GREENCASTLE, Ind. – When it comes to American culture, “We don’t know where we are going, but we are doing it at warp speed,” the Rev. Dr. L. Gregory Jones, a theology professor at United Methodist-related Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., told more than 60 people who attended the 100th anniversary presentation of the Mendenhall Lectures Nov. 7 at United Methodist-related DePauw University in Greencastle.

Jones, who lived in Greencastle from age 5 to 9 years, said he felt comfortable being back in his childhood home church. His father, the Rev. Dr. Smith Jameson Jones, Jr., was senior pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church in the 1960s before moving to Denver, Colo., to become president of Iliff School of Theology in 1969 where he served until his retirement in 1981.

Characteristics of change

Jones claimed the “tectonic plates of culture are shifting.” He said we are seeing a type of change that only takes place every 500 years or so. The last such shift was in the 1500s with the introduction of the Gutenberg press. Like 500 years ago, technology is driving this change, too – this time digital technology.

He said there are deep trends taking place in the way we do business today – the way we do everything. “The digital revolution is so profound that no one will live long enough to experience the end of this revolution.”

Second, this change is what Jones called “multi-nodal.” This means we live on many levels with many groupings of politics, economics and population existing at the same time and even in the same geographic area. There is no majority, no central way of doing anything.

Third, “There continues to be a growing inequality of the rich and the poor,” he said. For example, in China, cities have billionaires while people in rural areas live on a dollar-a-day. Such inequality a century ago in Russia during the reign of Katherine the Great led to the Russian revolution.

Four, there is a mass movement from rural to cities – cities of more than 10 million people. “In India, there is a new city being built during the next eight years that will exceed 17 million residents,” he said.

To these characteristics, says Jones, overlapping trends have made progress more difficult. The gap between haves and have-nots is growing rapidly. These trends are calling for a new way of leadership. Leadership develop has shifted and the models of leadership have changed.

Defunct biblical leadership

He said there are three types of biblical leadership that don’t work. Aaron leadership is tied to the golden calf story – giving people what they want. The ten-spies model is leadership tied to the story of the 12 spies sent to the promised land to scout it out – 10 came back against invading, 2 for – Joshua and Caleb were out voted. (Jones quipped, “Every church has a ‘go back to Egypt’ committee.”) The Malchizedek (Genesis 14, Hebrew 7) model of leadership is one without a genealogy – innovation becomes an idol of making it up as we go along.

Jones said what we must do in the church is to connect the best of the past to the future. He called this “traditional innovation.” He used a jazz group as an example of mixing the past and genuine creativity for the future. This is the heart of leadership today.

Who is a leader today?

Jones quoted from Brene Brown of the University of Houston who, in her presentation “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to sham,” says, according to Jones: “A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for seeing the possibilities in people and processes.” Jones pointed out that this says nothing about titles.

Jones embellished it by saying, “A leader is one who sees and takes responsibility for seeing the possibilities in people and processes for the sake of tradition innovation.”

This avoids the three types of biblical leadership outlined earlier. “This leadership is seeing possibilities in the world in which we live,” he said.

We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, those who have given to us convictions and life. But, “only God is pure innovation,” he said.

He then warned, “We are in great trouble around the health of our institutions – all of them – government, health care, education, business, religion – you name it – sports. Our institutions are in trouble. They are fragmented and fracturing. At best we cynically refer to them as necessary evils.”

If we are to succeed, “we will need to develop a new mindset.” We need to be border crossers. We need to learn the way other intellectuals think, such as the spatial way architects think – the way other intellectuals see the world. Part of this is being multi-linguistic. When we learn another language, we learn more about our own language.

Leaders today

Leaders today address the deeper challenges of life through people and processes by crossing traditional borders and realizing that learning is life-long, with ongoing patterns of learning.

He said learning growth is a way of living. Higher education institutions, in the form of residential learning, need to become institutions of learning throughout life. We now depend on credentials rather than the ability to learn.

“We spend too much time looking for leaders based on their credentials, rather than learning about their capacity for growth,” he said.

He ended his hour-long presentation by outling five virtues of character he called PITCH. “Staying on pitch.” They include:

  • Perseverance – Resilience of staying with it by a sustained practice. Hours of practice.
  • Interpretive charity – Border crossers that build the process of seeing the best possibilities of another point of view with charity. Listening and being able to repeat what is heard before responding.
  • Truthfulness – Simple but difficult.
  • Courage to see possibilities – It’s easier to go back to Egypt rather than living into the future.
  • Humor – Yet more fundamentally – humility. Humbleness has a closeness to God.

Speaking to humility, he added, “The problem we have with leadership so often in our country is that we’ve got narcissists, who think they are God.”

He closed with the example of Marguerite Barankitse, who worked for the Catholic bishop in Burundi, saw her family executed during the civil war in 1993. Being spared, her goal was to rebuild the village that was destroyed. She rescued 25 children, built buildings, introduced micro-finances and agriculture. She now builds schools in other African countries. She calls her organization Maison Shalom (House of Peace), which in the past 15 years has helped more than 30,000 young people and families. According to Jones, she credits her success to the reality that “love made me an inventor.”

“That’s the kind of leadership we need in the 21st century,” Jones said.

“A leader is one who sees and takes responsibility for seeing the possibilities in people and processes for the sake of tradition innovation.”

– Greg Jones