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)

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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.

What is MAKERS OF FIRE about?

BASIC IDEA

Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future  provokes readers to ignite change through their own creativity by using the analogy of Making Fire.
book pic banner
In order for fire to happen, three ingredients must be present:

fuel

oxygen

heat

By analogy, in order to create a “burning event” of social change, we must be

(1) fully present in the moment

Exponential change characterizes our world. Being fully present includes developing an awareness of the “weak signals” of change that are all around us as well as the events and trends that are shaping our present world. This is the Fuel.

(2) shapers of meaning

People are shaped by stories. Shaping meaning means telling the story of the human journey in ways that capture the 21st century imagination. We must engaged and expand our ability to think about the future. This is Oxygen.

(3) dream whisperers who are willing to step into the fray

Creating the future doesn’t begin with a plan. It begins with a dream. But dreams must become acts by which we step between the Fuel of culture and the Oxygen of meaning and ignite a spark of change. This is Heat.

When You bring this three ingredients together, you become a Maker of Fire.

BOOK STRUCTURE

The book is divided in three sections: Fuel, Oxygen, and Heat.

(1)

Fuel turns its attention towards our rapidly changing 21st century culture. It touches on the trends and events that are shaping our world. But not for the purpose of trend spotting or forecasting. Instead, Fuel focuses on our orientation towards futurity for the purpose of understanding and engaging the present.

(2)

Oxygen focuses on a timeless element of the human heart: our search for meaning. This second section explores the ways both theists and atheists, mystics and materialists, are tied together in a search for meaning in life. This is the human religion.

(3)

fireHeat gets practical. This is where dreams become deeds, genies come out of bottles, the imagined materializes into the experienced. This is where you apply your genius, creativity, and initiative to the Fuel of culture that settles like tinder at our feet and the Oxygen of meanings that swirl around us all. This is where you become a maker of fire.

The book is about the spirituality of leading from the future, a much needed corrective for those overly focused on the past and much desired perspective for those trying to be more engaged with the present.

The book releases on November 15, 2014 in Print, eBook, and PDF formats. An interactive PDF is available now at a special price and with special benefits, if purchased before August 31, 2014. We hope you purchase and enjoy the book.

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MAKERS of FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future

Welcome to the Anthropocene

Look carefully at the photo. What do you see? Those of you who have experienced the beauty of the California coast line will need to brace yourselves. You’re looking at the floor of the Monterey Bay.
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A recent study revealed that 33% of the debris on the floor of Monterey is plastic. Over time this plastic solidifies into a new “rock” called plastiglomerate. This is not just trash. It’s an artifact left behind by us. On hundred thousand years from now a future archaeologist may find the debris in our photo as they burrow through the geological deposits and they will seek to know us through that which we left behind. In my book, Makers of Fire, I discuss the “future” artifacts which we are creating. Think of them as the stories we’re telling future generations.

lush earth

Welcome to the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is an informal moniker of geological time. It means the “time of man”. The formal name of our epoch is the Holocene which began approximately 12,000 years ago. The anthropocene demarcates the point at which humans began to mark the earth. The beginning of the anthropocene is variously dated. Some date it very recently to the time of the industrial revolution. Others take it back a bit further to emergence of cities some 10,000 years ago. I think of it as beginning some 2 million years ago around the time we discovered fire. 

Genesis chapter 1 contains a creation story that, in the end, portrays God as the One who makes living things thrive. Thrive. That’s the word. In this creation story humans are created in the image of God. We are most like God when we make life thrive. Now look at the photo again. Every person that reads the Genesis story in seriousness and couples this with what we are learning about our Earth needs to make a sharp turn back to the earth on mission… a mission to co-create the world with God and make it thrive.

That’s the story we want to tell future generations. 

PS If you want to know when my book, Makers of Fire, comes out,  subscribe to the list through the link below. Thanks!

Let me know when Makers of Fire is released:
http://eepurl.com/TJlxf

Also, join me…
Strategic Leadership Immersion
July 14-18, Orlando, Florida
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One Thing You Should Know about the Future

After reading an interesting and helpful post over at Forbes titled, 6 Things You Should Know About the Future, I was left with a question. The author writes:

The future isn’t what we thought it would be. We don’t walk around in silver suits, travel to colonies on Mars or drive in flying cars. Instead, we dress casual, take selfies and communicate in 140 characters.

Yet in many ways, we’re much better off than we imagined. Rather than a Mad Max dystopia of war, famine and disease we are safer, richer and healthier than we’ve ever been. As I’ve argued before, in a very real sense 140 characters are better than a flying car.

That’s the funny thing about the future. It’s never as fantastic as we hope nor as horrible as we fear.

jetsons

What do you think? Has the future lived up to our expectations? Perhaps it depends on where and when you are.

While I enjoyed the entire post, the last line in the quote above stayed with me. I wondered, Is that really the funny thing about the future? Could these words have been written In Germany in 1945 or NYC in October of 2001 or in early 21st century North Korea? Is the future “never… as horrible as we fear”?

My grandfather was never fully convinced that we had traveled to the moon and back. Too fantastic. Is the future never as fantastic as we hope? I wonder if these words could have been written in the labs where they created the first synthetic life forms in 2010? What’s more fantastic? A flying car or the creation of life in a lab?

True, Our experience may not match Bladerunner or the Jetsons, but 2014 is both fantastic and fearsome. We create life. Soon we will exercise the power of resurrection and bring back an extinct species. Fantastic. The global slave trade thrives and human slaves populate the dark corners of human civilization. Terrifying.

The real sticking point, I think, is the word “never”. It brings to my mind one thing we should all know about the future: We cannot predict it.

There may be coming around the corner something even more fantastic than we’ve ever dreamed and/ or something more fearsome than we have ever imagined… or not. Keep your options open and stay alert.

What do you think?

PS If you want to know when my book, Makers of Fire, comes out,  subscribe to the list through the link below. Thanks!

Let me know when Makers of Fire is released:
http://eepurl.com/TJlxf

Strategic Leadership Immersion
July 14-18, Orlando, Florida
More info…