I heard Leonard Sweet speak three times last year at a seminar in Oklahoma. He’s the poster child for the postmodern, a theologian/scholar who writes books with titles like AquaChurch, SoulSalsa, Carpe Manana, and A Cup of Coffee at the SoulCafe. I don’t know exactly what to do with him, not that he has asked or anything. I learned from him, and I find much of his insight to be right on the money and valuable. But he’s a different bird than me, too.

I’ve somewhat admired the hippies of the 60s, while admitting that I probably wouldn’t have joined the commune had I been there. I think these postmodern gurus may be a new breed like that, but instead of tie-dyed shirts and a bag of weed, these guys come with cool eyeglasses and a cup of Starbucks. (When I saw Sweet, he also came with long silver hair and all black clothing, too.) I’ve always hoped that I would have tried to learn from the hippie movement had I been there instead of dismissing it as silly. I’m trying to do the same with Leonard Sweet, hoping that I can build some sort of internal bridge between the staunchly modern and emerging postmodern parts of my own personality.

So I broke down and bought one of his books with a title I found interesting: Summoned to Lead. I found it to be…how shall I say it…very postmodern. I underlined lots of profound statements. I wondered what in the world he was talking about the rest of the time. I assume this is postmodernity at its best.

I’m going to share some bits and pieces from Sweet on Thursdays so that our readers can help me figure some of this out. Oh, who am I kidding, there’s about five of us that actually read Houseflies on a regular basis. So if all five of you will engage me in a little dialogue, I’d appreciate it. You can help me break down this book and learn something that might inspire us all to make a positive difference in this rapidly changing world.

In the Introduction, Sweet writes: To put it bluntly: the whole leadership thing is a demented concept. Leaders are neither born nor made. Leaders are summoned. They are called into existence by circumstances. Those who rise to the occasion are leaders. Everyone is “called” by God for some kind of mission. But sometimes the “called” are “called out” for leadership. How you manifest your mission will change throughout the course of your life. But the mission remains constant…

To illustrate, Sweet recalls John F. Kennedy’s response when asked how he became a war hero: It was easy. They sank my boat.

So what do you folks think: Is leadership totally dependent on circumstances?

Mordecai’s plea for salvation from Esther “at such a time as this” rings down through the millennia as a thought worth considering. It’s an overtly spiritual thought on one hand (being called by God), but not necessarily so (e.g. Lincoln was elected by actual votes after all). Either way, leadership is directly related to outstanding circumstances.

I “think” Sweet eventually makes a point that depends totally on this foundation. So are we with him so far? Or has he been drinking a little too much coffee?

10 Responses to “Sweet”

  1. Soren Says:

    Hi Al,

    I read Sweet’s Aquachurch, SoulTsunami, SoulSalsa, Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, and a few others.

    After a while, it all starts to sound alike. It seems to me that he tries to hard to be hip (like so many other pomo “experts” like McLaren).

    I do not believe that leadership is dependent upon circumstances. Some people are simply NOT good leaders, regardless of the circumstances. Leadership is listed as a spiritual gift in Romans 12. Granted, some folks have to lead by default (or by summons), but that doesn’t mean that they are good at it. OThers seems to lead “naturally.” Still others become good leaders by developing leadership skills.

    I’m looking forward to the discussion.

    Your friend,

    Mike “Soren” Kjergaard

  2. DocWatson Says:

    I think that you can have the quality of a leader and not know it. If you are ready when the right circumstance arises then you will recognize your leadership ability. If you live your life in a way that you are never put in the position to lead then you may never know that you are a leader. It is what you do with yourself in these situations that determine if you are called to lead. What I am saying is, that you may have the qualities of a leader, but are never given the opportunity to lead. I think then that circumstances play a great role in who our leaders are in that they give us the opportunity to lead.

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks, guys…

    Hey Soren, I think Sweet would say that he doesn’t disagree with you (except on the “trying hard to be hip” part!) completely. I think he is arguing that some people may have leadership skills, but they need a “situation” before those skills will emerge. In other words, you can’t force leadership.

    So he argues that leadership is dependent on circumstances in that you can’t lead if the circumstances don’t call for leadership. (And Dr. Watson argues this, too)

    Do you buy or sell that?

  4. Soren Says:

    I guess I buy that, but “Duh!” You can’t swim unless circumstances provide for water. But yeah, you can’t force leadership.

  5. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Well, it ends up having a LOT to do with at least the way I do a lot of stuff. I try to force things all the time (under the guise of “motivation”).

    I think Sweet’s thought process ends up with us deciding whether we ought to spend a lot of time trying to “make things happen” – or – spend a lot of time preparing ourselves for action when the circumstances to lead present themselves.

    Take Hurricane Katrina for example: (a) pre-Katrina frustrations in trying to get folks around these parts to care about the poor around us, VERSUS (b) preparing ourselves to lead when something like Katrina hit.

    It may seem like splitting hairs, but hey, this is postmodern stuff, so can you “feel” it anyway!?

  6. Sandi Says:

    Al, I’ve never heard of this Sweet character. What’s his claim to fame?

  7. Al Sturgeon Says:

    He’s a prof at Drew University.

    Here’s the address for his bio/cv on his website:


  8. Duane McCrory Says:


    I’m with you on much of this postmodern stuff. Sometimes there’s so much lack of depth and so much stream-of-consciousness-type writing that it is hard to make sense out of it.

    As for the leadership thing, the quote you give makes it seem like he is saying that being a leader means reacting well to circumstances of life, which I would read, “crises of life.” That’s what it sounds like he’s saying. The “called into existence” part really makes me scratch my head in confusion. So, does he mean God creates this leader from scratch or what? Is sounds like something from the creation story. Whoever they are, they already exist and are probably already leading. I really do not like the idea (maybe I misunderstand) that leaders are only reactive. Leaders are leading without having a crisis occur. I hope I’m communicating clearly here.

  9. Al Sturgeon Says:

    You’re communicating more clearly than Sweet.

    You’re so “modern.”

    The whole book plays on “listening” and the ear. You know, now that I think of it, he should have done this only as an audiobook! (Man, he needs a modern guy like me to be his agent.)

    He plays on our learning to “listen” to life – be prepared when we are “called” to lead.

    But I don’t drink coffee, so what do I know.

  10. JD Says:

    Al, don’t be so rigid. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. You know that!

    Leaders shake to the top when the crisis hits. I have the perfect example at our church, you know!

    Leaders are also people who demonstrate over time that they have clarity, vision, and strength. People naturally follow.


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