People Eat Words

One day, Albert Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he interrupted the lesson suddenly in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit. "Nice biscuit, don't you think," said Korzybski, while he took a second one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog's head and the words "Dog Cookies." The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to vomit, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet. "You see," Korzybski remarked, "I have just demonstrated that people don't just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter."


getting movements out of your head and into your church


Over the last 2 years, I have been delighted to work with a unique group of movement-minded practitioners and thinkers about the next chapter of the missional conversation. Will Mancini, Dave Rhodes, Neil Cole, and myself have been dreaming and designing the process for well over a year now. (Jessie Cruikshank, Nick Boring, and Jeremiah Aja have more recently joined the team). The outcome of those gatherings is a brand new non-profit consultative training organization named 100 Movements. 100M will be totally geared towards recruiting, training, coaching one hundred “ninja churches” and helping them to transition into becoming fully fledged, reproducing, spiritually vibrant, apostolic movements that operate squarely on the six elements of mDNA outlined in my centerpiece work, The Forgotten Ways.

To help you understand how we visualize the problem we face and the solution we think we need to appropriate, here is the key visual we use to describe and frame the whole 100M process....

out of your head and into the church

out of your head and into the church

The process towards the renewal of apostolic movement …

1. Starts with the realization that the institutional imagination that dominates our thinking has brought us to this critical moment. The prevailing forms, derived as they are from the European experience, are Inextricably bound up with the history and hegemony of Christendom modes of thinking. In this paradigm (for that is what it is...a paradigm) Constantine is still effectively the emperor of our imaginations—he is still telling us how to think about ourselves as church. The face is unhappy here because he has come to the sobering realization that what has brought us to this point simply does not have the wherewithal to guide the church into the 21st Century. It’s the end of the road for the Constantinian church and the journey to learning starts with seeing the problem in its starkest terms (ch.1 and 2)

2. The second phrase involves “dethroning Constantine” and beginning to reimagining the church as missional movement. This is a fundamental paradigm shift that changes they way we frame or understand what was previously familiar. This means embracing the belief that somehow the future of the church is bound up with recovering its innate movement ethos and living into it. This is not a silver bullet; rather it provides us with a silver imagination, and (re)imagination is where it all starts.

3. Then it involves us recognizing that all the potentials of movement are actually latent within the church. In other words, the seeds of our future are already contained in the womb of the present. Another way of saying this is that the macrocosm is already contained in the microcosm. The potential for the whole is already contained in the smallest unit. We don’t have to import the answers; we simply have to realize that Jesus has already given us everything we need to get the job done. But we are also going to have to remove all the many “movement killers”, the residual elements of Christendom thinking that that are laced through our theology, thinking, and practices, that effectively suppress or diminish the church’s innate capacities for movement. This requires determination and vision. I am sure it can be done, but not without effort to redesign the system as movement.

4. The fourth element in the diagram is the fully birthed apostolic movement. The diagram shows that movements are incredible fertile cultures that can generate and maintain all kinds of innovative, incarnationally contextualized, forms of church. Movements can contain multiple models, are innately reproducible, and can deliver wide impact. Note therefore that existing form of church is also is very much part of the movement, but now it is not the only form. Its monopoly is broken.

100M proper will only be starting in 2017. The reason for this is that we have to build the system that can deliver long term, deep change, process. But if you think that your church is ready for the journey described above, please register interest at

If you want to to be one of the first 100 churches in our starter track called Leap Year--which starts in late Spring of 2016--you can download our Leap Year flyer, download and fill in and send back our Good Faith Agreement: 100M_GFA or register your interest at or simply email For Will Mancini’s take on the value of 100M and Leap Year, read his post here.

Repenting of obsolete religion

Involved as we are in spiritual warfare, we must recognize also that our struggles not just against personal evil (Eph.6:2) but also against key ideas and paradigms that have held us captive to being a less than fruitful expression of the Kingdom.  Paul calls these the “principalities and powers” and “elemental principles” and they include an attachment to ritualistic religion, gnosticism, overpowering structure, as well as to unproductive concepts of the church (Gal.4:3, 8-11, Col.2:8, 13-23). Some paradigms can so dominate our thinking as to become powerful prisons for our minds and our imaginations.  We need to be humble enough to let go of obsolete ideas and allow a renewed paradigm of the church to emerge.  We need to dream again in Jesus about what the church really is and what it must become.

Reaffirming Faith in the One


For both my personal life, as well as for research for a current book on the redemptive keys to the human heart and culture, I have been recently working my way through issues related to the enduring power of myth, the pervasive influence of archetypes, the theological passion of theopoetics, depth psychology, the alluring nature of symbols, the wonders of panentheism (God-in-all things), the stunning insights of kabbalistic theosophy, etc.  I have read copious amounts of Karl Jung,  Joseph Campbell, Paul Tillich, Rollo May, Teilhard de Chardin, Aldous Huxley, Sanford Drob, Gershom Scholem, among others.  I have to say that I have loved learning about it all.  So much living mystery, divine process, mythic structuring, and grasping of the invisible powers and influences on our lives.  Its been amazing.

For those who have studied theology would immediately recognize in my recent reading diet the names of people and ideas that have been considered heretical or even mildly occult by orthodox theologians.  I have learned so much that I must admit to being worried about my own biblical orthodoxy.  So in the last I decided to do an exercise in what can be discerned about God from this study of phenomena-in-themselves (general revelation) and compared it with what we can discern about God from Scripture (special revelation). In doing so I wanted to test myself as to whether I find myself unhealthily captivated by some of these powerful ideas.  I tried to be as honest as I could be, neither deprecating paganism/immanentalism, but also not shirking from the harsher (sometimes unpalatable) aspects of biblical revelation.  Here are my two simple lists. What do you think?  


  • God is...
    • That divinity is manifest in many gods and/ or infuses every aspect of the world in which I inhabit. 
    • It is wholly other and ground of being at the same time. 
  • That a God-awareness lies at the root of human self consciousness.
    • We cannot seem to escape the divine. 
  • It/They are beatiful and yet truly terrible at the same time. 
  • it/They inspire both fear and devotion. 
    • They often will require sacrifice to coax their blessing or to mollify their anger.  
  • They/It, if and when they speak at all, do not have a univocal voice. 
    • Multiplicity is ontologically grounded
    • It seems that the gods are often at odds with themselves and in engaged in eternal political machinations and second guesses in relation to the other gods. 
  • That It/They are morally indifferent when it comes to humans and creation
    • No absolute ethic can be discerned from nature.  If anything nature can be seen as anything from nurturing and sustaining or capricious and violent. 
  • This leads some adherents to either orgiastic celebration or harsh ascetism or both depending on the deity being worshipped. 
    • That It/They are everywhere but especially concentrated in liminal zones and sacred places. 
  • It/They have real power
    • There is a clear understanding of the supernatural
    • This makes all of life rather eery; it is sacred and scary at the same time.
    • They/It animates life (animism).  
    • This also means that life can be a very dangerous place. One can easily be possessed. 
  • That I participate in It. 
    • Because deity pervades, we cannot avoid participation.
    • I feel my life as taking place within a larger, cosmic, arena. I am an intrinsic part of being. I am enfolded in divine life. 
  • That It/They are to be feared and yet desired. 
    • Formal rites and religion can provide propitiation and approach to the divine, but we must tread very carefully because the gods are not "good"; at best they are indifferent but most likely they capricious and nasty. 
  • It/They (the gods) are largely indifferent to me and my suffering. 
    • In many ways their actions are the cause of human suffering.
  • It/They don't have compassion.
    • They are dispassionate.  


  • That we know that God is
    • That in fact He is the Creator of all things
    • He is also YHWH … the I AM….or I Will Be As I Will Be.  
    • Transcendent and Immanent,  He chooses the manner of His appearance in ways that conform to His nature and will. 
  • God is Holy
    • He is the wholly Other Other
      • His essential being is beyond all human knowing.  We only know what He chooses to reveal. 
      • He is super-natural
    • He is pure and requires purity
      • Any approach to holiness requires a corresponding holiness in the devotee.  We must be holy because He is holy. 
  • One has to have huge amounts of respect for God if one is to even have the possibility of knowing and loving Him and not being destroyed by Him.
    • This is what the bible refers to as the fear of Yahweh. 
      • Therefore the fear of Yahweh is the gateway to the knowledge (and the love) of Yahweh. 
    • He is not to be trifled with. There is an utter seriousness about Him. 
    • The fact that he is Creator, King, Judge ought to be enough to awaken the necessary mysterium tremens et fascinans. 
  • That God is Love
    • Beyond all else that can be said of Him, and as ha red as it is to discern, the Bible affirms that He is intrinsically loving. 
  • That God is passionate.  
    • His love, as well as his anger, are fierce and unrelenting. (= divine pathos)
      • His patience, mercy, and wrath are in constant dialectical tension
  • That God is good and merciful  
    • He is kind. 
    • And humble
    •  ....and forgiving!
  • That God is a redeemer. 
    • That He takes it upon Himself to rescue and restore His lost and rebellious creation
    • This relationship is the source of history. 
    • He IS the Savior ...and this is good news because we not onLy judged by Him we are saved by Him. 
  • That God is in charge. 
    • He is the undisputed King. Ruler of all. 
    • His adversaries are not even close to being His equal
    • We are subjects of His Kingdom
    • He cannot be negotiated with...His will is absolute and His ways are righteous. 
  • That God chooses to reveal Himself in creation, revelation, and redemption
    • While He will not overwhelm, and is essentially other, He does seek relationship with those who desire to know Him. 
    • This relationship will be on His terms and it begins with surrender. 
    • And ultimately He speaks His Word in and through Israel's Messiah. 
      • Jesus is God's language...God's rationality. 
      • Divine reason, logic, or plan is revealed in the life of Jesus
  • He is relational and can be known.
    • That He is intensely personal
    • He is the Thou to our I. 
    • The Holy partner in our dialogue
  • He seeks covenantal relation which requires active response and constant attention. 
    • In a way more intimate than we can ever understand, and by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, He Himself lives within all those who love and trust Him. 
  • That God is just and righteous. 
    • And He requires justice and righteousness from all his creation. 
    • Monotheism and ethics are inextricably linked. 
    • Any approach to God requires a deep soul searching and change in those that would approach
  • That God is beautiful and the the source of all beauty. 
    • All symbols, myths, art, longing, philosophy, reflect his traces (archetypes) in the world and all religions grope after him.
    • He courts us in theophany and speaks in prophecy and revelation
    • He is the object of all human longing...and its only true fulfillment
  • That God is Truth and the Source of all truth. 
    • True Ideas are holy in that they originate in God and are a means of connection with Him. 
    • We can know something of His mind and His will insofar that He has and will reveal them to us. 
    • We are guided by His light. 


The second list comprises a thoroughly orthodox understanding of God. And I realized afresh that I can totally sign off on it.  I passed my own test of orthodoxy with flying colors! Philosophical Paganism does not in my view come close to what is revealed about the God of Israel.  Phew!  

Although I will say that authentic biblical theism--not the overly rationalistic, cut-and-dried, "theism" that we have inherited--incorporates a profound sense of the numinous (the holy) and the mysterious, an ever present threat of overwhelming theophany (e.g. Isa 6, Eze.2...never a comfortable event), acknowledges the ongoing role of archetypes in our world (the so called "powers" and "archons"), is mostly coded in the language of poetry and myth (therefore appealing to a different register of human consciousness than simply the rational mind), and is saturated with the ever-present reality of the supernatural.  What most evangelicals believe about God and reality is a rather pale, anemic, substitute for real theism.  In this I believe our inherited Evangelical faith is itself not entirely orthodox! 

This was a fantastic exercise and resulted in me being very thankful for what is revealed to us about God in the Bible.   Paganism is fascinating in so many respects--life becomes filled with divine mystery that invites participation--but it is in the end somewhat despairing, painfully fleeting and relative, and leaves me to the mercy of my own--and other's--sins.  I don't believe paganism can deliver meaning! 

We Shall not Cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
~ T.S. Elliot



The Power of Holy Action

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds [mitzvah...holy action]? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by holy action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds [mitzvah].” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds [mitzvah] is useless. Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
……As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds [mitzvah] is dead.
James 2:14-26

These are famously problematic verses for Protestants.  It was verses like these that led Luther to dismiss James as “an epistle of straw”.  Thankfully, almost all commentators rightly say that Luther misunderstood James because he rather arbitrarily creating a canon within a canon around his particular reading of justification by faith alone.  James’ overt meanings clashed with his theological hermeneutic and was therefore effectively marginalized from Luther’s working canon of Scripture.  Apparently he had some problems with Jesus’s teachings as well (e.g. Matt.25). 

But this thinking still persists in so many circles.  Most protestants find it hard to talk meaningfully about the true meaning of goodness expressed variously through holy actions on our behalf.  We seldom call people to a life of good works.  And this in turn, affects how we view discipleship--the task of becoming actively and genuinely good people out of union with Christ and following in His Way.   

Luther and so many after him, have misunderstood the nature of Jewish faith and caricatured it is a crass works-righteousness.  While perhaps in the time of the NT, the Jewish religion was somewhat degraded and in need of renewal,  nothing could be further from the truth in relationship to Jewish theology itself.  In the passage above, James is simply reflecting what is already implicit in monotheism--the call to live according to a what I call Shema spirituality (loving God with heart, soul, mind, strength).  There is one God (not many) and we must learn to worship Him in and through every arena and aspect of life.  For monotheism, ethics is implied in belief, that’s why it is called ethical monotheism.  Or as Bonhoeffer said it, to encounter God is to change.  

I read the following in Abraham Heschel recently.  I think it helps us understand James’ consistent, and profoundly, biblical meaning. 

What is the Jewish way to God? It is not a way of ascending the ladder of speculation. Our understanding of God is not the triumphant outcome of an assault upon the riddles of the universe or a donation we receive in return for intellectual surrender. Our understanding comes by the way of mitzvah. By living as Jews we attain our faith as Jews. We do not have faith in deeds; we attain faith through deeds. 
When Moses recounted to the people the laws of the covenant with God, the people responded: “We will do and we will hear.” This statement was interpreted to mean: In doing we perceive
A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of thought: to surpass his needs, to do more than he understands in order to understand more than he does. In carrying out the word of the Torah he is ushered into the presence of spiritual meaning. Through the ecstasy of deeds he learns to be certain of the presence of God. 
(A.Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity)

It is pretty clear here as to what the center of Jewish faith is.  The mitzvah! -- a holy deed of goodness done from within a loving and obedient covenantal relationship to the God that commands.  A mitzvah is an act of obedience and is this also a means of unique spiritual insight. Obedience (and therefore obedient action) is a loving response to our Lord.   It is not, and was never meant to be the basis of salvation.  Salvation has always been an act of God’s sovereign grace..we simply respond.  But the mode of our response is primarily through obedience and active trust and not simply through a primarily intellectual affirmation of certain truths.  

So what I am saying that from a biblical perspective, faith is not primarily intellectual speculation, nor adopting a kind of philosophy, or even engaging in theological thinking.  Even believing itself--as a distinctly confessional act--is not central.  This treat says as much--even the Devil “believes” in this way, and shudders, but yet he still refuses to submit to God’s rule and obey.  Obedience is demonstrated faith or it is non biblical faith.  It is through loving obedience, by presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, and living a life of intentional conformity to God and his commands, that we live an authentic life of faith-ful-ness.  

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my instructions, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” - John 8:31-32 [italics mine].


How Apostolic Movements Can Change the World

The great Christian revolutions came not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when someone takes radically something that was always there.
~ H. Richard Niebuhr

Foreword for Sam Metcalf's Beyond the Local Church: How Apostolic Movements can Change the World  (By Alan Hirsch)

One of the more stimulating books I have read in recent years was by Joshua Cooper Ramo an called The Age of the Unthinkable.[1].  The “unthinkable” in Ramo’s view is akin to a kind of future/culture shock we experience as we enter into the previously uncharted waters of the 21st Century.  This is largely due to massive economic, political, environmental, and social factors, shifts.  Our age is highly unstable and at the edge of seismic change. And yet we are entering into this revolutionary age armed with a mindset formed and suited for centuries past.  The central warning of this book highlights how and why an obsolete picture of the world only serves to exacerbate, and not resolve, the serious global problems we face.

All of us know and feel that this to be true. The best Christian leaders have come to the awareness that the various organizations and ecclesiologies formulated in entirely different sets of circumstances are not going to help us successfully negotiate this entirely unchartered terrain.  In other words, traditional formulations of the church got us to this point in time cannot be assumed to get us beyond the current impasse and decline. Revolutions produce a whole new cast of historical champions.  Our world requires radical rethinking.  “In a revolutionary era of surprise and innovation, you need to learn to think and act like a revolutionary” or end up as a victim of the revolution.[2]  We are going to have to reach a lot deeper into the spiritual resources inherent in Jesus’ church if we are going to adapt and thrive in the 21st Century.

As a global missionary leader, Sam Metcalf knows this.  He senses that we are ill prepared for the paradigmatic challenges of the oncoming century.  But in order to propose a way forward, Sam knows that he has to expose the reductionist ecclesiology implied in the inherited Western understandings of the church.  He aims squarely at the reduction of Jesus’ ecclesia to the merely local and to its leadership to the merely pastoral.   He is spot on here.

The divorce of the local church from the missionary church is a systemic disaster to be sure.  At the very roots of the 20th Century, Roland Allen, the remarkable missionary to China no less, predicted that with the birth of the so-called parachurch and the missionary societies that we would “end up with a mission-less church and a church-less mission.”[3] This rupture on the NT ecclesiology introduced an element of deep dysfunction into both the local church and the so resultant parachurches. 

I have long believed that if we understood ecclesia properly and began to re-appropriate its various levels of meaning, then many of the problems we now face can be resolved. For instance, our more concrete, overly localized, fairly institutionalized paradigm of church must be redefined in the much broader, more fluid meaning used in the Bible.

In my book The Permanent Revolution, I discern four ascending levels in which the word ecclesia is used in the New Testament (figure below)[4]:

1.     The NT writers use the term to describe the people who met in the various places of their city—primarily the home (called an oikos in the Greek), but also in riverbanks, markets, and other places as well. For example, Paul addresses the ecclesia that happens to meet in so-and-so’s house. This is the most local, and basic, reference of the term.

2.     Then the NT writers talk of an ecclesia in a particular city, knowing that there might in fact be many house churches scattered throughout the area. In fact, most of the letters are addressed to churches at this level. So here we have the regional application of the term—a citywide ecclesia that is in fact made up of many ecclesias.

3.     The next level up is that it is used to denote the movement across a larger geopolitical region—in this case, the Roman Empire, or Asia. Here the word is used to identify the Jesus movement in the various parts of the world known in the apostles’ time. We still use it to refer to a historical phenomenon.

4.     The final, and perhaps the symbolic, level is where the apostles can address the people of God as the church of Jesus Christ.   This refers to of course, the universal invisible church, that is, the body of Christ on earth. This is the more theological, metaphorical meaning of the term as the redeemed new covenant people of God.

The confining of the church to the simply local has had disastrous consequences for our capacity to imagining the church as a transformative movement that can reach across vast geographic regions and penetrate numerous cultures.  The local church as we know it can barely reach past its own internal programming, let alone transform whole cultures and societies.  And yet I believe that is what the church is designed by Jesus to do.  We have to expand our understanding of the church to that of a burgeoning apostolic movement, not reduce it to a one-dimensional religious institution.   This is the church that is equal to the challenge of the 21st Century.

Drawing upon Ralph winter's categories, best thinking in terms of missional leadership, and years of experience, Sam develops a coherent and strategically useful typology of missional leadership along with the associated missional organization. 

But in Beyond the Local Church Sam not only suggests new ways of organizing, he also highlights the importance of expanding our also severely diminished understanding of ministry beyond that of the shepherd and teacher to include the generative ministries of the apostle (missional), prophetic, and evangelistic envisaged in Eph.4:1-16 (APEST).   I have always felt the urgency and sheer strategic value of this neglected aspect of biblical ecclesiology and have written about it in almost every book I have published.  Most recently, and in the most consistent and thorough form, I have written about it with Tim Catchim in The Permanent Revolution.  I am completely convinced that we need is to first and foremost reconceive the church as missional, or better apostolic, movement.  Once we embrace this  more biblical paradigm of church, we will then begin to think and act like the movement we are designed to be. But if we are to re-embrace the movement form (and I can see no viable Plan B for the church in the West) then we are going to have to likewise (re)embrace the very forms of ministry that can generate, sustain, and develop missional movement.  And we can do no better than recover the world changing dynamics latent in the APEST typology.   

Having affirmed the legitimacy of all five APEST ministries, Sam does tend to highlight the strategic importance of the apostolic mode in particular.  I have to say that while none is more important that the other, I still agree with him in this because I believe it is the apostolic that holds most promise for a revitalization of the church-as-missional-movement. By its very nature, apostolic ministry is inextricably related to the possibility and practice of apostolic movement.  Because of this we must do our utmost to understand this historically marginalized ministry and find our way to relegitimize it.  If we fail in this, I fear we will never get to the kind of transformative movement that we see in the pages of the NT itself.  Sam has added to the needed dialogue by adding his leadership experience and intellectual heft to the conversation.  I, for one, am grateful. 

All in all this is a very welcome contribution to the area of missional structures and leadership based on the thoroughly biblical APEST ministry typology that we see operative throughout the book of Acts and the early church.  I hope and trust this book will help the reader (re)discover the sheer potency laced throughout a genuinely missional understanding of the church.  One feels Sam’s love of God, the Bible, as well as the history and the mission of the Church throughout.  I trust that having read this book, and followed its counsel, that we will find ourselves more faithful to the particular work of God in our generation.

You can get Sam's book here

Alan Hirsch
Author of numerous books on missional Christianity and founder of Forge Mission Training Networkand Future Travelers.


[1] Joshua Cooper Ramo, The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009). 

[2] Ibid,11.

[3] See Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, The Faith of Leap: Embracing a Theology of Adventure and Risk (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 153-4.

[4] Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim, The Permanent Revolution: Developing Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church (San Francisco: Wiley, 2014) xxxv-xxxvii.


The Upside of Down:

Harvesting The By-Products of Liminality

All this talk about adventure, risk, and in extremis leadership sounds pretty exhausting. But these are the necessary elements of liminality—that neither-here-nor-there place to which the church is called. The church can neither retreat to safe institutionalization nor abandon its faith altogether. It is called out—out beyond itself into the liminal place of mission. Such a neither-here-nor-there space calls forth a capacity for relentless change. It forces us to be a constantly learning community, with agility and a propensity for risk-taking and movement. And shouldn’t anyone related to the Holy God that we worship be in a continual state of change? To know God is to change. Besides, human maturity is predicated on our continued willingness to learn and to grow. But we don’t want to give the false impression that change, journey, and liminality always involve death-defying deeds to qualify for a genuine gospel adventure. Acts of love and mercy themselves embody courage and advance the cause of Jesus in our world.

For all the insecurity that an adventurous Christianity-of-the- Road brings, the benefits far outweigh the costs. Conversely, in the non-adventurous, supposedly more secure life, the costs far outweigh the advantages. The loss of pathos, authenticity, and living reality to our faith and experience of Jesus’s church is a high price to pay for comfort and convenience. A life lived in fear is a life half lived. Likewise, a church addicted to security and safety is not the church of Jesus Christ; it is in reality something else. 

  • from Hirsch and Frost, The Faith of Leap, (Baker) 


Leading with your life

It’s commonly understood that an extreme situation can call forth either cowardice or heroism from the very people you would least expect it. There’s nothing like a good crisis to reveal the character of the soul or an organization. When one is leading because one’s life, and the lives of others, depends on it, then perhaps the best qualities of leadership shine through. This is particularly true when it comes to the issue of leadership and leadership development—strategic areas of focus for the missional church.

Clearly, leading in a life-or-death situation is different from managing in more routine, or even in crisis, circumstances. US Marine Colonel Thomas Kolditz did a unique, long-term study on the nature of leadership in precisely such conditions. In spite of the extreme nature of the research, we believe that his findings on what he calls in extremis leaders has clear relevance for those of us who are involved in leading the church through times of massive upheaval and change. His insights are important affirmations as we factor adventure and liminality in the equation of leadership in the church. They include among others, that

  • In extremis leaders are inherently motivated because of the danger of the situations in which they’re working; therefore, leaders don’t need to use conventional motivational methods or cheerleading. ...
  • In extremis leaders embrace continuous learning, typically because they and their followers need to rapidly scan their environments to determine the level of threat and danger they’re facing. . . .
  • In extremis leaders share the risk their followers face. This isn’t just grandstanding; leaders truly share—and even take on greater— risks in in extremis situations. Leaders in other environments should keep this in mind: don’t ask your followers to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.
  • In extremis leaders share a common lifestyle with their followers. . . . all leaders should consider how much they truly have in common with the rest of their organization. [For instance, the issue of highly unequal pay scales does say something about the nature of leadership.] . . .
  • Dangerous situations demand a high level of mutual trust. In extremis leaders trust their team, and they themselves can be trusted. And even if someone’s life isn’t at stake in an organization, his or her livelihood may be, so do everything you can to be trustworthy and to trust your team to do what [they are chosen] to do.
  • High-risk environments demand mutual loyalty between leader and followers. . . . Leaders should do everything they can to foster a culture of mutual loyalty.

Extrapolating from this, we can say that in situations when our lives (or organizations or careers) are at risk, general principles from standard management practice need to be sharpened and their relative degree of importance modified. First, for Kolditz, the most crucial factor for the in extremis leader is to concentrate on the external environment and learn from it what action to take, rather than focus on motivating his/her team. 

From Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, The Faith of Leap (Baker) 41.