Transformational Leadership in the Christian community is a theological endeavor. Everyone agrees that the secular world in the United States has changed dramatically from the time when today’s model of church life took form – i.e. the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Theology is not just something we tell, it is something we do. Theology is the communal work of discovering God. The Theological Community is formed by those actively doing the work, along with the voices of previous generations of theologians, those of the authors and editors of scripture, those of the characters within scripture, and those of the community around us.
The Word is active, a living force which creates by its presence. How we engage that Word determines the content of theology, and thus the results of living out that theology. If all we do is pass on what others have said the word means, then we have failed to engage the Word. We need a way to connect, a theological process that is real and accessible to all who desire to participate. I believe that an exploration of Latin American Liberation Theology as it developed within base communities can give us such a process. Classically trained theologians entered as pastors to local communities of largely uneducated laity. As they gathered and formed a theological community, they were able to do theology – to have a life giving creative conversation with all the voices mentioned above. The result of this was both doxa and praxia – thought/belief and activity/action. Each community needs to do this work for themselves.
How will religious leaders, as resident theologians, move from telling people which theological ideas are right, toward enabling a process in which people hear the Word afresh and come to their own understandings as a part of that larger conversation? Even in the popular postmodern expressions of Christianity led by such figures as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, there seems a dearth of interest in helping people do theology. Indeed, I think the criticisms that Juan Luis Segundo, S.J., makes of Liberation Theology in The Liberation of Theology, apply to the contemporary postmodern, postchristendom “theologies”. They have found an audience, as they resonate with the frustrations of many regarding conservative interpretations of scripture and Christian doctrine, which are felt to be too narrow, restrictive, and not representative of God’s wild creativity that we see revealed throughout creation. Yet both are externally imposed on congregations and society at large. Talking heads say, “This is what it means.” Rather, I suggest there must be a way to follow the lead of Jesus who said, “Who do people say that I am?” And who told wonderful but elusive stories as his way to explain the unfolding kingdom of God.
Some people seem to want to be fed the right answers rather than working them out together in community. This reality needs to be acknowledged and understood if possible, and perhaps even honored. Questions leave open the choice to engage or not. My interests lie in understanding a theological process that is rooted in historical Christian theology and yet enables lay people to engage the process of theology together toward a way of being Christian in this present day. Today’s churches and communities need leaders with a new vision. As our context has changed, so we need to be transformed. We need new wine skins for the new wine for this new day. I believe that the processes and practices of Latin American base communities under the leadership of those pastoral theologians can reveal for us a way of being faithful Christian communities in our current context.