Leadership, God’s Agency, & Disruptions, Mark Lau Branson and Alan J. Roxburgh. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021.
Summary: Argues that “modernity’s wager” has shaped the leadership practices of church leadership, leading to a reliance on technique-driven strategies rather than responding to God’s agency.
Churches in the West are facing powerful forces of disruption, ranging from the pandemic to abuse scandals to disenchantment with political alignments. Many churches are witnessing declining numbers and financial support. We are in an age of the rise of the “Nones.” Suddenly the vision processes and church growth strategies are being turned on their heads.
Mark Lau Branson and Alan Roxburgh propose that what we are seeing is the failure of “Modernity’s Wager,” the bet that we can live well, and even build churches without God. Sure, we don’t say this, but often we believe we are working for God or even without God rather than trusting in and responding to the initiatives of God. They contend that this secular outlook has had a corrosive influence on church leadership.
They advocate for a different kind of leadership premised on God’s agency–indeed that the very disruptions we face may be invitations to step into and join what God is doing. Leadership is standing in the “space between” where we do not control but discern the ways of the Spirit of God.
They consider four biblical sources as case studies in this “space between” leadership in disruption. Jeremiah considers the disruption of exile and the focus on the local rather than the wished for return.. Matthew, writing to a Syrian community after the fall of the temple, sets forward action-learning communities with the teaching of Jesus. Acts models improvisational leadership. Ephesians confronts the disruption of Artemis worship and to live under kingdom authority amid empire.
This kind of leadership is the kind of making the path as one walks. It means finding and enlisting partners to work with, perhaps with limit scope experiments in one’s neighborhood. Such leaders start with where and who people are.
This is a book on leadership perspective rather than methods. In fact, it is an indictment of methods divorced from reliance upon the agency of God in our situations. So the book does not offer a program so much as a paradigm shift for leaders. Readers might feel this work is long on theory and short on practice. That is because the authors are seeking to shift the “social imaginary” that shapes contemporary church leadership. They want to encourage new habits and practices and a different way of conceiving of leadership.
This feels like the message Eugene Peterson tried to convey through his books. What Branson and Roxburgh are trying to do is call people back to the real work of pastors. The question is whether our church leaders are willing to give up on modernity’s wager for God’s agency. Or more simply, they are pressing us with the question, “do we really believe in God?”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.