Saturday, April 26, 2008

Renaissance Man

As I talked with someone recently about my post on the digital revolution and how this impacts the church, he commented, "Perhaps we are saying that the best person to deal with this is a "renaissance man."

If you are not familiar with this concept, the renaissance ideal of the consummate individual was one who was skilled in a number of fields--languages, the sciences, art, music, etc. In that era, the concept was embodied by Leonardo da Vinci and Nicolaus Copernicus. Later examples would be Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson , H. G. Wells, and Albert Schweitzer.

I don't believe my friend was saying that one's knowledge has to be as comprehensive as that of one of these unusually gifted individuals in order to be an effective church leader today. (If so, I might as well hang it up right now!) Instead, I believe that he was saying that the effective church leader must a generalist, one who is conversant with oral, print, broadcast, and digital world views (see Rex Miller, The Millennium Matrix). In order to ride the crest of the postmodern wave (and be comfortable with these various world views), one must know at least a little about a number of different fields. To understand our culture, for example, we should read the news (in print or online), know the history of how we got to where we are, have some grasp of the social forces that have shaped us, understand how our theological heritage empowers and impedes us in doing ministry today, and have skills of communication and discernment.

Although the modern era valued the specialist (and we need those folks--I want a good aerospace engineer to design the plane on which I fly), there is a great need for generalists today. In the church, this means that a leader needs to be conversant with current affairs, contemporary culture, sociology, history, theology, and a bunch of other things as well!

Sound like too much to handle? May I suggest that you start by reading just one book this summer that would not normally be on your reading list. It may be a novel (mystery, fantasy, memoir), a biography, a popular approach to a scientific issue (like climate change), or a book about some aspect of philosophy or theology. Go to see one movie that you would not normally see. Watch one television show that is not on your preferred list. When I do this I always come away with at least one or two new ideas and maybe even a new perspective on a problem or issue.

Will this make you a "renaissance person"? Probably not, but it will start you on the journey to being a more well-rounded and knowledgeable leader.

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