Leadership Matters: God’s Electricians and the Communicative Zone

This final section will focus on the implications that the DITB project has for leadership in the missional church. The postmodern, missional leader finds herself navigating a minefield of polarized extremes. One of the most negative and destructive consequences of the modern dogma is the inevitable dualities that it creates. Modernity polarizes society. This is an inevitable result of the buffered self and substance ontology. The buffered, autonomous self stands apart from and, ultimately against the other. The DITB data suggest that communicative action, inherent in both PAR and Dwelling in the Word, empowers the leader to the find the third way of God’s love that both acknowledges the good in polar extremes and combines them into a more excellent way. This third way seeks a win/win scenario in which hope is born, as opposed to a win/lose scenario that creates the classes of winners and losers.

God’s Electricians

My reflections on leadership matters flow primarily from my own experience of the DITB project. Allow me to use an analogy to express what I learned in this process. The analogy has to do with power. The movement of God’s Spirit in the world is the flow of power in society.[1] Think of this power as if it were electricity. Electricity is the movement of ionized energy and it can be used for destructive or constructive purposes. The way electricity is used is determined by the knowledge, skills, and intention of those who seek to harness this power. These people are called electricians.

The electrician is one who has studied electricity, respects its raw power, and has learned how to channel that power to provide the desired outcomes. There are two ways that the electrician can perceive herself. She can either (a) see herself as an owner and controller of power, or (b) see herself as a facilitator of power. The owner/controller can be tempted to hoard electricity, use it for selfish gain, and extort those who need it. The facilitator, on the other hand, sees herself as a servant of the people who, through knowledge and wisdom,[2] brings the power to the people who need it so that they can experience a higher quality of life.

The church leader is God’s electrician. The movement of the Holy Spirit is like electricity. It is the raw power of God. Church leaders throughout history have been tempted to perceive themselves as owners/controllers of power. The modern leadership model supported a command-control, top-down, bureaucratic style of leadership, and the modern church leader often followed suit. This style of leadership tempted the leader to manipulate power to control and, sometimes, extort the church members.

The DITB data indicate that the missional leader would be better served if she understands her role to be that of the humble servant who facilitates God’s power, through knowledge and wisdom, to create a democratic and generative community of God’s grace and peace. This was demonstrated through the communicative action in the Dwelling in the Word exercises, the various pedagogical modalities, and the action projects carried out by the RT. The fact we must remember, at this point, is that none of these things would have happened if I—the leader of the team—did not set a table that empowered such communicative action. This was my research project, after all, and I could have implemented instrumental reason at every step of the way and used my knowledge and skill to manipulate the research team. It was a learning and stretching experience for me to constantly step back and let the process unfold, trusting that God was working in, with, through, against, and for the RT the whole time.


The Communicative Zone

Two experiences that I had during the DITB project illustrate the necessity of the facilitator/servant style of leadership that is needed for the missional church. The first is a specific experience that took place in a small group that was facilitated by a member of the RT. This group decided to study my book Reading Paul’s Mail.[3] They had finished the study and invited me to join them to mark the end of their journey by having a Q&A session with the author.

One person asked a question that sparked one of those amazing, Spirit-infused conversations that accelerated my theological imagination. The question was whether Paul thought that he was writing scripture when he wrote his letters. The ensuing conversation led to a mini-lecture/group-conversation about the topic of inspiration. I went to the chalk board and drew a continuum—a line spanning left to right. I wrote Spirit on the left side of the board and human author on the right side. Then I wrote our presenting question: What is the relationship between the Spirit and the human author in the writing of scripture? In other words: How did it work? What did it look like? The conversation led to the articulation of two logical extremes. On one side it was 100% Spirit. This is the dictation theory. On the other side it was 100% human author. This is the gifted human theory. I then drew two opposing greater-than signs that overlapped and intersected in order to demonstrate the sliding continuum between extreme poles. We stated the logical problems on both extremes, and, together discussed how the answer must be some form of a mixture of the two. One person said, “It is a symbiotic, reciprocal relationship.” Well said. I wrote those words on the board. Symbiotic. Reciprocal.

I said, “Since we’re throwing big words on the board, might I add the word communicative to the list?” I wrote it underneath the other words, and they were stacked in the center, between both extremes. We then discussed how it was like a pendulum that swings back and forth between these two extremes.

One person said, “If the pendulum stops directly between them, it is at peace, and at rest.”

I said, “Yes, but, it is also no longer moving. Maybe it is the motion between the poles that generates life.”

That comment sparked much lively discussion about how it is not that either side is wrong, but that neither side is 100% correct and life only happens when there is a constant interaction between the two sides.

Another person chimed in and said, “Look at your drawing. The intersection of those two signs forms a diamond. That is where all the good stuff happens.”

I looked at the board and sat in stunned amazement. Light bulb! I had never seen that before. The diamond is the communicative zone. It is the field of energy created by the swinging pendulum that brings forth constructive unity between the apparent extremes. Is it the pendulum that creates the field, or is it the field that generates the existence of the pendulum and the particularities of the extremes? The answer? Yes.[4]

The Communicative Zone

The conversation turned to how Paul was challenging his Jewish culture to move away from following the letter of the Law (as interpreted by any particular Jewish sect) to learning how to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul was continually led outside of his comfort zone and realm of experience as the Spirit showed him how God works among the Gentiles in ways that make no sense to the Jewish follower of God.

I commented that it is a daunting task to think that we might be leading the suburban church to know how to follow the Spirit—to test the spirits (1 John 4:1-6)—to see if we are actually following the Spirit of God. I steered the conversation to the group leader and said, “This is right in line with what we are talking about in our research.” The leader then invited me to share some of my thoughts regarding the social Trinity. I did, as best I could in a short time. Later I realized that I had just increased the awareness and understanding of the social Trinity in some suburban people.

That conversation led us to discuss the reality of living in the suburban context. We talked about how the suburbs, combined with advancing technology, empower radical individualism and make it increasingly difficult to find, form, or sustain community. One woman critiqued the suburban life by reflecting on how she was raised in a small town in Minnesota. They were a Danish, Lutheran Community. “They wouldn’t sell land to Catholics,” she said, “in order to preserve the unity of the community.” This point illustrated the town’s staunch Lutheranism.

That town shared everything. They went to the same school, worshipped at the same church, shopped at the same stores, etc. Then, she said, they grew up, and the goal was to move to the cities. They started in an apartment on the south side of Minneapolis, but then finally got to move out to the suburbs. Now, the disconnectedness of the suburbs that we had been describing left her, and the others that had made the migration, feeling empty. They had arrived, but felt alone.

Later that same week I had coffee with my Dad, like I do every week. I recounted the above story to him. He brought up an interesting topic. He wondered if the Muslim community might provide some insight into how the church should be in the suburbs? We batted this idea around for a while and concluded that, perhaps, the Muslim community is functioning as an exclusivistic, immigrant community that works very well for its members, but does not provide a valid option for the larger, global picture, much like the Danish Lutheran town of the woman’s story.

That is when it all came together for me and inspired me to draw the following illustration.

It begins with a syllogism (of sorts).

  • If Reason replaced Medieval/Protestant religion as the social glue of European/Western society,
  • and if Reason has proven, in the post-modern conversation, to be found wanting as a successful social glue–being equally violent and morally bankrupt—
  • and, if faith seems to be the preferred social glue,
  • but if said faith cannot be a return to the Medieval/Protestant faith of pre-modern times,
  • then we are left with the question: What kind of Faith are we talking about?

That is when I connected the conversation with the small group to quantum entanglement, my knowledge of suburban studies, and Robert Kegan’s 5 Orders of Consciousness.

I have already suggested that there may be a connection between Kegan’s theory of consciousness and the cultures of the small town vs. the suburban context.[5] The small town is third order consciousness. It is a single, homogenous system in which every member understands her particular role in society.

Suburban life exemplifies fourth order consciousness. The suburban landscape is comprised of thousands of radical, atomistic, autonomous selves moving through the chaotic, ever-changing transactionally based networks. Each connection is a consciously chosen, transactional relationship that is accidental to the primary substance of the individual self. The fourth order consciousness recognizes that there are multiple systems, and each one of these systems are equally valid, and equally meaningless in the larger scheme of the mechanistic universe, in which the detached, objective observer and wielder of power can have free reign. This lifestyle ultimately leads to isolation, loneliness, abuse of power, and the high potential for violence and oppression.

Kegan claims that it is only in the later years of a person’s life that she comes to a place of seasoned wisdom and realizes that all the apparently disconnected systems are, in fact, interconnected and interdependent. It is impossible to be autonomous. The Gadamerian fusion of horizons—the communicative zone—is the reality of human existence. The apparently radical extremes need each other to exist, and are actually created and sustained by the pendulum that swings in the field of the communicative zone. This is the fifth order of consciousness. This is a picture of relational ontology. This is the life of the Trinity.

This is the challenge facing the missional leader. What if God is calling us to dwell in the communicative zones between our enclaves of faith? We are not asked to abandon our faith cultures, but are invited to open ourselves to the interfaith dialogue, to be willing to listen to each other; to dwell in the world and the words of the stranger.

Who knows? If we step into the spaces between, we just might meet the Spirit of the Living God.

Fifth Order Consciousness and the Communicative Zone

The Disruptive Nature of the Spirit

The second experience I had during the DITB project that taught me about missional leadership has to do with the curve ball I mentioned in chapter three and the disruptive nature of the Spirit. The congregation at Ascension Lutheran was experiencing the polarized reality that I have been discussing parallel to the DITB project. The congregation was engaged in a nine-month dialogue over whether the church should allow same-sex marriages. Members of the RT were deeply embedded in this polarized debate and I found myself leading through these extremely turbulent waters, both in the congregation and in the RT.

The question I continually asked myself during this experience was, Why? Why would God allow us to go through this difficult experience? I believe it is because that is what the Holy Spirit does. Jesus said that the Spirit exposes the world to sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:5-11).[6] The Spirit never lets us sit idle and become comfortable in our third-order safety, or in our fourth-order individuality, but constantly disrupts us so that we will see the world through fresh eyes and move into a fifth-order consciousness.[7]

Van Gelder states that the missional church that is created and led by the Spirit recognizes that the church is, the church does what it is, and the church organizes what it does.[8] He encourages the missional leader to be adaptive in a world of discontinuous change. I would add to this progression and say that, after the church organizes what it does, it has a choice. It can either concretize, sanctify, and mandate what it does, or it can constantly adapt what it does to the changing environment. I would further argue that, if the church does not choose to be adaptive, the Spirit will disrupt—and even dismantle—what the church does in order to nudge the leaders into the chaotic waters of the communicative zone. This is the disruptive nature of the Spirit.

The Disruptive Nature of the Spirit

In other words, tension is a normal part of life in the Triune God. The pendulum is always moving and generating the communicative zone. The Spirit is always disrupting. One member of the RT posted a reflection on this idea to the DITB website. She says,

Tension is normal. Tension is good. Tension is Love. God’s love is tension.

In May my small group watched Rob Bell’s Rhythm. The gist of the short 11-minute movie is “Are our lives in tune with God’s plan for the world?” It was our last meeting as group, and I thought a good “note” to go out on. I love this film. I’ve had years of musical training myself so maybe I readily identify with the concept of being “out of tune.” Or maybe it’s just that Rob’s movies are so simple, yet profound, asking really good questions and letting you sort out the answers (if there are any). As I was watching the film I kept thinking of Steve’s drawing of the Trinity, the “Beloved, Lover and Loved” or “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” as he drew for this Pentecost sermon that I listened to this morning. As I was watching the film I kept thinking of us in the middle of this Trinity and if were are truly in tune with the Trinity, we would be in the middle swaying with the forces. No one force would overcome the other, keeping us upright.

Balanced tension keeps us upright.

Then fast forward to a few weeks ago. It was a Saturday and I blissfully had nothing I “had” to do for anyone but myself so I weeded for hours my very weedy garden. Gardens are awesome. They are great therapy. I highly recommend people get one. But I digress. Before I went out my 7-year-old son made the statement that it looked like it was a nice day. I commented back that the weather looked “unsettled” but yes, the sun was shining (not wanting to squash his observation). He asked me what unsettled meant, so I described water and the difference between our boat sitting in the water and the “wake” our boat left after we traveled thru water (It’s all wind and waves right?;) ). All morning and afternoon, the weather was “unsettled.” It was fairly windy and dark patches of sky became more and more frequent until a rather large dark cloud (and the radar on my phone, and kindly next door neighbor) told me my weeding time was done. I gathered my tools and went into the garage, where my husband was working on our boat. After quickly helping him put things away so important things got covered, I sat in the garage, door open, watching the storm pass over. My son, who is fearful of storms, had come out and I invited him to sit near me (I was way too dirty to have him on me) and showed him that storms, especially this not severe one, can be enjoyable to watch. It was nice, because in a way, it forced me also to just watch the storm. He was making comments on the wind, and the driving rain and I kept watching one large tree in particular that was really dancing in the wind and it occurred to me how much tension was in nature. Storms which are necessary and are helpful and needed in some instances (trees that only grow after a fire, nitrogen that is fixed into the soil from lightning.) In nature, the tension between the cheetah and the gazelle. Really I could go on and on. Tension is normal in nature. God created the natural world, and really how far away are we really from this tension? Ours just comes in different forms. After the storm had passed I noticed how calm the wind had become and how clear the sky was. The tension between the fronts had passed. It was a fight, or storm for a while, but it didn’t last. And in the end, things became settled again.

Tension is normal.

Leading in the Zone

What does all this mean for the missional leader? It means we must embrace the chaos and be willing to be God’s electricians who can facilitate spaces in which all people are free to discuss their issues and dwell in the Word of God together. It is time to break down the polarized dualisms that plague our people, our churches, and our society. The DITB project demonstrated that an open conversation about the social Trinity is one way in which we might be able to join the disruptive nature of the Holy Spirit at work in the world. We are called to help people learn how to be in the world.

If ‘to be’ means ‘to be in relation’ at the most fundamental levels of physical existence, then we have an interrelational and communitarian understanding of existence, upon which all other emergent structures of complexity are built. Existence is community in relation. The very nature of physical existence at the micro level points to a dynamic interrelationality that human community at the macro level can also embody. Humans are not single, isolated beings that exist in self-sustaining independence from everything else. Rather, we are becomings that exist in dynamic interrelationship to others in the wider ecology of existence. In other words, identity is a process, not a possession, and environment forms identity. We are constituted by the world around us as we also help to constitute it. Since all existence is interrelated, there is a sense in which dynamic, communal relations are at the core of all existence. For human becoming, community resides in trust and in the willingness to transcend self-interest for the sake of the other. It is empowered by that around which the community gathers; indeed, what it has in ‘common’ to form the communio, the community.[9]

All of the dualisms that we encounter in life are somehow intrinsically connected and leaders must navigate the communicative zone between them. Dualisms are not bad. They are necessary. However, without the third way of the Spirit’s disruptive love the dualisms leave us with disconnected disagreements and corrosive stalemates. It will be helpful to remember that agreement is not homogeneity, it is the mutual existence of diverse elements for the greater good of all. If God is the Entangled Trinity, as Simmons suggests, and we are created in the image of God, then our very existence is the tension of two opposing ideas being equally valid in unique moments. Wisdom is the ability to “sway in the tension of the Trinity” and discern which polarity is the wisest choice in any given moment. Missional leaders are called to facilitate spaces in which people can live deeply in the Trinity each day. God’s love is tension that keeps us alive. It keeps us deep in the burbs.


[1] See Hegel.

[2] Wisdom is applied knowledge, otherwise known as skill.

[3] Steven P. Thomason, Reading Paul’s Mail (Minneapolis, MN: Vibble Books, 2009).

[4] This is a demonstration of quantum entanglement. See The Trinity Frame, chapter two.

[5] See Age Matters earlier in this chapter.

[6] This is one of the passages in which the RT dwelt during the session 07.

[7] I am focusing on leadership at this point. However, this statement is the definition of spiritual formation and at the heart of the research question. Missional leadership is de facto the process of leading in spiritual formation, because the process of evolving into fifth-order consciousness is the process of self-transcendence, and, as we have stated from the beginning, spiritual formation is the process of self-transcendence.

[8] Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit, 37.

[9] Simmons, The Entangled Trinity: Quantum Physics and Theology, 184-85.