The Dangerous Truth about Leading: Reimagining God and Rethinking Leadership Amidst COVID-19
David M. Csinos, PhD, Assistant Professor of Practical Theology, Atlantic School of Theology
These day’s I’ve been hearing a lot of rhetoric about leadership. In the midst of the COVID-19 people are uncertain about the future. How long will sheltering in place be the new normal Should we even call it normal? How can I stay connected to my community while remaining physically distant? Will things go back to the way they were? When? How do we make sure the world on the other side of the pandemic is better than it was before the virus?
We’re all asking questions like these. And how we answer them has a lot to do with leadership. Good leadership has the power to rally people together for a common cause and a purpose that serves the many rather than the one. Good leadership can ignite a wildfire of hope and possibility out of fear and uncertainty.
Leaders want to be effective now more than ever (well, not all leaders, but let’s be optimistic and say the vast majority). Politicians want to govern in ways that keep people safe. Business leaders want to ensure their employees will weather the storm. Pastors want their congregants to keep faith in God and one another in the midst of despair.
Yes, many want to know how to lead in these unprecedented times. They want to help people come together while staying apart.
The paradox is that good leadership isn’t about leaders at all. It’s not about how to gather communities around the leader’s goals and how to help people catch the leader’s vision. At the end of the day, too much talk about leadership keeps the leader at the centre. What we need is to rethink leadership. And we can do this by reimagining God.
Models of Christian leadership often spill out from theologies of who we believe God to be. If God is an agent of creative change in the world, so too are leaders. If God, through Jesus, won people to his side (and against him, if we’re being honest) by his eloquence and rhetoric, so too must leaders. In simple terms, God is often perceived as the great leader whom we must emulate, the creator who shapes the world in accordance with God’s vision.
What if, however, we shift our theological perspective away from God as creator to God as creativity itself?
This is exactly what Gordon Kaufman did when he proposed a metaphorical conception of God as serendipitous creativity. Instead of being a divine agent who willfully decides and acts to bring creation into being, Kaufman wondered if God could be perceived as the very creativity through which the cosmos were formed and reformed—in part with the help of human agents—over centuries and centuries.
Without getting into the nuances and minutia of this view, I want to invite you to consider what happens when we understand God not as a creative agent, but as the very creativity itself that serendipitously erupts in the world again and again. When it comes to leadership, Kaufman’s proposal gives rise to three ideas surrounding the role of the leader amidst the wider Christian community.
First, embracing God as creativity relativizes the authority of the leader as one among many who get caught up in the act of creativity, which is the activity of God. Leaders can no longer exercise authority on the basis of special revelation that is withheld from followers. For if God is creativity itself rather than a creator we make in our human image, everyone is equally capable of wielding their own creative power as it serendipitously calls forth new realities into being.
Second, reimagining God in this way moves away from a reliance on the prescribed plans of the leader and toward a deep embrace of mystery. Change does not happen through the leader’s deliberate strategic action, but through the mysterious nature of the God that is creativity. Instead of moving the rudder while followers hold on tight, leaders move toward brave new worlds fully assured that it is God—not us—who is at the helm, steering us toward vistas that have yet to be opened.
Finally, if God-as-creativity is indeed serendipitous, that is, if new reality comes into being in unexpected and unanticipated ways, then Christian leaders must engage in three crucial practices within their communities. First, they point to God and name how they perceive creativity to serendipitously engender new realities all around them. Second, they aid the community in interpreting and discerning the outcomes of creativity in the church and the world (as the resurrected Jesus did on the road to Emmaus). And finally, leaders empower others to unleash their creativity and, in so doing, get caught up with God in our world.
For a discussion that proposes an alternative metaphor for God, this one is tragically brief. But in a world marked by uncertainty, hopelessness, and a sense that things are out of control, we can rest assured knowing that the God of creativity is with us. As we respond to the “new normal” amidst COVID-19, we have endless opportunities to create goodness, justice, and beauty in our world. And with each act of hope-filled creativity we unleash, God bursts forth in the world in new ways.
For Further Reading
Kaufman, Gordon D. In the Beginning… Creativity. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004.
Kaufman, Gordon D. Jesus and Creativity. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006.
What We Are Reading
iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives
For some, linking technology with the development of one’s spirituality may seem a bit of a stretch. However, with recent world realities, such as the COVID pandemic, and like many aspects of our lives, activities associated with our spirituality seem to be moving as much to online ‘venues’ as offline. Although written in 2013, Craig Detweiler’s book iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives (Brazos Press) provides some excellent insights into how to navigate through and benefit from various technological influences in our lives, including such things as Google, YouTube, Twitter and others. A timely read for today.
Buy The Book
Dr. Bill McAlpine, Professor emeritus, Ambrose University
Resources for Church Leaders
Falling Forward: Negotiating New Realities
Join us to discuss healthy patterns for negotiating healthy expectations in shifting realities on Thursday, October 29th, 1:30pm (Eastern).
Researching the Impacts of Covid-19 on Congregations
Several research studies are emerging on the impacts of Covid-19 on congregations. Click Here to learn from these data-driven insights.
Limited time offer of a free download of an article by Arch Wong, Bill McAlpine, Joel Thiessen, and Keith Walker on preparing leaders for ministry from the perspective of pastoral leaders and theological educators, clicking here.