Some ten years ago (woah… pause to contemplate that I’m in my forties) I came across the book “The Shaping of the Things to Come.” This was my introduction to the world of Hirsch and Frost. This was one of the first books that I had encountered from the missional point of view, and while intriguing in many ways I have to say that my first impression was that I was somewhat underwhelmed.
After spending a large portion of my ministry dedicated to including folks who aren’t usually included in church life, Hirsch and Frost make a lot more sense. In fact I’m amazed at how much they’ve changed. In all honesty though, this book gives a really good exploration of the kind of ministry and leadership that is required for the 21st century.
While it covers a wide variety of themes, I want to lift up one that I believe to be of critical importance, and what I therefor find to be the strength of this book. This theme would be the nexus between leadership and liminality.
Liminality is a concept originated by the anthropologist Victor Turner. Turner was describing the dynamics of initiation and coming of age rituals. In this context he was describing the transitional moments between being a “child” and being an “adult” where one is neither. Here is a description from Frost and Hirsch:
‘Liminality‘ is defined as a ‘threshold experience‘ that comprises of any kinds of ‘danger, marginality, disorientation, or ordeal and tends to create a space that is neither here nor there, a transitional stage between what was and what is to come.’
The biggest issue regarding the future of our churches is not informational. Within an hour anyone can look at the statistics and dynamics regarding the cultural disconnect between the established church and the culture at large. Knowing more of these statistics is not an answer.
5 years ago I was preaching in a bar trying to pull together some folks to start a church. I went there because that’s where the people who I felt called to reach, the people who my heart breaks for were located and felt comfortable. I was not trained to do that. I didn’t want to do that. It was uncomfortable and disorienting to say the least. It was liminal.
I believe the biggest need is not acquiring more information, but rather the capacity to lead risk-averse institutions to reorient themselves for our contemporary situation. This reorientation requires leading people through the requisite disorientation. Most of all, it requires leaders willing to go through the uncomfortable disorientation themselves. This is the core experience of liminal leadership, and it is the strength of this book. I recommend reading Faith of Leap not as a “how to” book, but rather as a “how to be” book on leadership.