Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders Why the Church Needs Loyal Radicals

Why the Church Needs Loyal Radicals

Some time ago, a friend send me a link to this online article, written by Bob Hopkins, about the sort of people who are able to foment change in the large, change-resistant world of British Anglicanism. He calls these people “loyal radicals.”

I thought the insights were absolutely brilliant, and have SO much application for the coaching work I do with youth workers, who are all too often (understandably) frustrated with the change-resistance of their churches.

My slightly edited version of Hopkins’ definition of a loyal radical:

Loyal radicals are grass roots leaders who are passionate about mission and change, but are totally committed to the church (or organization) they belong to and are working for change from within.

Here are the traits of loyal radicals he draws out:

  • Love the church (or organization) they are a part of, even though they are passionate for change (and often frustrated by institutional resistance to change).
  • Love of the church (or organization) is fueled by faith that God is able to bring about change, even when it seems impossible or unlikely. It’s a positive, hopeful perspective, built more on a theological perspective than on optimism.
  • An attitude of expectancy.
  • A strategy of pressing forward with confidence that there is a way forward, a way around the obstacles. They “look for the slightest crack in the door, sticking [their] foot firmly in it and … pressing it there as long as it takes to ease the door open.” They find and leverage “healthy creative pressure points.”
  • Their strategy is one of “benevolent subversion.”
  • They gather and disseminate stories of pioneering success.
  • They network with other loyal radicals for learning and encouragement.
  • They have a ton of patience.

In my coaching program (YMCP), one of the assigned readings is a quirky little book called Orbiting the Giant Hairball. It’s a former Hallmark Card creative thought about how to remain creative while involved in an organization with tendencies to draw you into the hairball of its bureaucracies. But, really, it’s about being a loyal radical (though the author never uses that term). There’s great dove-tailing, certainly, between the book and the ideas above.

Over and over again, I chat with youth workers (or other ministry leaders) who would love to see change in the organization they are a part of; but they’re often not willing or interested in the “loyal” half—they just want to be the radical. Problem is, that almost never works. Radicals can influence change, to be sure. But radicals influence change from outside the organization, exercising a prophetic voice. If that’s you, go with it (just be ready for a diet of locusts and honey). But if you really want to see change in a church or organization that you love even while it frustrates the heck out of you, then spend some time reflecting on this idea of a loyal radical, and how you can more fully embody the traits listed above.