I’ve been sharing some observations that others have made about the state of the American church in general. Based on the lack of response, I’m guessing it’s a bit of a dud of a topic: something to be relegated to technical/academic books.
Perhaps, I’m committed blogger suicide, but I’ve decided to stick with it a few more posts. I’ll let you know when the topic is done. How? Look for a specific title of my post: you ready? Here it is: Who’s The Best? It’s a stellar piece that I wrote about the current debate regarding NBA players and teams. Till then…
Still with me?
There are a few more views I’d like to share. Picking up where we left off, I suggested that the professionalization of ministry has helped create a “serve me” attitude in many church-goers. I’d like to continue that thought.
Within the American Christian community, all too often movements are carried by a singular, strong personality. It’s an isolated position that ironically perpetuates solitude by stunting leadership development in others. Robert Greenleaf accused institutions bemoaning the fact that there is a lack of leaders while simultaneously structuring in a way that limits leaders from emerging. The mantle of a great leader has been too heavy a burden for many to carry. Leaders have often crumbled under the expectations and solitude they face due to their positions. Reliance on a single leader to control an environment is unrealistic and damaging at a deep level.
LEADERSHIP BEYOND COMMAND
According to Michelle Wheatley, a leader’s task is to provide consistent and frequent communication that helps understanding of members’ actions, as well as how they are adapting as they participate in the organization. They must also “support a continuous conversation about organizational identity and how it is changing as it does its work within a changing world.” She based observed that people within organizations lack initiative, and leaders have become the targets of organizational failure. To change this, Wheatley described the skills of a leader as being, “prepared to support diversity, to welcome surprise, to expect invention, to rely on highly contributing employees.”
In my experience running multi-day events involving hundreds of people, I routinely became frustrated at the lack of initiative shown by those holding varying roles of leadership when they encountered limitations. I would walk into a mini crisis to see confusion. It made me realize my own shortcomings as a leader and wonder how to inspire people to act with courage and initiative to solve a problem without waiting for the boss to solve it. Wheatley cited a military saying, “If you have to order a soldier to do something, then you have failed as a leader.”
I am curious if there is a system that places responsibility on the individual and not the organization, in which everyone involved shares responsibility? Can a church be based on the truth that anyone who wants to fill a need in the community is welcome to try? Many churches have a DNA about them: implicit goals that anyone coming in from outside the culture must learn and adapt to or face ostracism.
What would happen if people were treated with more significance? If the implicit belief of the church was that each person was inherently valuable to the health of the community and worthy of respect? Where mentoring relationships displaced reliance on professionals to help each member relate to God and value service of others? Would it allow for smaller churches that are less institutionally based and less capital heavy? This could take away from the notion that others are paid to fix problems while encouraging members to take an active role in championing justice in the world. In my professional career, I would often hear the phrase “I release you to your ministry” uttered by a leader to someone who came to them with an idea that was outside the vision of the ministry. This was code for: “I’m not willing to support your endeavor.” This is not necessarily the same as wishing another’s failure (though at times, this was precisely the sentiment). But it is a clear statement that such an idea was to be isolated from and not receive any support from established leadership or institutional resources.
As I have spoken with students over the years, one of the themes we have discovered has been the desire to be a part of something bigger than them. They want to be significant. This is a “duh” moment: not many will disagree with this. But here’s the catch in current forms of Christianity: true significance is only realized when real responsibility is given. Responsibility for oneself, for others, for a ministry and its reputation (its brand).
Wheatley holds a high view of people within an organization, asserting that there are many who wish to do something significant and creative, yet they are being held back by power-hungry leaders and limiting policies. She further stated that when people are given freedom to express their ideas, adaptability and productivity within and organization increases dramatically.
In many areas of contemporary life, leadership/followership relationship has dramatically changed. Passion drives improvement and passionate amateurs are now able to do end-runs around professionals. The implication is that a leader cannot ever fully control an organization and must enter into a different type of bargain with those she leads. Professionally trained leaders must be willing to look beyond their specialty training to appreciate differing perspectives and the value of others’ contribution to communal growth. Leaders must seek true collaborative efforts from those within an organization, not simply tasking people to accomplish predetermined goals. People come together to accomplish more, not less.
The church does not have to be a concrete institution; it could be a dynamic and organic organization. A church could be organized according to function rather than role and title. It could become dynamic rather than static and reactionary. The book of Romans says, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all serve the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”
How do you think church leaders can be more effective?