There is an age when one teaches what one knows.

But there follows another when one teaches what one does not know…

It comes, maybe now, the age of another experience: that of unlearning..
(Roland Barthes)

These are times of unparalleled opportunity: times of great unrest
and great risk. These are times of great insecurity where “love is now
mingled with grief” (Galadriel in “The Fellowship of the Ring” by Peter

The legacy of Constantine and of the Enlightenment gave us a church
of the center, a church allied with the dominant forms of economic,
intellectual, cultural and social life. This dominant text was marked
by compromise. The church made claims to certainty, but also had to
accept responsibility for certitudes in support of the empire. We ended
with compromise, and rationalization of the Gospel that was “worldly
wisdom,” devoid of life and power. Walter Brueggemann comments that

“We all have a hunger for certitude, and the problem is that the
Gospel is not about certitude, it’s about fidelity… fidelity is a
relational category and certitude is a flat, mechanical category. So we
have to acknowledge our thirst for certitude and then recognize that if
you had all the certitudes in the world it would not make the quality
of your life any better because what we must have is fidelity.” [1]

In this postmodern transition we are increasingly suspicious of the
scripting of reality that has been transmitted to us by a church
immersed in culture. We are becoming aware that the most faithful
expressions of faith are not at the center, but at the margins of
society, and that power subverts faithfulness.

We shouldn’t be surprised; it has always been so. When the
scholastics (represented by Anselm) were busy making dogmatic
formulations, the monastics (represented by Bernard of Clarivaux) were
declaring that love was the only path to knowledge. As the late
medieval period witnessed the full marriage of the State/Church, Peter
Waldo, the Lollards, Wycliffe, Francis and Claire, and others arose,
largely as lay movements (i.e. without the stamp of approval of the
Church/State): the Waldensians, the Lollards, the Brothers of the
Common Life and others.

When Luther stopped short of certain reforms, the radical reformers
kept moving. As the “emergent” church of their day, the Anabaptists
arose on the margins, stepping outside the Constantinian/Christendom
web; they relied on many of the insights of the previously mentioned
groups, especially the Brothers of the Common Life. By then the
Enlightenment was on the rise as the Religious Society of Friends came
on the scene in Great Britain.

From the Anabaptists we learn that God’s kingdom is opposed to the
powers of the world. In Resident Aliens, Hauerwas and Willimon state,
“We are not suggesting that all Christians from 313 to 1963 have been
unfaithful…Moreover, we are aware that from 313 to 1963 many Christians
have found ways to dissent from the coercive measures necessary to
ensure social order in the name of Christ. What we are saying is that
in the twilight of that world, we have an opportunity to discover what
has and always is the case – that the church, as those called out by
God, embodies a social alternative that the world cannot on its own
terms know (pg 17ff).” [2]

From the Center to the Margins

What if the highest destination

of any human life

Was not a place that you could reach if

you had to climb

Wasn’t up above like heaven

So no need to fly at all

What if to reach the highest place

you had to fall

“Fall,” by Peter Mayer, from the CD “Million Year Mind”

As ministry decentralizes.. moves to homes, malls, pubs.. the
internet.. fractal networks and reduced structure… and as we move
away from positions and roles and titles to functional leadership, we
are learning to lead from the margins.

Greater numbers of people are providing leadership today because
they are leading from unusual places. They often lack resources and
formal training, but are willing to risk responding to the call of God
in their lives. They often lack the legitimation of established
structures and well-funded organizations, but they have the approval of

While this movement to the margins is outwardly a shift in
position, it is also a shift in the locus of authority. The choice to
abandon worldly status is clearly articulated by Mark Strom in
“Reframing Paul,” as a call to a new social reality:

Academic, congregational and denominational life functions along
clear lines of rank, status and honour. We preach that the gospel has
ended elitism, but we rarely allow the implications to go beyond ideas.
Paul, however, actually stepped down in the world.

Paul urged leaders to imitate his personal example of how the
message of Jesus inverted status…. He refused to show favoritism
towards individuals or ekklesiai. The gospel offered him rights, but he
refused them. Christ was not a means to a career. Yet the agendas and
processes of maintaining and reforming evangelical life and thought
remain the domain of professional scholars and clergy. Their ministry
is their career.

Dying and rising with Christ meant status reversal. In Paul’s case,
he deliberately stepped down in the world. We must not romanticize this
choice. He felt the shame of it amongst his peers and potential
patrons, yet held it as the mark of his sincerity. IVP 2000

Where once leadership was seen to come from the front, from
appointed persons in defined roles, from paid professionals, and from
the few to the many, now leadership often comes from the one walking
beside us. Instead of the Wizard, it is Dorothy who has wisdom. Instead
of Aragorn or Gandalf, it is Frodo whose obedience may be the fulcrum
for change.

The implication is a relocation of authority and the
disentanglement of leadership from authority. We won’t attempt a
definition of leadership; rather I invite you to come along on a
partnership in discovery. We are searching for wisdom from the margins.

“Fresh expressions of the church will come from the margins of
society, where they will radically reshape both our understanding of
the church and the gospel” [3]

As we live out new ways of leading faithful communities,

  • Instead of leading from over, we lead from among.
  • Instead of leading from certainty, we lead by exploration, cooperation and faith.
  • Instead of leading from power, we lead in emptiness depending on Jesus
  • Instead of leading as managers, we lead as mystics and poets,
    “speaking poetry in a prose flattened world” and articulating a common
  • Instead of leading from the center, we lead from the margins.


  1. Brueggemann, Walter. Source Unknown.
  2. Grenz, S. Beyond Foundationalism. Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.
  3. Van Gelder, Craig. “Response to The Haze of Christendom,” ALLELON.ORG, May, 2004
Article written by Len Hjalmarson ~ 19 April 2006