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IS THERE ROOM FOR MAVERICKS IN THE CHURCH?

I came across an article the other day with this title [1]. It began with an
IBM ad: 'Dreams, heretics, mavericks, and geniuses. The story goes that
Henry Ford once hired an efficiency expert to evaluate his company. After a
few weeks, he reported favorably except for one thing: "It's that man down
the hall. Every time I go to his office he's just sitting there with his
feet on his desk. He's wasting your money."
"That man," replied Mr. Ford, "once had an idea that saved us millions of
dollars. At the time I believe his feet were planted right where they are
now".'

The ad. continued: 'At IBM, we have 46 people like that, and we don't worry
about where they put their feet either. Their job is to [generate] ideas.
but under a very special condition. It's called freedom. Freedom from
deadlines. Freedom from committees. Freedom from the usual limits of
corporate approval. We may not always understand what they are doing, much
less how they do it. But we know this:
The best way to inspire such people is to get out of the way.'

Samuel Maverick (1803-1870) was a Texan rancher who for some reason didn't
put a brand on some of his calves. So an unbranded animal on the open range
came to be called a 'maverick' and anyone who found such an animal could put
their own brand on them...
So a maverick, says my online dictionary, is 1 : an unbranded range animal;
especially : a motherless calf; 2 : an independent individual who does not
go along with a group or party (Etymology: Samuel A. Maverick died 1870
American pioneer who did not brand his calves. Date: 1867).

Mavericks refuse to be confined by conventional beliefs or mores. The
Protestant 'Dissenters' or Nonconformists refused to believe that simply
because a church was 'Established' it was therefore The Only True Church.
M.Scott Peck (In Search of Stones, London: Simon & Schuster, 1995, p.233)
says the most common response by readers of his first best-seller, The Road
Less Traveled, was that he'd written nothing new 'but rather that I've
written the kinds of things readers have been thinking all along but were
afraid to talk about.  "What a relief it was to know I wasn't wrong," they'
ve told me, "to know I wasn't crazy".'

Somewhere in Stones, Peck ('an ex-WASP') says he enjoys ordering just two
entrees and a dessert and watching the response on the face of the waiter. I
do that sometimes. (So now I know I'm not crazy.)

The Bible is full of mavericks. There's Noah, the only person who with his
family believed God was serious about punishing evil with a flood. And
Abraham, unique among the inhabitants of  Canaan to believe in one God
rather than many fertility gods. And Job, who didn't go along with the
common notion that suffering is always a punishment for sin. And Paul, the
only ex-Pharisee to be an author of various books of Holy Scripture.

The best mavericks are both gifted and passionate. Today, Noam Chomsky is an
example of what can be achieved when intellectual brilliance is married to a
radical stance. The Western press is not really 'free', he tells us. Gore
Vidal is another, and John Pilger. the list goes on.

One of Australia's best-known mavericks is Philip Adams. I disagree with him
on just about every religious opinion he holds. But I like him. I like Scott
Peck too, in spite of some unorthodox religious ideas in his books (and his
notion in The Road Less Traveled that adultery may sometimes be
therapeutic - an opinion he later recanted).  Manning Clark is another
Australian maverick. Every conservative evangelical should read (in his
two-volumed autobiography) his scathing denunciation of 'religious frowners'
.

Mavericks, nonconformists, dissenters are 'different'. They conceptualize
ideas in terms of 'paradigm shifts' (a term coined by Thomas Kuhn in his
book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1961) - 'an attempt to
describe the changes that occur in Belief Systems. Paradigms are the glasses
that one sees through which color how and what we see. When they shift, so
does the world. Today it's almost a cliché to speak about new paradigm
shifts occurring. Paradigms are shifting kaleidoscopically these days. This
makes sense in light of the fact that - according to the latest reports from
quantum physicists - we inhabit a universe that is composed of undulating
vibrations, oscillating in continuously and infinitely varied rhythms and
frequencies. The universe is filled with ambiguity and mystery. It is a
shifting cascade of relativistic perspectives, where nothing is really quite
solid, and we exist as mostly empty space and waves of possible
probabilities. Our beliefs are the brain's attempt to freeze the flow of
matter and energy into fixed states, so we can grasp onto something familiar
and tangible in a shifting sea too grand for us to ever fully comprehend.'
[2]

Mavericks are sometimes not 'politically correct' - especially when such
'correctness' is defined by people with power. The mavericks with a
significant degree of togetherness (Jesus, Francis of Assisi et. al.) couldn
't give a (stuff - or substitute your own term) about 'official' approval.

But the best mavericks are not afflicted with 'tunnel vision'. They are
willing to tolerate ambiguity, and they enjoy diversity. They believe, for
example, that we live by the 'Holy Conjunction' - 'and'. As Scott Peck puts
it somewhere in In Search of  Stones: we affirm reason and emotion, reason
and revelation - to which I would add science and faith, mind and heart
(light and heat), spirit and word, tradition and renewal, order and freedom,
conservatism and liberalism. (But re the latter: as someone has said,
conservatives believe too much, liberals too little). There are six ways to
worship in the Bible and today, not one. (See under Worship on our website).
There are six answers to the question 'How do people get to know God?' (Get
Richard Foster's book Streams of Living Water for a brilliant exposition of
that idea). There are at least five answers to the question 'How should the
church be governed? (Variously emphasized by Presbyterians ['elders'],
Episcopalians ['bishops'], Baptists [the congregation], prophets and
apostles.) Let us resist the common temptation to separate what God has put
together.

Yes, I like mavericks. Some, of course, are idiots savants; they're crazy.
They believe they're the only ones in the regiment in step. But I admire
genuine mavericks, and wish I had the courage of some of them. Like former
Roman Catholic priest Philip Berrigan who has been arrested more than 100
times and spent more than six years behind bars.

And I confess to being a maverick. For example, like those 'IBM Fellows' I
refuse to attend committees. I addressed a group of clergy at a Theological
College the other day and told them 'I do everything a pastor does - preach,
teach, counsel, marry, bury - but I attend no committees, nor do I organize
anything.' The greenness of their envy was palpable! I was once interviewed
for a senior position at a large Christian organisation. Fortunately the CEO
believed me when I said 'I'll be of best help here if you keep me off
committees.' (But other senior executives could not understand this
approach. How could someone who doesn't drive to the office in the city
traffic and attend meetings be of benefit to us?'). At Blackburn Baptist
Church in the 1970s I mostly delegated committee-work to others, and spent
each morning in prayer, writing and reading - and the church grew by 15% a
year. In another church (where I lasted only nine months) staff-members
complained that I was not in the church office all day like the previous
pastor.

Management guru Peter Drucker believes churches spend ten times too much
time in committees. I agree with him.
Now, don't get me wrong. We need committees, and people to organize things.
But I don't belong to those groups.
And another thing: I don't want a 'maverick' managing my money at the bank;
nor interpreting the law if ever I'm in trouble; nor reporting news-events.
There's a case sometimes for non-creative conformism (see the next article
in this series for more of that).
Mavericks have minority opinions on some things. For example, I have 'Rev.'
in front of my name. What does that mean? Nothing much, really. I have been
'ordained' (a better word would be 'commissioned' or 'accredited') to a
ministry of leadership in the Baptist churches of our nation. If I take all
this more seriously than that I believe I would be guilty of the heresy
(that's the word, it's not a misprint) of 'clericalism'. Occasionally I tell
theological students that their abhorrence of clericalism will diminish when
their denomination gives them a 'Rev.', and they're invited to enjoy
privileged status in church forums. 'You should never use the word
 "minister" in the singular' I opine, and they all nod vigorously. (They nod
for other reasons when I talk about clericalism in clergy conferences).

What does all that mean? Simply that the role of the 'clergy' is to empower
the church for their ministry - not the other way around. See my article on
Ministry as Empowerment on our website for more on that.

Now where did I get this tendency towards nonconformity? It came to light in
Spiritual Direction ten years ago. My father never talked to me. So what,
you may ask? Well, psychologists talk about transference or projection. I
apparently projected onto other authority-figures some anger about my
earliest authority-figure's preoccupation with other things. All
institutions are inherently degenerative, according to sociologist Robert
Merton. Or, to put it another way: the evil of institutions is generally
greater than the sum of the evil of the individuals within them. Power
corrupts, etcetera.

When I worked with tertiary students in the late 1960s I felt good about
their telegenic protests. Mind you, many were angry not about Vietnam, but
because they weren't breast-fed or something. They chose to be 'different in
order to be difficult.' But some of their ideas  proved to be prophetic.

I like the comment by our Australian former prime minister Malcolm Fraser in
an article in The Melbourne Age last week (December 28, 2001). Writing about
economic globalization he says 'The demonstrations against these changes
before the world's financial meetings can't just be written down to some
half-mad people who can't understand what is good for them. The growing
inequality between rich and poor as individuals and as nations is
unsustainable.' Another prophetic word.

I didn't know until two days ago that the slogan about Christianity
'comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable' was first
suggested by G.K.Chesterton. Pastors, they say these days, comfort the
disturbed (and will be disturbed themselves by powerful people if they in
turn do too much disturbing). It's the prophet's task to disturb the
comfortable (and prophets don't usually get an imprimatur from religious
institutions for their ministry: how many second-plus generation churches
can you name which commissions people to a truly 'prophetic' ministry?).
Prophets make waves. They're gadflies. They're alive. And even though they'
re always in the minority, they're sometimes right.

So be warned. As the saying attributed to Martin Niemoller puts it: 'First
they came for the communists, but I was not a communist - so I said nothing.
Then they came for the social democrats, but I was not a social democrat -
so I did nothing. Then the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist.
And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew - so I did little. Then
when they came for me, there was no one left who could stand up for me.'

Organizations need structure, rules, committees, precedents. But, as IBM
learned, you need 'to combine the strengths of the organisation with the
strengths of the independent operator. The church too must wrestle with the
challenge of encouraging the dreamer, learning from the heretic, tolerating
the gadfly, and accommodating the maverick. It needs them as certainly as
does IBM.' ([1], p. 23)

References/Endnotes

[1] J. David Newman, Editorial, Ministry, May 1990, pp. 22-23
[2] David Jay Brown & Rebecca McCLen Novick, Mavericks of the Mind:
Conversations for the New Millennium, from their Introduction. See
http://www.levity.com/mavericks/frames10.htm

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1. 'The Bible has several 'mavericks' among its heroes. Can you name eight
or ten?

2. Jesus was regarded as a maverick by pharisees, scribes and elders because
he would not conform to their 'traditions'. What traditions today might
Jesus have problems with?

3. Jesus was also regarded as a 'maverick' by the common people: he 'spoke
with authority, not as the scribes'. How does a pastor/preacher/prophet get
to be like that?

4. 'We nice people don't crucify prophets any more. We just don't invite
them back.' True in your church?

5. Discuss the notion of  'political correctness'. Here's a modern
Australian example: Why  (according to the 1995 legislation in the NSW
parliament called the Anti-Discrimination Act) is a gay mardi gras free to
ridicule Christianity, but Christians are not permitted to ridicule a gay
mardi gras?

6. Why is 'clericalism' a heresy?

7. Why do only a small minority of ex-heads of State (e.g. Jimmy Carter and
Malcolm Fraser) speak up for the poor?

8. 'I always want to be somebody of independent thought. I don't want to be
pushed into a corner by convention or by what people think' (Sir Peter
Ustinov). Why is that rare?

9. From a document on Organizational Change: 'The human need to be accepted
by a group - whether family, friends, coworkers or neighbours - gives the
group leverage to demand compliance to its cultural norms. Even more so if
the individual feels vulnerable, e.g. a new starter or promotion or
transferee (changing levels or teams/departments, is usually accompanied by
learning the cultural norms of the new group). Were such a need not so
widespread, groups would have little hold on people other than formal
sanctions. The nonconformists and mavericks who defy pressures to adhere to
group norms always do so at a considerable risk and often pay a price!' How
does that apply to your church/es?

10. Thoreau talked about 'listening to the sound of a different drummer'.
How can we encourage people who are different?

11. Think of some iconoclasts you know. Talk about their positive or
negative contribution to others' thinking and behavior.

12. A fashion designer preached, a generation ago, that people should dress
more casually. Now they do. He recently wrote: 'So, we have come to this: An
idea that I touted for 20 years has become the vogue, and I will have to
abandon it because it is against my principles to like fashionable things.'
Can you think of other examples of notions that were once 'maverick' now
being the norm?

13. 'When IT mavericks become angry, paranoid, or narcissistic they create
viruses.' Do they? Why?

14. 'Gavin Ewart's sonnet "Equality of the Sexes" suggests that
nonconformists exist within both genders. Do they?

15. "Managing an advertising agency isn't all beer and skittles. After
fourteen years of it, I have come to the conclusion that the top man has one
principle responsibility: to provide an atmosphere in which creative
mavericks can do useful work."  David Ogilvy . How can a church provide an
atmosphere for 'creative mavericks'?

16. McDonald's is 'successful' because, as founder Ray Kroc said: "We will
not tolerate nonconformists." Writes one commentator: 'That, in many ways,
still is the McDonald's corporate culture. Uniformity and conformity are
crucial to the rise of the industry, and it is remarkable how they have
achieved that. When I visited McDonald's in Dachau [Germany], it could have
been Idaho. I could have been in Colorado. And if you closed your eyes and
tasted that hamburger, you could have been anywhere on the planet in a
McDonald's. The food was exactly the same.' So.???

Rowland Croucher

January 2002.

Rowland Croucher is a counselor/consultant to clergy and church leaders.


 
rowland @ johnmarkministries . org
Email Jan and Rowland