Fortress Press

Picking Up the Pieces: Leadership after Empire

Picking Up the Pieces

Leadership after Empire

Kathleen McShane (Author), Elan Babchuck (Author)


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While the exodus dates back thousands of years, religious organizations continue to operate in the shadows of the pyramids--the symbol of empire--that the Israelites once toiled to build. The reason is understandable, given that pyramids are remarkably stable structures. Pyramids lend an orderliness to organizational relationships in our churches and synagogues.

However, Kathleen McShane and Elan Babchuck argue that such leadership models reflect syncretic cultural traditions more than our theological convictions. These patterns elevate the structure of the pyramid above the people. They reward the consolidation of power at the top at the expense of the freedom of those below. They constrain creativity and elevate efficiency at the cost of human dignity.

In Picking Up the Pieces, McShane and Babchuck argue that these leadership models are not the way of the gospel. Therefore, today's religious leaders need a more generous model. They need a leadership model where power is shared rather than hoarded, and where every person can stretch toward the fullness of their God-given gifts, regardless of where they land on an organizational chart.

Through an innovative exploration of Moses's biblical narrative, the authors suggest that Moses's leadership failures were because he, too, was shaped by empire. The authors notice Moses's stumbles and corrections and the ways he picks up the pieces of broken leadership templates to guide his people toward their liberation. Picking Up the Pieces also offers stories of contemporary innovators and boundary-stretchers who grapple with failed experiments of religious leadership.

This book offers a provocation to religious leaders to exercise institutional power more generously. The book will speak to leaders who are ready to shift from organizational patterns that demand over-functioning and instead share power so that power multiplies. It will help leaders help their people fully engage in the life-giving promise that awaits them.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506490977
  • eBook ISBN 9781506490984
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 244
  • Publication Date January 16, 2024


"As ancient Israel tells it, Pharaoh, with his absolutism, certitude, speed, and control, is over and done with. Except that, as these wise authors know, Pharaoh continues to reappear in new forms. These alert and discerning authors--one a Christian and one a Jew--see that Pharaoh's mode or leadership has too long dominated both church and synagogue with the practice of top-down, all-knowing, all-controlling leadership. By teasing out the biblical text and citing compelling contemporary embodiments, these authors advocate and celebrate an alternative form of leadership in religious communities that is marked by openness, collegiality, and forward-anticipating restlessness. This is practical theology at its best. The book is a primer for how to bring our leadership practices into sync with our core tale of emancipation. The model of Moses both permits and requires our departure from Pharaoh and his leadership. These authors know how and where to look for such a generative alternative."

Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

"Never more needed, this book is a gift to all who read it and a gift to the world when its readers live into its message. This book is half faith-based wisdom literature, half management-science handbook for transformation in a turbulent age, and 100 percent visionary map to loving and leading more creatively and more effectively."

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

"Picking Up the Pieces is a revelation. Elegantly written and warm as a cup of coffee, it is the heart-gift of two friends, faith leaders writing for all of us with flocks to lead. McShane and Babchuck can't help themselves--they are playful and provocative preachers, looping us into a journey that they themselves are on. But make no mistake: this book boldly rewrites the script that frames pastoral ministry. You'll see your leadership with new eyes after you read these pages. For me, it was just in time."

Kenda Creasy Dean, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary, and author of Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church and Innovating for Love: Joining God's Expedition through Christian Social Innovation

"Any time a rabbi and a Methodist minister get together on a project, you can expect something special. But this book is something extra-special: to-the-heart, wicked smart, and right-on-time wisdom for ministers, rabbis, and leaders of all shapes and sizes. We could wish this book on every religious leader, every seminarian, and every leader engaged in vital change-making work."

Brian D. McLaren, author of Faith after Doubt

"Picking Up the Pieces challenges the reader to examine long-held assumptions about vision, power, control, and effective leadership. A compelling read that weaves Scripture, midrash, and case study--making an artful argument for a different leadership model in a new era."

Susan Beaumont, consultant and author of How to Lead When You Don't Know Where You're Going: Leading in a Liminal Season

"Picking Up the Pieces is a beautiful, grace-filled, open-hearted, challenging, and wise meditation, not only on leadership but on being human. This book will illuminate, enchant, and transform readers' ability to wander, with courage and compassion, our disruptive and unnerving times toward an ever-elusive promised land."

Rabbi Irwin Kula, president emeritus, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

"McShane and Babchuck offer a thoughtful, genuine, and hopeful vision of leadership in a time of change. Their vulnerability in sharing their own stories and longings models the new way to lead that they argue for in the book. The book follows an honest assessment of what is with a compelling vision of what is to be. At the core of their vision is a sense for the wisdom of many communities that are increasingly relying on distributed collectives and networks of change. This book is part of a movement inviting us to pay closer attention to the way systems regenerate themselves in nature, in historically marginalized communities, and ultimately in the vision of the kingdom. The powerful story of the exodus provides a shared framework for the liberation and thriving of our communities."

Rev. Dr. David Vásquez-Levy, president, Pacific School of Religion

"In Picking Up the Pieces, Kathi McShane and Elan Babchuck (re)introduce us to a stunning exemplar in Moses, not because he gets it all right as we may have learned in Bible school, but because he doesn't and so is chiseled, as they write, into the leader God imagined he could be. This book couldn't be timelier and more needed for this season. It is a provocative, encouraging, and immensely accessible challenge to spiritual leaders today to allow ourselves to be formed, to become, well, more human--the people of God, leaders in a new story. May it be so."

Rev. Lisa Greenwood, president and CEO, Wesleyan Impact Partners and Texas Methodist Foundation

"Kathleen McShane and Elan Babchuck offer a vivid and memorable parable for a leader's journey--reminding us that the difficult road from boss and functionary to enabler and inspirer requires interior travel too. The road eases with growing distance from entrenched power and with more travelers showing the way."

Matthew Barzun, author of The Power of Giving Away Power: How the Best Leaders Learn to Let Go and former United States ambassador to the United Kingdom

"Read this book slowly. Wisdom is more often not a new idea but, rather, a careful, nuanced study of familiar things in a radically different way. Kathi McShane and Elan Babchuck have done a remarkable job offering wisdom about leadership by revisiting texts and leaders to show us something importantly different--and actually sustainable. Slow down and capture this necessary gift."

Gil Rendle, minister, consultant, teacher, and author of Countercultural: Subversive Resistance and the Neighborhood Congregation

"Babchuck and McShane have designed a must-read text for effective faith-rooted leadership. Picking Up the Pieces is steeped in extensive exegesis, interfaith wisdom, vulnerable life lessons, and applicable practices for leading in a more empathetic and holistic way. They don't just flatten the traditional hierarchical leadership model of a pyramid; they blow it wide open so that the voices of all of God's beloved children are heard, honored, and woven into God's ongoing love story with creation."

Rev. Dr. Victoria Atkinson White, managing director, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity and author of Holy Friendships: Nurturing Relationships That Sustain Pastors and Leaders

"Picking Up the Pieces is an invitation to a life of leadership marked by trust and mutuality, with a shared vision of power that is at home in God's world and God's generous way of being. The remarkably instructive and human approach to Moses's leadership transformation, along with stories from life-giving contemporary leaders, combine to paint a picture of a way of being that is profoundly livable for leaders and deeply honoring of the gifts within communities. This book can both nourish the soul and provide actionable pathways for life-bringing leadership. Leaders who allow themselves to be shaped in these ways will find the promise of joy and flourishing, right in the midst of the always-profound challenges of leadership."

Dr. Aaron Kuecker, president, Trinity Christian College

"With Rev. Kathi McShane and Rabbi Elan Babchuck we have two authentic voices melding their honest, hard-earned reflections with lessons gleaned from others who learned to lead from love, not power. They are charting a path toward the only kind of leadership that offers the prospect of continual renewal in this post-empire period--leadership that helps others come fully alive to their potential, living with curiosity and love in the tension of humble uncertainty."

Anne Evans, leadership group member, Ashoka Innovators for the Public

"To say this is a timely, innovative, and even essential book is to miss its greater message. Our cracked and crumbled maps, models, and guides are in pieces all around us. Through personal experience, insightful engagement with holy texts, and stories of co-journeyers, Kathleen and Elan invite us into the journey of Mosaic leadership, picking up the pieces of the world as it is so that we can co-create the not- yet of the world that is to come."

Rev. Steve Lawler, founding director, Walker Leadership Institute, Eden Theological Seminary

"What a relief to remember that religion has been reimagined before, and what a joy to see where it might be going. McShane and Babchuck's insights on leadership and interpretation of tradition nourish the spirit and stimulate the imagination. When you're ready to relinquish control, this book is the perfect dance partner."

Casper ter Kuile, author of The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices and cofounder of Sacred Design Lab