In times of great change, such as the days we live in now, new kinds of leaders surface. They have a different kind of relationship with their culture. In their book Understanding Folk Religion, Hiebert, Shaw and Tienow claim that stable eras of history are characterized by formal religious institutions led by priestly types. Unstable times breed anti-institutionalism, during which more prophetic types surface and lead.
Priests are leaders in the religious establishment. They represent the people to God and sustain the life of their religious community by exercising ritual and symbolic authority. They get their authority and power from their office, which they acquire through institutional processes such as appointment, election, and inheritance. They are often trained in schools and have mastered the performance of religious rituals. They focus on proper procedures, doing things in an orderly manner, keeping the laws, and following the rules. They are keepers of tradition and corporate memory.
This has been the modern era’s leadership paradigm, but the times are changing and we see a shift occurring. Prophets are found “when old structures are inadequate for new situations; times of social turbulence, political turmoil, and spiritual crisis.” Prophets of old lived simple and frugal lives, and in the anti-institutional climate of today people are looking for leaders who live more simply. Rather than appointment to an office, prophets gain their authority through their charisma and spiritual credibility, from character and a message of foretelling the truth and exhorting people to focus on God. They tend to self-identify and live in relationship to society and its institutions as outsiders (priests are insiders). In relation to the church, they act as reformers and critics and are detached, with no territorial ties and no place in hierarchy. They are dynamic change agents. And consequently they are looked at as dangerous opponents of the institutions. The shift of power to leaders of this kind is usually quite threatening to the priestly leaders of modern institutions, but we are nevertheless anticipating the change and the design implications it suggests.
"If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone." -Bob Dylan