Leadership, God’s Agency & Disruptions: Confronting Modernity’s Wager

Mark Lau Branson and Alan J. Roxburgh
Cascade Books, 240 pages

“Leadership, God’s Agency & Disruptions” was published exactly when I needed it. Church leaders are under pressure to address the double whammy of disruption: COVID-19 and the ongoing unraveling of church and culture. We typically respond by relying on the latest management strategy to control outcomes, trying to fix things without real discernment or dependence on God’s agency. Instead, Mark Branson and Alan Roxburgh encourage church leaders to focus like a laser on what God is doing in “such a time as this.”

Using a hermeneutic of disruption, they lead us through the Old and New Testaments, describing how God uses disruption to help us learn. In Jeremiah, God tried to show the prophet what God was doing at that time; we hear Matthew speak to Jews and Gentiles who lived in the midst of the Roman Empire; we experience Acts as a narrative of God’s disruptions; and we are moved by the letter to the Ephesians, calling God’s people to address societal brokenness.

The deep conviction of this book is that God is an active, dynamic agent not confined by the property lines of our church facilities, but loose in our neighborhoods and communities making all things new. Branson and Roxburgh redefine church leadership as the work of forming communities of God’s people who continually discern and join what God is doing in the world. They detail habits and practices that make it possible for us to do just that.

The authors do not describe new strategies to fix our churches; they advocate for new ways to be the church. This distinction is crucial. Branson and Roxburgh tell us about leaders who crafted new mission and vision statements, developed new programs for training and education, advanced new plans to increase participation, established different priorities for staffing and increased funding for marketing and social media — and then realized afterward that nothing really changed. Leader-led initiatives, Branson and Roxburgh counsel us, do not address the underlying culture of our congregations. Habits and practices are needed to shape us into a new way of being church.

The key is listening to both the Word and the world. When we dwell in the Word regularly, repeatedly and together, we listen to God. When we risk significant relationships with others, sit at table with them, receive hospitality and grow in awareness of the Spirit, we listen to the world. Think of the difference it would make if we were known as leaders and congregations who listen.

“Leadership, God’s Agency & Disruption” is not an easy read. It took some time for me to work my way through its concepts and intense language. But it was well worth it! This book empowers me to adopt a more intentional theology of leadership for this time of disruption and unraveling. This book challenges me to reframe my practice of church leadership with a focus on God’s agency. Most significantly, this book inspires me to attend daily to the power of God at work in the people of my community as they create a new world.

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Philip J. Reed is pastor/head of staff of Grosse Ile Presbyterian Church in Grosse Ile, Michigan.