There are certain ways that societies organise and arrange themselves .. in facing my recent changes in work and life.. one of the most significant passages of time was sitting with Renier Greef, co-author of this book and psychologist.

He told me the story of Medicine Man Chief, the ancient themes that echo in today’s world just as strongly.

Tribes arrange themselves around chiefs. The stronger the chief, the bigger the tribe. Chiefs have mini-chiefs. They are found at the centre of the tribe – the Chieftains house is always in the centre – the focal point of the tribe’s direction and leadership. Tribespeople need a chief, and chiefs need tribespeople in order to be a chief at all. The loyalty is chief to tribe, tribe to chief. They are dependant on one another for security.

Chiefs are good or bad, sometimes good and bad. They have a job to do – which is leading people, leading the tribe.

But there is another crucial and necessary person in the life of any people group – the Medicine Man. The medicine man never lives within the tribe. He lives on the outskirts, outside the city gates or simply travels in a nomadic fashion between tribes that require his services.

The medicine man isn’t loyal to the tribe or to the chief. He’s loyal to the Higher Truth. His is the business of healing. Of bringing truth to the tribe. As such, he has great influence and power. He can be magnetic and charismatic, just like a chief, but his loyalty to truth (which is ultimately for the sake and care of the tribespeople) will always be his highest priority.

But tell a story… where a chief, with a big tribe and lots of mini-chiefs all of a sudden discovers an illness within the tribe. A sickness that needs the services of a medicine man. An inground misbelief that needs truth spoken to it. He puts out the call to the medicine man, who comes, with all his knowledge and healing ability, all his concern for the tribespeople.

He sets to work bringing truth and light. Healing returns to the tribe, health comes forth in new and powerful ways. The medicine man operates outside of the usual systems. At first the chief is grateful for the good work of the medicine man. But eventually, the people come to recognize the skill of the medicine man. They begin to trust his ability to bring healing and wisdom to the way of the tribe.

Now the chief has a choice. A good chief will recognise the value of having a good medicine man in the tribe. He’ll work with him, forging trust. See, the medicine man doesn’t want to be the chief – he’s firstly loyal to the Higher Truth, then the people. The chief is loyal to the cause of the tribe, it’s strength and health. That’s where his prowess and manna as a chief comes from.

A good chief will work in healthy tension and trust with the medicine man, allowing him to do his work. The medicine man most wants recognition of his particular skill, the chief wants recognition as leader of the tribe, he wants loyalty.

A moderate chief will send the medicine man on his way, ensuring that his position of leadership within the tribe remains unthreatened, only to call on the medicine man again in the future.

A bad chief, simply sees the threat to his leadership and kills the medicine man.

When the chief kills the medicine man, everyone loses. At least when the medicine man is sent on his way, the knowledge of the medicine man remains accessible when it’s next needed. But when you kill the medicine man, the relationship is severed, there is significant loss to the tribe.

So… what am I? Where do I fit in? Where do any of us fit?

I’m a medicine man. Simple. But I’m also a medicine man who understands and appreciates the complexity of the chief’s role. I respect the chief’s job. But I don’t necessarily want it. In fact, my preference is much more as chief of the medicine men, schooling up a tribe of folks bred to bring healing and truth and light into many more tribes.

Sidenote: When a medicine man becomes chief.. they really become a benevolent dictator according to Greef. In other words, their way really is the only way, but because their way is primarily directed towards the health of the tribe, there is a healthy amount of trust and freedom available. In fact, some believe that Jesus, who came first as a medicine man when they were expecting a chief, will come again as a benevolent dictator… a dictator because his ways are right, but loved because of the rightness of his ways.

So I’m a medicine man that got killed…. because my ways were so different, but there is a huge strength within me to say .. they were the right ways. And I could never offer my loyalty to anything other than the Truth, the highest Truth.

Youthwork & The Medicine Man
So I wonder .. as youthworkers.. are we more likely to be chiefs or medicine men? Is there some clarity offered to the ages-old tension between seniors and youth pastors in the distinctions here? It’s true – some youth pastors are chiefs, but they are more likely to be grafted in as mini-chiefs, whereas the medicine men youthworkers who threaten the stability of loyalty and leadership within the tribe are the ones most likely to find themselves in conflict within a hierarchal structure.

What can be done? Well, for starters, understanding who you are is always going to be helpful… and then understanding certain circumstances that help or conversely hinder your ability to function within the organisations you find yourself.

Long-term pastors? Chiefs, who hopefully have learnt the value of their role and the role of medicine men within the life and vibrancy of the tribe. Short-termers? Medicine men who are there for a season.. I can think of a number of interim pastors who bring healing and hope to fragile commmunities for a season before moving on.

Lots of key ministry leaders are mini chiefs, who can align effectively with pastoral staff because they understand the structure of loyalty and respect they operate on. Medicine men struggle because they operate in different ways.

A bad chief often will think they can apply the same ‘medicine’ as the medicine man, hence repeating someone else’s good idea without the same healthy impact or effect. They, no longer ‘needing’ the medicine man, can send him on his way and thus maintain the security of their position within the tribe..

There are so many ways to think about this, apply it, unpack it and understand it. It may not all be right, but for now this is an important application for me as itinerant speaker, leader, creative pastor… i can bring my gifts and healing to multiple locations, whilst understanding now how to derail the fear of many chiefs.. “do they want my job?”.