IS THERE ROOM FOR MAVERICKS IN THE CHURCH?
I came across an article the other day with this title . 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] idea,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 colour 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.'
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. 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 (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.' (, p. 23)
 J. David Newman, Editorial, Ministry, May 1990, pp. 22-23
 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, co-workers 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 behaviour.
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 is a counselor/consultant to clergy and church leaders.