If you want to build a ship, don’t summon people to buy wood, prepare tools, distribute jobs and organize work; teach people the yearning for the wide, boundless ocean. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
There is o doubt that we are in a time of deep change. Across industry and continent, the shared experience is one of dislocation and displacement. The first page of a Harvard Business Review book begins with these observations:
Virtually everything we have taken for granted for hundreds, if not thousands, of years is in the midst of profound transformation. Our planet’s climate is changing, and we are experiencing extreme, unpredictable weather and temperature changes that affect indigenous plants, farming, animals, and sea life. There is a rise in the number and severity of natural disasters—hurricanes, floods, and droughts. New diseases are on the rise, and HIV and AIDS continue to decimate populations of entire countries and all the sub-Saharan Africa. Boyatzis & McKee, Resonant Leadership
I’ll stop, lest I immobilize us by the immensity of what we are experiencing. But, I share these words to set in context the call of leadership in this season to build the new.
There is a tendency in times of deep change to want to “go back” to simpler times. Deep down we know that there is no going back. Still we try to fill “old wineskins” with new wine. The reality is that we can never change things by fighting an existing reality. To change something you build a new model and then the old model becomes obsolete.
Biblical scholar Tom Wright challenges Christians, in particular, to take seriously our responsibility to attend to triple bottom line of environment, economics, and equity. Building on the Jewish idea of tikkun olam or “repairing the world,” Wright believes our work is to extend the reign of God through actions, which restore the environment, nurture the health of a global economy, and ensure equity for all people:
Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life–God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever. And when we come to the picture of the actual end in Revelation 21-22, we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace. Wright, Surprised by Hope
Wright challenges a non-Biblical understanding of heaven as disconnected from life on earth, calling people of faith to take responsibility for how we live our lives here on earth. Our actions matter! How we live affects not only people across the globe, but future generations. This planet on which we live is not intended to be disposable, later to be replaced by something better called heaven. We therefore have a responsibility to attend to matters of environment, economy, and equity as a means of bringing heaven and earth together. As Wright contends, the resurrection is not a spiritual concept intended to offer sentimental comfort in times of death, but rather models how we are to live our lives here and now. When Jesus instructs believers to pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer, he is not speaking metaphorically. As Revelation 21-22 reflects, heaven and earth will come together in God’s time. For this reason, Wright believes Jesus’ petition remains one of the most revolutionary sentences we can ever say.
There is a tendency in times of deep change to want to “go back” to simpler times. Deep down we know that there is no going back. The implications for embracing such a theology of the resurrection affect both the church’s understanding of discipleship and mission. It shifts the church from a focus on “original sin” to “original blessing” calling believers to remember God’s original intent in creation. It also calls both the individual and body social to participate in the “hidden dimension of ordinary life,” taking seriously God’s call to become ambassadors of reconciliation in all sectors of life (II Corinthians 5:16-20).
A good place to begin is with the place in which we find ourselves. Our geography shapes us: geography not only of place, but also of soul. More often, than not, our sending is not far. As Jan Richardson reminds us: “Somewhere beneath our hungers are maps… there is a geography to our desires… our yearnings possess longitude and latitude… if we follow their lines, they can help us find our way.”
Passion precedes purpose. So also, structure is in service to vision. Remember, if you want others to partner with you in the transformation your communities: Don’t summon them to buy the materials, prepare tools, distribute jobs and organize work; teach them the yearning to flourish.