By Tom Ehrich

As I prepare for a church leadership retreat this Saturday, I need to decide which hat describes my likely role outside the mainstream.

I could be a "prophet." That's a nice role. It assumes I am right and everyone else needs to get on board.

I could be an "expert," whose insights are more informed than those of others and my job is to help them catch on. That's another nice role.

Or I could be an "outlier," a term from statistics that describes the measurement that is well outside the normal range and therefore can be ignored. The anomaly, if you will, the voice whose oddness helps to define the smaller range called "normal."

Like anyone influenced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I am pleased to don the "prophet" hat. A society without prophets is sterile.

I often wear the "expert" hat, when I am brought in as the paid expert and people are looking to me for guidance.

The hat I am contemplating in this setting is "outlier." The one who lives far from the center, by choice or by chance, and is outside the pattern. That isn't a negative role, and certainly isn't an occasion for harsh treatment. I just can't expect the gathering to bend to my will.

Let's say I have come to certain conclusions about my church, and I am convinced that we need to "restart," that is, to put aside inherited ways and to start over, like the Hebrews in the wilderness.

I doubt that others at the retreat will share that view. If I see myself as "prophet," then my aim is speak forcefully and to convince them. If I see myself as "expert," the one who advises churches for a living, then my aim is to prove my expertise.

But as an "outlier," who occupies a space far from the center, I should feel free to speak my piece but then need to let it go and not expect special consideration. Maybe shift the center a little; maybe not.

Problems arise when outliers expect not only to be heard, but to get their way. Grace arrives when we speak and then trust God to work through the body.