Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Growing Agile Leaders—Part Two

One of the issues that Bob Dale addresses in GrowingAgile Leaders is the challenge of dealing with transitions in one’s life and leadership.  This is even more challenging when we realize that the environment in which we lead has shifted and will continue to change in new and unexpected ways. In light of this, I asked Bob this question:  “How has the practice of leadership (in churches, corporations, etc.) changed in your lifetime?”

Our practice of leadership has changed a lot in a short time!  Put on your agile leader glasses, and take a scenic tour with me. 

Leadership, as a formal field of study, only goes back a century or so.  Our early practices came mostly from military and business worlds.   Leader approaches began with the “Great Man” theory----in difficult eras, a great man heroically stepped forward to save the day.  In the mid-twentieth century, scientific studies made some interesting discoveries on how youth gangs selected leaders.  They found two common trends---leaders were either elected formally, or they emerged informally.  Church leaders saw immediately that congregations and non-profit organizations use both formal and informal structures.  Plus, it became painfully obvious that, by nature, volunteer organizations are the most challenging communities of all to lead.

Look at our ministry situation through a wide-angle lens.  In the West, the post-World War II world has become much more complex culturally.  In a bit more than a half-century, our country has opened four hinges in history.  The United States has shifted from a predominately agricultural society to an industrial culture to an information society to an experiential world.  We call these deep changes “paradigm shifts” or “watershed years.”  When a watershed occurs, massive changes happen suddenly and disorient leaders.  Churches, as conserving institutions, are more resistant to these changes than more entrepreneurial communities.  To complicate matters even more, some churches are pinched by several hinges simultaneously.    Congregational leaders are severely stressed by these seismic shifts.  We weren’t prepared to lead in alien lands.

Now, look at our churches under a microscope.  For the first time in human history, we have six generations alive simultaneously.  That’s a daunting reach for leaders.  Some congregations have taken an easy but dead-end road---they have focused on only one generation.  It’s a simple solution but one that risks missing future multi-generational ministry opportunities.

Finally, put on missionary leader glasses.  Many of us belong to faith families that once did missions in colonial fashion.  We sent missionaries to establish religious outposts on distant shores.  But, we now live in a global world that has brought mission fields to our doors.    There are now four “world languages”---Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and English.  Can church leaders justify speaking only one language now?   All of us are now missionaries everywhere every day.  That’s a new leader challenge.

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