't hurt)
What I am seeking is:
Leadership of any kind is tough right now. Perpetual white water. Pastors lead from the tattered edge of a genuine emergence, a birthing, and birth is always messy. There's fear, uncertainty, and enormous hopefulness (in me and in many of the people around me).
I don't know what is to become of church, though I'm confident expressions of soulful community will always find ways of flourishing, even if under the radar of institutional forms of religion or in direct contrast to it. As a pastor, I feel the need to find ways of hosting the religious symbols, rituals, practices, and texts that help people make sense of the experience of living and living it well with a deepening sense of the presence of the Divine. That is, pastoral leadership, as I see it, is more mythopoetic than it is techno-scientific (though pastors can't ignore the latter). What is mythopoetic? Think George MacDonald in Victorian times, and in the 20th century, Tolkien or CS Lewis. Today, there are a whole host of artists doing this kind of work; Travis Reed comes immediately to mind (a filmmaker, he did the video I link to at the bottom of this post.)
I need to know how to bring transformation to the organization of the church, respecting its heritage, but also allowing the freedom of innovation to flow with as little inhibition as possible.
I like what Ed Catmull, President and CEO of Pixar and Disney Animation, says in his new book, Creative, Inc.
About leadership Ed writes:
"I believe that managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear."
"My job as a manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy, and watch for the things that undermine it."
Ed's the kind of leader who can straddle the techno-scientific and the mythopoetic worlds artfully; Pixar is, after all, an organization driven by story and myth-making (and it's doing a bang up job of it to boot).
This is what I feel summoned to be and do. But I feel can sometimes feel alone (as a leader). It's downright tough to find others who view things this way, and once you find them, it's just as tough to figure out how you can spur one another on and get together face to face.
So, I'd like to be a part of an intentional community of folks who are seeking wisdom and bravery for the era that's in front of us--the challenges and opportunities. Folks we can be real and unguarded with about the way we see and experience the movement of the Spirit, who can express fears, and share dreams (real night dreams and visions, not mere vain wishing, but that which comes from the deeper places of the soul and can't be figured out in isolation). Someone (I can't recall who) important once said, "we must dream our way into the future." I believe that. Thinking, frankly, is over-rated.
I don't know what this really will look like, but it'll take courage and humility to find our way into it. It'll take a lot of unknowing, and a good deal of silent prayer rather than the kind of posturing-praying I can do when I'm in clergy groups.
To use Brene Brown's language, I need a community where I can:
1. Be me
2. Be all in
3. Fall, and get back up again, and find my bravery for the work before me
And Brene Brown's video manifesto at the top of this post puts what I'm looking for really well--not the bricks and bones of the structure, but the heart and soul of what I, and so many others need.