Makers of Fire by Alex McManus

Thanks to missional maven, Alan Hirsch, global peacemaker, Bob Roberts, and professional futurist, Jay Gary, for their kind words featured in the Makers of Fire Video Trailer below.

Thanks to those of you who’ve purchased my book — now available on Amazon amzn.to/1rjTqzJ  — or have emailed me encouraging notes. Thanks!

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What does it mean to lead from the future?

How important is it to develop the skill of leading from the future?

Well, first of all, what does it mean to lead from the future? It means

  • developing a clear picture of the future one prefers
  • cultivating the action-mindset to create it
  • calling on others to join you

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An essential aspect of this skill is the ability to describe the present. This is not as easy as it might seem, especially in our time of exponentially rapid change. But without cultivating the ability to describe the present, leaders will not be able to anticipate the future.

That’s a skill the prophets of old developed to a high degree.

Many think of the prophets in the Old Testament as soothsayers who could predict the future. But they were mavens at describing the present. They had the courage to open their eyes, see what was really going on around them, and say something about it.

The prophet Nathan rebuked David for the murder of Uriah. The prophets of Israel pointed out the mistreatment of the poor, widowed, and orphaned. Jesus himself read the signs and anticipated the destruction of the Temple.

Twenty-first century leadership needs to hone the ability to describe the present.

In Makers of Fire I talk about three sets of triads or triangles:

  • The triad of fire,
  • the triad of change, and
  • the triad of leadership.

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The Triads of Making Fire
Fuel | Oxygen | Heat = Fire
Artifacts | Meaning | Choice = Change
Describing | Discerning | Discovering = Leadership

from Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

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Leaders need to be able to fearlessly describe the world as it is, wisely discern the meaning in the moment, and creatively discover paths forward towards the world as they prefer it.

I mentioned in my last post that if I had to describe the present in one word, it would be that we live in a time of Redefinition. Makers_WordPressThe meaning of fundamental societal structures such as marriage, family, and even gender are being redefined.

We can be grateful for the real opportunity these redefinitions give us to re-engage our story. For one example,

  • What do we make of the fact that Jesus speaks about marriage being redefined at least once already?
  • How do we integrate the fact that polygyny seems to be an acceptable marital structure in the Old Testament (David, Abraham, others)?
  • How do we account for animal suffering and death before the “fall” of man?

Leaving the scripture for the world of science, our DNA tells us that polygyny was a more  common marital structure than one man and one woman. We have more “Moms” than we do “Dads” in our genes. We know today that animals lived, suffered, and died for millions of years before humankind appeared on Earth.

This kind of new data creates problems for those who read Genesis chronologically as a history. The way they read it, the first families were made up of marital units comprised of one man and one woman, and after “the fall” everything got screwed up. And, Adam and Eve’s sin allowed death to enter the world.

  • How can we understand the scriptural story of marriage, family, and sexuality as well the existence of death and suffering before the “fall” alongside a genetic and historical story that starts off messy rather than perfect?

Maybe it’s time to rethink our story, and make it bigger so that it accounts for deep time as well as the new data about life on Earth. How can we do this while being true to the biblical story that  we’re in?

Perhaps the vision of the garden and of the man and woman are not about the past at all. Perhaps they are a vision of the future, a future which no culture has yet attained, but towards which we are moving.

This is just one small example. And this one word, Redefinition, describes only one stream within our 21st century culture.

A second descriptor of our time is Exponentially Rapid Change. The Pew Research Group’s findings indicate that the rate of change in the 21st century would be a thousand times faster than in the 20th. And change in the 20th century was blazing fast. Not only are we defining and redefining, we’re doing it at lightning fast speed.

Are you ready?

In Makers of Fire, I offer a dozen descriptors of the present. Redefinition and Exponentially Rapid Rate of Change are two of them. I’ll offer the rest in posts to come. We’ll also be discussing this in the Master Certificate portion of the IMN 2015 Immersion in Orlando. Hope to see some of you there.

As you look around, what is it that you see?

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Order your copy of Makers of Fire on Amazon.
Enroll in IMN 2015 in Orlando, Fl February 2-6. Click the link for more details.

Three Aspects of 21st Century Leadership

Leadership in the 21st century has three aspects:

  1. Fearlessly DEFINING Reality
  2. Mindfully DISCERNING the Meaning in the Mix
  3. Creatively DISCOVERING New Paths Forward

In my new book, Makers of Fire, I layer this TRIAD of defining, discerning, and discovering on two others. The triangle of combustion and the triangle of social change.

DEFINING   |  DISCERNING   |  DISCOVERING     =LEADERSHIP

ARTIFACTS   |     MEANING       |   CREATIVTY         =CHANGE

FUEL            |       OXYGEN        |    HEAT                    = FIRE

(1) DEFINING

Leaders have to stare reality in the eye. What’s out there? What’s really happening? If I had to give a one line description of reality I would say that we live in a time of “redefinition.”

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“If I had to give a one line description of today’s reality
I would say that we live in a time of “redefinition.”
 

(Click to tweet)
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Marriage is being redefined. Gender is being redefined. History is being redefined. Identity is being redefined. Nation States are being redefined. Right and wrong, good and evil are being redefined. In this time of redefinition, sources of authority are challenged. Standing on the Bible, the Constitution, an interpretation of history, a tradition, or even on “what works” are no longer credible supports for what is good, right, and true.

All of these are “Artifacts,” things humans make, ways humans think, patterns in which human organize themselves. They are future artifacts. Future archaeologists will study the things we make today and try to understand us. We can also study them as a way of studying the potential futures we are making possible.

(2) DISCERNING

I wrote Makers of Fire to help reorient the church towards the future that it might better influence the present. Preorder your copy today.

I wrote Makers of Fire to help reorient the church towards the future that it might better influence the present. Preorder your copy today.

To make our time of redefinition even more complex, media keeps everyone alert to the fact that there are contrasting “redefinitions” emerging. Not everyone agrees on what marriage means, whether the United States is right or wrong, whether murdering infants in the womb is good or evil. Not everyone even agrees that there is such a thing as good and evil.

Leaders must look for meaning and purpose within this chaos. They must create compelling narratives, which give context and meaning to human existence, in which others can see themselves fitting and belonging and becoming the people they desire.

For Church leaders this means learning to be comfortable in a setting in which their narrative is not the narrative of the majority, but of a niche. But “narrative” doesn’t mean just a tagline. It means telling a story one deeply believes and believing the story one tells enough to inhabit it.

(3) DISCOVERING

Leaders must nurture new communities which will create new ways forward. For church leaders and churches this will mean “living out” their story with daring and risk. Rather than seeing the Bible or tradition as a limiting factor, it needs to see these as launching pads for improvisation. There’s an old joke that if, while playing a guitar, you hit a bad note, it’s a mistake. If you hit two bad notes, again, it’s a mistake. But of you hit three bad notes, it’s jazz.

Well, no. It’s not.

Improvisation is not just hitting any random note, as if anyone can do it. Improvisation is best accomplished by those who know the fret board best. When you know how a line is supposed to go and you deviate from it in search of something new and fresh, then you’re improvising.

Our season of “redefinition” is not always one of improvisation. We’re often just hitting bad notes.

Leaders and communities who know their story well, believe it, and live it out, will need to improvise… will want to improvise …even if we hit a bad note here and again, in the pursuit of their mission.

To make gains in the public sphere, leaders will need to become media savvy because “social” is the new campfire around which the stories that shape us are being told. Story telling and story tellers will open up possibilities for the future. Communities that live out the future they prefer will redefine the world. (Click to tweet)

The Newest Mission Field

This article is about an extraordinary opportunity that may be emerging before our very eyes. You may, at first, not take it seriously. But keep reading. After a few minutes, your stomach will tighten and go sour as you realize that God may call your children or grandchildren to boldly go where no others have gone before.

So here we go… How would you like to lead a team on mission to Mars? Think mid 2030s…that’s more or less the time frame that tech visionary Elon Musk has in mind to begin the colonization of Mars.

Colonization.

We’re not talking here of a skeleton crew of a half dozen making a voyage to Mars and back. We’re talking about one million citizens of earth with a one way ticket.

Don’t doubt it. The race for Mars is on. India just placed a satellite in Mars orbit last month. Elon Musk, who owns SpaceX, has previously set the year 2026 as the target date for a manned excursion to the Red Planet. The Mars One project has received some 200,000 applicants for their colonization strategy. They plan to start sending crews of 4 starting in 2024. Now, recently, Elon Musk has called for a Million Person March to Mars.

Imagine sending people, one hundred at a time, to terra-form, raise families, live out their lives, and finally die upon another planet. If anything like this happens, Elon Musk may be the most significant leader of the 21st century. And he may be creating one of the greatest mission opportunities of the 22nd century. In the same way that we challenge our young adults to relocate around the world that they might benefit the nations, we should begin to cultivate among our youth the skills to be among the One Million.

I wrote Makers of Fire to help reorient the church towards the future.

I wrote Makers of Fire to help reorient the church towards the future that we might have greater impact in the present. Alex McManus

Perhaps now, when someone feels called to service, we should point them towards cross disciplinary programs that include the sciences. We should encourage them to master their bodies, so that they are fit enough to endure the hazardous journey between our two planets, to immerse themselves in the STEM disciplines, and to master wilderness survival strategies and techniques. (Though, the Mars colony, to be sure, will also need artists!) Whether or not they ever leave this planet, this will benefit the church. Especially those churches that are left behind on Earth (no reference to the movie intended).

Many Christians today live in the world as if it were 1858 – the year before Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Many of them believe the earth is young, that animals didn’t suffer and die for millions of years before “the fall,” and that humans are not part of the animal kingdom.

They haven’t grasped the fact that evolutionary theory strengthens and gains explanatory power with every passing year. And the world has moved far beyond just evolutionary biology and space travel. The race for genetic enhancements will be to the 21st century what the race to the moon was to the 20th. The age of the X-men is here. We will continue to see a merger between humans and technology, the organic with the synthetic. This is what I call the Orgathetic Future.

This may lead to the creation of different species of humans in the future, as there were in the past. We will see the resurrection of extinct species and we may discover signs of extraterrestrial life on one of the many Earth-like planets now being discovered. Robust Human rejuvenation may extend our life spans into the hundreds of years and beyond.

Because parts of the church resisted the new discoveries being made about God’s world and universe, others were able to frame these discoveries along secular lines. As a result, the church is unintelligible to many who do not yet believe. In fact, I wrote a book that is scheduled to come out November 15 titled, MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future, because many churches are drowning and need the air that turning towards the future will bring.

So here is another chance to move the church into the 21st century and beyond. As we become a multi-planetary species, the church will become multi-planetary as well. But we have to refresh and update our love for science and engage this science with open minds and hearts empowered by the spirit. Our theology, the way we talk about our story and the unique and precious journey we are on with Christ, needs to match the moment. Rather than resisting, let’s go mobile. Let’s follow Christ… to Mars and beyond. Alex McManus Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

The Nones

An excerpt from

MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future
by Alex McManus

The Nones

Unknown-2The longing for a new way to be human may be why so many in the USA, when polled about their religious affiliations, check the box “None.” We call them “the nones.” I know so many people of vibrant faith who classify themselves as “nones” because they’re detaching from traditional religious institutions in search of something more authentic. This is especially acute in the Christian faith because one is not born a Christian.

In the West, many have  forgotten how, and more importantly, why earlier generations came to believe. I suspect that the rise of those who identify themselves religiously as “nones” may reflect the rise of a deeper spirituality as much as it signals an abandonment of the institutions of faith.

In a recent conversation, a very thoughtful 25-year-old expressed this sentiment: “Even if all the claims of Christianity are true, I wouldn’t want to be a Christian.” Some have moved beyond their faith in Western Culture and it’s religion, Christianity. Because this person had at one time been a believer, I asked if there was something about faith that she missed. She informed me that she still believed that God hears her and that she had at one time heard from God, but she was no longer a Christian. Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 1.40.34 PM

Where might this phenomena of the nones be leading us? It many ways becoming a Christian today may include a turn away from Christendom and the traditional churches that developed during that time. In fact, following Christ, for some, will mean not becoming a Christian.

To make an analogy with the life of Christ, Jesus was crucified by the Romans, then buried by friends. On the third day, he walked among his disciples again, raised from the dead. There were three days of “space” and “time” between the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ.

Many today may be followers of Jesus who live in the liminal space after the death of the Christian religion but prior to the resurrection of an expression that can be  trusted again. Rather than rely on truth claims issued by an institution, it will try to remember how to trust again. Rather than institutional, the future of the Christ following faith will begin again as relational.

I suspect that the future of the church may be different than we suspect. Let’s put this radically: The Catholic church is not the church of the future.  Neither is the Orthodox church. The churches of the Reformation are not the church of the future. Neither are the evangelical churches, nor the emerging church, the church of the future. None of these are the church of the future nor the future of the church.

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To borrow words from Jesus of Nazareth, these may be some of the seeds but we have not seen the tree. Some will fear the death of the seed. But if the seed doesn’t die, it remains just a single seed. But if it falls into the ground and dies, then it will reproduce itself many times over. (John 12.24)

The search for a new way of being human is the zeitgeist of our times, and many of us are going back to zero and starting again. This is a new  journey of discovery, a new time to seek, and our whole culture is on it.

MAKERS OF FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future
by Alex McManus

4 Trends for Churches to Consider

When I first saw Ed Stetzer’s original article titled, MissionTrends: 4 Trends for Churches to Consider, I had some points of difference. But I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to write about them because, overall, I think we should all think more about the future.

But the article crossed my sights again in “Charisma News” post titled, 4 Trends in Christianity That Could Scare You, According to Ed Stetzer.

I don’t know why this was in my feed, but there it was. So, I decided to look at the article again. I think what tipped me over was that Charisma News added “That Could Scare You” in the title.

We should not be scared.
We should seize our moment.

For those of you who did not read Stetzer’s blogpost, here are his “4 trends”:

1. The word “Christian” will become less used and more clear”
2. The nominals will increasingly become “nones”
3. Christians Will Increasingly Change Cultural Tactics
4. More Robust Churches will Result from the Death of Nominalism

Here are some of the ways my take differs from Stetzer’s “4 Trends”.

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1. The word “Christian” will become less used and more clear”

The first trend, according to Stetzer, is “less people are calling themselves Christians and those who are will take it more seriously.”

A trend can be described as a change in a variable over time. In this sense, I’m not sure I would classify any of these 4 as “trends.”  These “4 trends” seem more like forecasts based on experience (or hopes)  rather than extrapolations based on data. Ok, too nit-picky and this isn’t my point anyway. Let’s move on to the good stuff.

Stetzer goes on to say, “In the future, the word Christian will mean more to those who would be considered convictional Christians. However, it will mean-and be used-less to those who were nominal Christians in the first place. The word will be less used and more clear.”

In contrast, I think, that in the future, the word Christian may also be used less by those to whom it means more. In other words, those who follow Christ out of conviction, rather than simply because of culture, may use Christian less as a self designation because they recognize the cultural, political, economic acculturation of Christianity with modern culture.

In other words, they will use the word Christian less

  • in an attempt to be less syncretistic in their faith
  • in an attempt to be able to express their faith with less baggage
  • and because they honestly sense that their experience of faith is not represented well by the word

Those believers who are more attached to the status quo, who have less cognitive dissonance between the Modern era, America, and Christianity will be more likely to use the word Christian.

So, it may be Stetzer’s “squishy middle” —those who, according to Ed, were “nominal in the first place” — along with the keepers of the status quo who will actually more frequently use “Christian” as a self designation.

2. The nominals will increasingly become nones

Stetzer’s second “trend” is “The nominals will increasingly become nones.”

Stetzer argues that nominal Christians — those who are Christian in name only but not out of conviction — are becoming the “nones.” For those of you who may not be familiar with term, the “nones” are those who do not identify with any religion.

Ed notes that 30% among college students now count themselves among the “nones.” It’s true that many thoughtful and motivated young people are choosing against Christianity. In some cases it is because they have failed to be convinced by the evidence and by experience. In other cases, it’s because they can’t distinguish between the Christ following faith and the Christian religion as represented by some cultural artifact such as the political right wing or left wing. In yet other cases, the young may be leaving Christianity in a sincere attempt to follow Christ. So here I totally agree with Stetzer, but even more emphatically, when he writes, “we should change the way we think about engaging culture.”

However, the “nones” is not the new designation for nominal Christians. In contrast, I think that the “nones” may also be the new designation for the most zealous Christ followers. (For my post on the “Nones” click here.) I think the “nones” may include precisely those believers who are changing the ways they “think about engaging culture.” And, it’s not just about engagement, it’s about authentically feeling their way forward towards a new way of following Christ beyond Christianity.

I know many devout believers who would say they are a “none” when asked about their religious preferences because they do not believe their relationship to Christ is a religion.

Others refrain from using Christian as a self designation because being Christian is often perceived (depending on the listener) as belonging to a certain political party, or being anti-science, or having a particular attitude, etc. Perhaps we should consider returning —and perhaps will— to the days when others accused us of being Christians, rather than us resorting to self proclamation.

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3. Christians Will Increasingly Change Cultural Tactics

I agree with Ed here. He argues that “convictional” Christians will advocate less for the legislation of traditional values and be more focused on protecting religious liberty.” Again, while this may not yet be a trend, this is a good tactical suggestion, as Ed states.

But focusing on “religious liberty,” as tactically correct as this might be, is not the gospel. We must focus on embodying Christ in the context of community as a way of announcing that in Christ God will make all things thrive. To exercise religious liberty will mean to live out, in our own faith communities, a new politic, economy, and society.

Stetzer argues that we must “hold the Word of God in high authority” and that “we should also wisely discern the present culture…”

I would say it this way: we must know our story and live in it and we must know the competing narratives that surround us.

I would add that we must start new communities of faith that embody this story. Starting new communities of faith is a way of creating the future. And these new communities are the greatest evidence of the trustworthiness of our story.

4. More Robust Churches will Result from the Death of Nominalism

Again, this is not a trend based on data, but something akin to “hope” and more along the lines of “prophesying the way forward.” Stetzer argues that “Churches that are preaching the gospel and are focusing on biblical truths are going to become more clearly distinct from the culture around them.”

Well, first, I think nominalism will survive. There have always be those who say, “Lord, Lord…” (Matthew 7) and I don’t see that changing. And, if more robust churches emerge, it won’t be because of the death of nominalism. It will be because robust churches continually choose to die to themselves and give birth to new communities of faith. If this happens, the spirit may move, regardless of what happens to nominal churches and christians.

I do agree that new unique and distinct communities of faith will arise. But I also think that many new communities will both embody Christ’s resurrection and meld with culture as opposed to “be distinct from” culture, if by this we mean separated/ isolated from culture.

So What is the Way Forward?

There will be the stream that seeks to accommodate the new culture. They will lose a large part of their narrative. There will be the stream that runs counter to culture. They will disappear into antagonistic irrelevance. There will be the stream that retreats from culture. They will have no impact. There will be the stream that tries to educate the new culture. They will leave the will untransformed. There will be the stream that seeks to become the new culture, the future culture, the culture that follows wholeheartedly after Christ. And they will create the future.

Letting Go and Holding On

As we take a turn towards the 22nd century, what do we “let go of” and “to what do we hold on”?
That was a question that came out of the MAKERS OF FIRE SESSION webinar yesterday.

It was asked from the perspective of faith
and so we discussed letting go of…

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  • …truths (propositional) and holding on to trust (personal)
  • …letting go of doctrines and holding on to directions
  • …letting go of cultural power and holding on to spirit
  • …letting go of certainty and holding on to faith

14 EXAMPLES

Here are some examples of things that some of us “hold onto” and some ideas about where we might be going.

HEAVEN. Not too long ago, many Christians evangelized using heaven as an incentive (at least in the Souther part of the United States). Now Christians are beginning to flip over towards an understanding that humans are not intended for heaven but for earth. (What makes this more interesting is that these same Christians warned new converts against cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who teach that God is making a new heaven and a new Earth. So, at least in terms of language with regard to this one idea, we should congratulate the Jehovah’s witness for leading the way!)

WOMEN AND THE ENVIRONMENT. From the 60’s on Pagans (Yes, the religion) led the way in terms of the role of women in society and in terms of valuing the Earth. Now Christians are adopting a more “biblical” perspective on the natural world and are rereading the scriptures about the role of women. (Again, should not Christ followers applaud the Pagans for pointing us in the right direction?)

HELL. The idea of hell as a place of eternal suffering is falling out of favor and ideas like annihilationism (also maintained by the Jehovah’s witnesses) are stepping up as viable alternatives.

CHURCH. The idea of church as a sunday morning gathering plateaus and church as a path journeyed in community rises. (Yes, the “church gathering” and the mega church will be a part of the future).

CLERGY. The idea of ministry as a career plateaus and ministry as a charism and calling rises. (Yes, there will continue to be leaders whom the “community on journey together” slingshot forward to announce the gospel where needed).

EVOLUTION. Imagine a future in which every Christ following person has evolutionary frameworks for how life emerges on Earth and works out a theology from there. Welcome to the future.

ATONEMENT. Good bye to the idea that God was getting his pound of flesh on Christ. Goodbye angry God and his angry pastors. Human evil, however, is still real and invisible to secular eyes.

HUMANKIND. Good bye to the idea that humanity is the problem and hello to the idea that humanity is the goal. This is what I call, making the world human.

ORGATHETIC.  We will let go of the idea of humanity as a purely organic creature and move towards the embrace of the human-machine merger, the melding together of the organic with the synthetic, what I call the Orgathetic future.

THE RETURN OF CHRIST. What meaning will the “soon return of Christ” have in 3000AD or 4000AD? That’s pretty much the meaning in 2014AD. Alternatives include that the coming of the spirit was the return of Christ AND that the return of Christ and the end of the universe some 14 billion years in the future are one and the same thing.

THE NATURE AND ROLE OF THE SCRIPTURES. The Bible as revelation goes away and the Bible as a culturally conditioned human witness rises. There will be a factual component — the bible is a work of humans — and a faith component — the Bible is a human witness to the Acts of God within history and life experience.

GOD. The ideas of God’s transcendence  and immanence will race to the extreme edges of the spectrum. We will become more humble as we realize that our goldfish has a better chance of understanding our calculus homework than we do of understanding God. And we will become more alert as we begin to experience God more fully within everything around us. The shifts will run from Knowing God in terms of knowledge to knowing God in terms of personal experience and from theism, in the sense of a strict separation between God and everything else, to panentheism (vs pantheism), a sense of God in all things.

EARTH. As we colonize Mars, we will let go of Earth as the final destination of life and instead embrace it as the womb of life from which life spreads across the universe. We will embrace orgathetic humanity as a multi-planetary species and possibly as the launching pad for life across the galaxy.

RISK

Letting go doesn’t mean abdicating the responsibility to articulate, embody, and name the relationship of trust, the trajectories of our journey, the meaning of the spirit, and the understanding of faith, and it certainly doesn’t mean detaching ourselves from the historical source of the Christ following movement, but it does mean recognizing that we are evolving. And, in fact, evolving makes articulating, embodying, and naming … even more important. It is a risk of love we must take because we are all feeling our way forward. And we won’t get there alone. And we won’t be alone, for Christ journeys with us.

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What do you think?

“And the word was made flesh…”