Follow Me to Freedom

March 2, 2010

activism / books / ministry

I recently read Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins, and as I expected it was a wonderful read. Shane’s has been an invaluable voice for me the last few years, and John Perkins is a fascinating person as well. This particular one is important, both because it brings together two very different voices in dialogue with each other, and because of the subject of radical leadership in the kind of ministry and activism that these two do.

Among these kind of communities, as well as in the broader emerging/missional church, leadership is often a tricky issue. It is hard to lead people who have been burnt by bad leadership, and are often skeptical that there is such a thing as good leadership. But that’s what this book is about: good leadership. This is leadership that is willing to lead and follow folks into something bigger than an individual, through crisis and pain, rejecting the power of violence and oppression in favor of the power of the Cross, toward freedom and real community; patiently waiting for the dreams of God.

I’ve read a number of books on leadership, from a business and a ministry perspective. This one and Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus stand apart from all the others, and have shaken the ways I think about the idea and the practice of leading. I can’t recommend both highly enough, and I really think it’s possible to spend a lifetime learning the principles that both teach.

But at the moment, I want to look at two specific concepts from this one, as they deal directly with a deep fear that I have, and a dangerous tendency that I have.

The first is said like this:

A blessing is like a living organism, not some kind of plaque we hang on a wall or meal we eat at the end of the day. The promise contains hope, but there is always an element of it that goes unfulfilled. Sure, we might make progress and see some of that promise come about, but what we pass along is hope and a vision that can be carried forth, and a little bit more of it will be fulfilled by the next generation, and then the next.

I often wonder if I’ll accomplish anything with my life. Part of it, I’m sure, is American individualism. Another, just selfish pride. Part, still, is a genuine desire to be used for the kingdom of Jesus, but the fear is betrayed when I grasp the truth of simple things like this. I do think there is a tension between living into a view of promise like this one, and living into a good story, and I think that is where the Spirit can take us.

It seems as though I could lean on this idea of a future promise and never do anything, and later wonder why I didn’t live a good story; yet it also seems that I could try to force myself into a story and accomplish nothing better than burnout, hurting any number of folks around me. Folks like Donald Miller and Shane Claiborne, encouraging us to live into good stories, are not pushers of legalism but it is possible for us to take their thoughts, like so many other beautiful thoughts, and put legalistic demands upon ourselves. I need to learn this.

The second concept that I hope to learn is said like this:

One of the great things about my generation is our global awareness. With the Internet and all, the world has shrunk into a global neighborhood. Folks are aware of what’s happening in Uganda and East Timor. Young folks care about who made their clothes and where their bananas come from and how much the folks who grew their coffee got paid. But there is also a sort of missional ADD. Young people want to do everything … for three months.

The discussion there goes on to talk about the need for developing roots, and the need for patience – especially in the kind of neighborhoods where people like Shane and John live. John makes a statement that it takes 10 to 12 years to see lasting change in these kind of places. The same is true for folks in underground subcultures – roots and stability are necessary things.

I’ve yet to find a place where I feel I can put down these kind of roots, and part of it is because of this kind of “missional ADD” that Shane talks about. I see so many beautiful things that God is doing in the world, and so many places where the world bleeds for the peace and justice of the kingdom of God, and I want to do something for all of them. It becomes paralyzing to narrow down the things I could do and the places I could go because I fear that I’ll miss out on what I should be doing.

I don’t have the financial resources to follow through on this kind of missional ADD, at least in an extreme sense, but I fear the potential of spending five years in one place, two years in another, three in another, and so on without planting these kind of roots into something bigger than myself.