Justin Welby went down a storm yesterday at the New Wine Leadership Conference. A friend described being in tears listening to ++Justin’s vision for mission and evangelism. Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 09.31.58.png

Indeed (unless you were crazy enough to have wanted his job) he goes down a storm most places he goes along to. He’s got a Catholic thing going on, a charismatic thing, a contemplative thing, a finance thing, a fun thing… a thing for each and every person and situation… Yet he doesn’t come across as a politician merely putting on masks and telling you what you like. He’s as like to tell you what you don’t want to hear as what you do. In his first summer at New Wine his basic message was: ‘You’ve been going for 25 years… probably time for some new wineskins then!’

So why is he able to relate to so many people while still providing a critique? Are there pros and cons of this. Is it ‘chameleon’ activity or is it simply the Anglican way? Are we are all reformed, catholic, liberal, charismatics at heart?

Perhaps Anglican identity is part of it, but (one version of) the organisational development theory called spiral dynamics suggests that there is probably more to it than that. In the integral version of spiral dynamics there is a level of consciousness known as ‘second tier’ consciousness that only a small fraction of the population operate from. Could it be that he is one of the chosen few?


But we need to back track a little… what are these previous levels?

The yellow v-meme is the penultimate level on an organisational development model called Spiral Dynamics. Just 1.5% of the population operate at or above this level. To have reached this level you will have passed through a variety of other development levels (v-memes) beginning with brown (the colour of your nappies when all you could do was curl up and scream for help), through purple (mystical magical world of tooth fairies etc), red, blue (when you really knew what was what) orange (when you were striving for achievement), green (when you saw the good in others around you with different worldview) and finally up and out to yellow.

“If they do exist the yellow person is a bit of a superstar.”

This begins with the yellow- v-meme. Yellow is an integral level of consciousness. At this point in your personal development  you are breaking new ground beyond anything Fowler’s faith development model suggested was possible. Up to this point every time you make a big step forward in your understanding and thinking about the world you will have also waved goodbye to the childish ideas that preceded this new ‘revelation’.But now instead of passing through and rejecting your previous patterns of thinking at this point you have the ability to really see what was good in each of those previous journeys you went on.

This means you have the ability to look back on  your time on an Alpha course, the experience with the CU rationally debating apologetics, those moments of faith like a child praying for healing for the sick and hold onto what was brilliant about them, and how you might still need to go back to them even if (in your opinion) you have transcended them. Now you can integrate all previous levels of consciousness you will have journeyed through from cradle to current moment. Now you can pick which one of those levels you wish to operate on when talking to whoever you are talking to. Now you can position yourself to speak at the level your hearers need to hear. Now you can be all things to all people that you might win a few…

So at yellow, for the first time in the development model you begin to see the benefits of each of the individual levels you have passed through, and realise that sometimes it is more beneficial to operate as an orange than a green, or even a purple than a blue. You gain the ability to get alongside people at any level you need to, and help them move on.

I’ll do some of the analysis in a later post about whether there is indeed a yellow v-meme of integrated, transcendent consciousness.  But if they do exist the yellow level person is a bit off a superstar. They can chooses which of level 1-6 they may wish to operate on in any given situation. They have seen the short-comings and strengths of previous levels and have an ability to stand back and evaluate. This amazing skill-set means that they instinctively understand what each of the other v-memes is looking for and is afraid of.

So is this what leadership in as complex an organisation as the CoE needs to look like? Is it a great explanation of ++Justin’s extraordinary ability to connect with all sorts of people? Is it what we should be training our aspiring leaders to aim towards?

If the theory does hold, perhaps ++Justin is operating on this second-tier thinking. Perhaps his ability to therefore relate to people at whichever level is most appropriate for them explains why we still have an Anglican Communion and, against all odds, now have more women bishops than anyone seems able to name [try it!].  When he is talking to mystics enjoying the purple v-meme he can be lost in contemplation. When he is faced with red v-meme leaders used to dominating their tribe he can speak on their level like a dominant CEO, when he is talking to overtrained clergy forced into a green v-meme by a theological education process that neuters their pre-ordination zeal for the gospel, he can inspire them to go back to a simpler level, if only for a week leading up to Pentecost, where they will once again dare to pray for the lost.

The model is loved by Richard Rohr and Rob Bell (and by my old tutor David Runcorn in our CoE context). But should we, for all its benefits, be a little wary of becoming yellow leaders? According this fascinating podcast from the liturgist those on a yellow v-meme will:

  1. Sense a need to hide their thoughts/personality/opinions as they know that a ‘red’ or ‘orange’ or ‘blue’ level person will see them as a threat.
  2. Be tempted to exploit the other v-memes for their own benefit. They can hide themselves in an organisation where it feels comfortable (whether in leadership or not). Then they are able emulate the other v-memes as needed to get the outcome that yellow v-meme wants. It will chameleon itself to appear as whatever v-meme it needs to be to get the results it requires. If yellow wants something from a red it will act red. It can speak in purple, blue and orange language as needed. This might be ‘all things to all people to win some’ but it can easily be less noble if used for self-promotion.
  3. Finally Yellow, (approx 1% of population according to Ken Wilbur) tends to feel isolated, afraid, as they feel in the minority. If they ‘are the only one that feels that way’ it’s tempting to hide their most fundamental views on the world from everyone including the people closest to it

I’m not sure any of these drawbacks are reason enough not to go up the spiral – but it does point to the need of the rest of the church to value and encourage the rare gifts of those who see beyond the immediate, who seem to be able to relate to all levels of people, and not criticise them for no longer being green, orange or blue etc if they no longer exactly fit into your tribe. Maybe they’ve simply gone somewhere with God and themselves that you have yet to go – and surely that’s a possible…?