Tag Archives: leadership

Why we can’t make changes from the top down

I post this quote, in part as a response to Greg’s questions HERE, and also as another effort in processing the importance of “elder wisdom.”

Richard Rohr, in his article, “The Catch 22 of Male Initiation” (LINK), writes,

It has become rather clear to many of us that both top leaders in the church and leading politicians in society are largely made up of men who wanted to get there.  They pursued roles and positions of power for any multitude of reasons, some of which are even praiseworthy.

At the second level of “management” you find priests, ministers, civil employees, and corporate bureaucrats who have rightfully sought their own career goals, but unless there has been some influx of wisdom, suffering, or mentoring from life itself, their ego structures tend to be pretty well intact and self serving. “My personal upward mobility, but for the sake of the kingdom of God” is the best we can hope for!  They have done even good things, but the underlying motivations of self image, security, status, and self aggrandizement have never been looked at or seriously questioned.  In fact, they assume this is what life is all about.  This creates a major spiritual blindness at both levels of leadership, and of course in all men who have not stumbled, fallen, and been raised up (the central paschal mystery).

What is lost to our society, however, is much needed wisdom and the common good, and often just basic spirituality.  Such patriarchy becomes a self perpetuating machine at an arrested level of consciousness. Uninitiated men appoint, affirm, and promote other men at their same level of moral development, because their own ego standards are all that they have to judge by. In other words, the water never rises, levels of consciousness do not naturally proceed by attraction and promotion from the top, which is what we all hoped for. This is the meaning of eldership, seniority, and mentoring, but it only really works in “wisdom based cultures”, which we now have very few of (Tibet, Bali, and small, hidden pockets, especially in remaining native cultures still found on all continents.)

So wisdom often has to come from the outside, the bottom, or the edge.

So the reason I call it a “Catch 22” is that you have to build your tower of success, even though it is the very thing that can destroy you, and will destroy you if we do not see through it.

We will lose if we do not find our power.  But we will also lose if we find our power and then do not “unfind” it!

So you must let go of the very thing that you have supposedly found.  But the trouble is you are very identified and attached to it by then!  So someone must warn you ahead of time, or it is often too late.  That is initiation.

I love this, and it speaks to my own thoughts on adults in leadership running around as adolescents. I have to be careful here in how I say this, as I myself am only just beginning in my journey of maturity and wisdom. I would say though, from experience, that there are many men of whom I know would have much to offer me and my peers in our “becoming,” but from whom I feel as though I don’t really have much to learn from in regards to what it means to be a well-rounded and wise man in our world. We must call them out.. call them to a higher standard… but I get the sense that many of them, in their “ego worlds” would not hear our requests for more present leadership. This, don’t get me wrong, is not always a fault of their own, but often due to their own father wounds and also to merely being a part of a perpetuating cycle that has lost its emphasis on initiation.

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Our adults are adolescents

My hope in the next few weeks is to begin to develop a greater focus in what I am writing here. Namely, I will be emphasizing many of my thoughts and perceptions regarding the general perpetuating cycle of generational segregation that I believe is causing such great detriment to communities, families, and society in Western America. This damaging cycle, which has been going on (and getting worse) for decades, has much to do with the absence of intentional rites of passage (the handing on of manhood and womanhood responsibilities) from the elders to the “becoming ones,” the Western educational system which gives men and women the marks to achieve but sends them out as professionals and not necessarily the maturity to face society as adults, and the honoring of children and seniors as gifts to our society.

I won’t plan on any specific order, but I am sure there will be repetition of some of the main things I feel need to happen. Starting with education…

I have been through the education system. High school, college, graduate school (seminary)… I’ve done them all. My sense is that the Western modern educational system leaves men and women still wondering what it means to be a functioning and mature adult in our society. What they do get is a lot of knowledge and a degree that shows that they are responsible in their field… sometimes even an expert. The final goal is most often based on what they are now able to produce, or the job that they are now able to get. We then send them off into the world, telling them that money-making, job keeping, house and car buying, and family raising is all up to them to figure out. But there is so much that they do not get.

Young adults do not necessarily get elders who show them what it means to live life maturely and selflessly. They do not get lessons on conflict management, self-awareness, and honorable behavior. They are instead sent out into society without any sort of leadership in character development. This is something they must figure out on their own. I see the problem being that they don’t have any idea of where to look for it. They could try churches, but I have much doubt that they are finding it to a great degree there, as much of our churches are based on the modern education system anyway… about producing a packaged product bound for “success.” They could look at the media… but media does a terrible job honoring humanity and the gifts that we can offer as mature men and women. They could try to find their elders themselves, but this is a daunting process that often amounts to an endless pursuit of ever-elusive elders that have “done their work in society” and are looking to do their own thing now.

No one steps in to take over where our fathers and mothers have left off and we are left with trying to find replacements who will heal many of the wounds from which we have never recovered. I would argue that the perhaps the majority of adults in our society are still floundering in adolescence… lost during their most transformative years. It is not only until LIFE initiates us (at 50.55.60 when we look back and wonder what we have really done in life and why we feel so unfulfilled) that we as men and women begin to realize that there is more to life than being a professional getting a good paycheck and having a “safe” environment for one’s family (if they can even provide this!). Unfortunately, it is too late for our kids. We have already sent them off to “further their education” in a system that is directing them to learn the same values that we have all been learning all along. They are already on the track to being stuck in adolescence.

I’m not sure that the education system is what really has to change… more so, the perspective of the elders and those “becoming-ones” who will be elders one day. A larger topic for a later day.

Spiritual leadership in our culture today

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything that is my own. This is primarily due, I think, to the vast amount of processing I’ve been doing myself. Personal journaling and lots of thinking. One thing that has been on my mind lately is the extent that spiritual leadership goes to here in the west.

Ultimately, what I long to be is a spiritual leader, a guide… a shepherd. When I think of spiritual leadership and how it has taken shape in much of our world, especially in the East, I see leaders who have earned their leadership by “walking through the fire.” They have done the work… they have proved themselves to have wisdom, insight, and an ear for the spirit. Some of them end up blind, crippled… far from the flashy appearance we see from many of our leaders here in the West. They have sacrificed greatly for what they now have. People choose to follow them because their lives are changed.

My understanding of spiritual leadership comes mostly from within the Christian tradition, so I will focus there. When I look of the evangelical side of things, I see a strong passion for theology and “heady” stuff. It seems to me that as long as a pastor has had the seminary training, as long as he knows his Greek and his Hebrew, as long as he can give an extensive interpretation for the “right” way to read the Bible… he is ok in his church’s eyes. It comes down to education, seminary, and the ability to give complicated answers. He is the “professional” truth-teller.

Within the mainline tradition, there is less an emphasis on right doctrine and much more of a passion for polity, or “how we do stuff.” The structure is much more important than making sure that we all agree on the right theology. It seems that often a minister|leader in a mainline church just has to be a good upholder of the practices. If he/she can hold a good Sunday morning service, everyone is happy. As long as a minister sticks within the traditional structure no one will get upset. Even better if there is a good measure of energy within the structure of the church.

Holding both of these sides together is the authority that is given via titles, education, degrees, and higher authorities. As long as you earn it by going through the system, you may be deemed as one who has authority. Doctorate, Masters of Divinity, PhD, ordained… with a score card that has one (or all) of these, who can question the authority of the person in charge?

There must be something more than this. The question remains as to what it looks like and who, of those looking for some kind of leadership, desire something more? Is there a place in our individualized western world, that loves success and title, for a different kind of leader? I hope so… I really do.

Next steps in Community… no more playing the middle-man

So don’t get me wrong, I love getting the information. I love being in the know. I love sitting down and having the one on one conversations at the tea store or the coffee shop with those in my community or those who I am just getting to know. I am getting better and better at this… and as things begin to consolidate and foundations are built, I realize that I, Nate Bettger, am quickly getting tired.

Not tired of the conversations, or tired of the information… I love it… but tired of being the one who hears every individuals ideas and then relays them (or defends them) to the others. There are so many things that we can be saying to each other versus just saying to Nate. And so many of our ideas and thoughts, questions and ideas, need to be discussed outside of our worship gatherings on Sunday nights. So we are beginning… FINALLY…

The Sunday Night Community Dreaming Team

Or maybe we call it the scheming team, or the strategizing group… or whatever. Nevertheless, here is where we can hash it out… my place 4:30pm-5:30ish. In this way, we as those who appreciate a say in who we are and what we are doing or going to do can begin to provide input. For too long it has just been me that knows what’s going on.

My problem with hands-off leadership…

After a conversation with our spiritual formation team at church, I am left with some very strong thoughts regarding leadership in the way of Jesus and in the context of religious history. I feel that in some of the churches that I have been a part of, I have left very frustrated with the tendency of the “official” leadership to be very removed from the relational side of being a leader and raising up leaders after him/her. There tends to be a distance from the “official” or professional church leaders and those who are not.

It comes down to this (and I’ve written on it before: From the Professional Elite to the Spiritual Director). I feel like we in the West have lost, to a great degree, a certain historical model of leadership… that being that each leader has at least one person under him that is being invested in, trained, and encouraged to develop leaders under him. It is based on the notion that our experiences, our wisdom, our growth into holiness, might actually be of some use to someone else. Some call it spiritual friendship, some call it spiritual direction, but it essentially comes down to simple yet radical discipleship. I know that I, and many others like me, ache to be invested in and committed to by even one person older than us. Lives change because of this.

The concept of leadership is a scary one to many… and I think it comes down to our idolization of professional leaders and the neglect of those of us in leadership to make it our intense mission to dismantle this. We no longer think of every person as a leader, we no longer act our our profession of “the priesthood of believers.” Every person in official, or professional leadership, whether it be in Christian community or even some other religion, should be asked, “What person is following your footsteps? What person are you seeking out to encourage into a leader?” For a vision to grow in a deep and significant way, for lives to be changed at the very roots, for a way of living to spread… perhaps a living in the kingdom of God and a heart tuned into the Holy Spirit… there needs to be relationship involved in leadership.

Jesus had twelve… he lived with them and they watched his every move. Many of the historical monastics, gurus, church fathers (Eastern especially) had individuals they were feeding into. We, though, in our current modern times have become privatized, individualistic, and when we leave the office, our work is done for the day. If we can somehow  move beyond this, I believe that there will be a more unified group of people beginning to look like Jesus at very deep levels and that people will begin to see themselves as the leaders they are meant to be… and we will not be alone on our journeys.