I know more than I’d like about liminality. Both in personal life and wider contexts of ministry. And it shapes my perspectives on leadership. Nothing is as simple as Newtonian models of leadership imply. Listen to this:
…liminal leadership spends a significant amount of time in disrupted space…Liminal leaders…create a lightly held holding place for the hybridity of the experience there. Some people might come into the border zones of disruption, believing that they are in exile from all that they have known. Others might find opportunity for pilgrimage into new ways of being or functioning.
Orton/Withrow, ‘Transformative Potentials of Liminal Leadership’, Journal of Religious Leadership (2015).
It sounds so simple, put like this. Yet until leadership liminality is lived it is hard to comprehend the degree of disruption. For one does not lead from outside the pain of exile, of losing what was deeply-loved. And no pilgrimage into new ways of being and functioning is without blisters and feet which ache.
What is it then to lead in these disrupted spaces? What is it to hold your nerve in the face of ambiguity and dissonance? To lead not by striking out confidently in a predetermined direction but to sit in the chaos of the in-between, allowing the Spirit to breathe over the formless tohuw and to make of it what he will. To create a holding place where the anxiety of others is managed whilst your own occasionally spins out of control, does a frenzied dance from one side of these border zones to another. What kind of strength for these things?
I wonder whether the leaders in liminality are those who can face the Void and still declare the Holy. Those who rather are ‘first followers’. Who in the contexts of barrenness and devastation, of dreams now tattered and hanging loose, lead by pointing others not to an abstract goal to be reached but to the following of a Person.
With even the shortest of my current experiences of liminality, of a world where the old answers are worse than useless, I have sat in this in-between for a year. Concurrent experiences in different contexts have lasted much longer. One is now even perhaps five years in duration and still running. So liminality is not like a vapour, a pain of only a few months before a new status quo asserts itself. I suspect that as knowledge continues to increase, and as change remains discontinuous and fast, the church and her leaders will discover that these borderlands are vast, that what leadership was is now past and perhaps never to be seen again. And so it seems to me that there is need to find ways of learning to live well in the tension between our desperate desire for control and predictability, the ability to offer a work of our own hands, and the divine delight in eschewing our works of the flesh and choosing chaos as the womb of order.
The church needs liminal leaders. Those who can sit in the tohuw without forcing upon it their own order. Who are content to wait for the rachaph of the Spirit to produce the divine fruit. Who will lead brothers and sisters only to this: both the ceasing of efforts to control and the quiet waiting for the divine breath.
Is this kind of leadership within your reach?