Leaderless revolution. Leaderless religion.


We live in an amazing time in human history — the leaderless revolution in Egypt was fueled, by social media tools. And we don’t hear as much about the details about how it all happened in mainstream media, because there’s not one person to interview nor one person to represent the revolution.

It’s pure people power. This is Revolution 2.0 and no one is the hero. Wael Ghonim spoke at TEDxCairo, telling the back story of the past two months, “Inside the Egyptian Revolution,” when everyday Egyptians showed that “the power of the people is stronger than the people in power.

This is a striking contrast to how leaders and organizations have historically done things. Now, more than ever, a loosely connected group of people can achieve great things via the wisdom of the crowd. Love it!

What does that mean for the church? Could the church thrive even more, in a revolutionary manner, if she were to highlight the voices of the everyday followers of Christ rather (or, in addition to) the leading voices of gifted communicators and organizational leaders?

2 sociologists has described this social dynamic of faith and religion, Max Weber and Werner Stark. Max Weber’s theory of the organizational psychology has been popularized in the “church growth movement” that casts a shadow on how the American church has organized itself during recent decades. In essence, the success and life of a church revolves around a gifted individual leader,

…. With the magic-like power of charisma, the leader gains the personal loyalty and devotion of a circle of followers. Charismatic authority is centered in the personality of the leader. The bonds of personal loyalty become the basis of a “charismatic community.” … The prophet is the religious founder or reformer who initiates religious change by delivering new revelation… The prophet possesses genuine charisma, a personal power and authority…

The above quote is excerpted from “The Collective Charisma of the Catholic Church: Werner Stark’s Critique of Max Weber’s Routinization Theory” (a paper by John L. Gresham, Jr. in The Catholic Social Science Review, Volume VIII, 2003.) My colleague Chuck Fromm pointed me towards this contrasting insight of Werner Stark, the lesser known sociologist ::

… As a sociologist, Stark questions Weber’s extreme individualism. Stark finds a certain blind spot in Weber’s outlook: Weber recognizes the role of individual charisma in founding and forming a religious collective but fails to recognize the role of a religious collective in fostering individual charisma … closer consideration notes the connections among outbreaks of charisma in such movements as the Benedictines, Franciscans, Jesuits and others. Each and every movement represents a variation and expression of the charisma of Christ, pointing toward a social collective charisma. … Stark emphasizes the role of the community or institution in communicating charisma.

I confess that I too get lost in the academic-speak. What I gather is that there’s a charisma — a gift of grace — that can be embodied in an individual or in a collective group. This dynamic that starts and sustains a religion can start revolutions too.

cf. Read the paper, The Collective Charisma of the Catholic Church: Werner Stark’s Critique of Max Weber’s Routinization Theory