However, when prophets and custodians work within the same organization, they have to figure out how to forge a constructive, helpful relationship. Leaders who eventually become presidents, CEOs, editors, and lead pastors assume a role of preserving the legacy of the institution they serve. They are now in management. They understand the cost of upsetting the constituency (or the congregation). They know how much easier it is to lead without prophets distracting them. And they are often constitutionally cautious and careful. It's not that they dislike change; they just change things slowly.
Prophets, on the other hand, push. They make proclamations. And quite often they are right. But quite often the vessel they sail in cannot handle how they'd like the boat to change course. Custodians need to avoid silencing their prophets. Prophets need to keep from subverting their custodians.
Take Risks for Jesus
I suspect that all of us, with our unique temperaments, could place themselves somewhere along the spectrum. And to some degree it has to do with our tolerance for risk and the experiences that have shaped us over time. I also suspect that churches and Christian organizations cultivate cultures of risk or caution as well. They are either environments that celebrate the prophetic spirit, or places that celebrate that things haven't changed for a hundred years. When I imagine the prophetic church I think of Saddleback or Willow Creek, or ministries like World Relief or Venture International. Each of these is willing to take on front-edge issues courageously. In fact, their members expect occasional surprises from their leaders. They like to be pushed into new, uncomfortable territory. Christian colleges likewise produce distinct cultures that are either custodial or prophetic. And the students they graduate often reflect those values.
This is our dilemma. We need Canon White to remind us to throw caution to the wind. To "take risks" in the name of Jesus so that the world will be confronted with the gospel, even in the dangerous places. But we also need leaders who will mind the home front. Who build the institutions that will last, the kind of institutions that send money to White when his struggling Baghdad parish needs support.
But the problem is this: So often Canon White (and his friends) are welcomed among us as visitors. We celebrate them as speakers. We enjoy their embarrassing eccentricities. We cheer when they describe their risk-taking lives. We laugh when they poke fun at the powers-that-be. But we are also happy to see them go. It is the rare and remarkable custodial institution that welcomes them in, gives them a home, and encourages them to truly be who they have been called to be. Or that doesn't just relegate them to the margin.
Which made me think about Jesus. And Canon White. Jesus likewise lived large and dangerously. He also spoke to matters that made the custodians of his world uncomfortable. And in the end, inevitable conflict ensued.