Leadership in a Flattened World

Sally Morgenthaler has an intriguing article over at Catalyst.  Check out “Leadership in a Flattened World.”

Morgenthaler looks around at the world we live in and wonders what leadership looks like in a world where information is easily accessible to anyone, where authority is constantly questioned, and people are connected in more ways than ever.  She argues that this is a world that is foreign to top-down, authoritarian leadership.

Further, she sees the countless forms of new connectedness, electronic and otherwise (Facebook, gaming events, chat rooms, village-concept malls, fantasy sports, etc.), as a sign that people have an unprecedented desire for community.  In her words people appear to want, “to be noticed, to make a difference.”

Significance, influence, interaction, collective intelligence – all of these values describe an essential shift from passivity to reflexivity.  We are no longer content to travel in lock-step fashion through life like faceless, isolated unites performing our one little job in an assembly line.  It is a new day.  We want to help solve the problems of the world.

You would think this would be a time of great rejoicing for the Church, right?  This is a time when pastors can begin equipping lay-people for ministry in unprecedented ways, right?  Morgenthaler doesn’t see this.  Instead she argues, “we continue to vision, staff, and build for passivity.  In the warp and woof of change, we adopt yet another campaign…” Instead of being open to true life-changing collaboration, she sees many church leaders who tend to function as top-down leaders.  Her solution is to, “release our strangle-hold on ministry.” She uses metaphors like catalyst, midwives, guides, and ship-rudders.

Without a doubt, we live in a participatory world.  So why don’t we see more people getting involved in ministry?  I have found that some people are hesitant to suggest ministry ideas, because they’ve been told why they won’t work.  I understand the idea, because sometimes they don’t.  However, I don’t understand discouraging folks from getting out there and trying.

When I first got really fired up about serving in the Church, I remember reading a book that inspired me to set up a time to pray in the sanctuary for the following week’s worship service.  I worked hard to set up a time for people to come and join in this (at least I thought I did at the time!), and there were only two people who showed up (thanks David Mingus!).  It felt like a failure, and I didn’t schedule a second time.  However, if someone came to me today asking to organize a prayer time for the morning worship service, I wouldn’t say, “Oh, I tried that once and it was a little disappointing…”

As Christian leaders, we need to be secure enough in our own gifts to help people find their point of connectedness and service.  We need to be confident enough in their gifts to give them space to make a difference.  We need to be secure enough in God’s grace to let people fail and learn from it.  In the end, I don’t think people will quit.  I think somehow, in the midst of trying to serve God wholeheartedly, they will find community and discern their particular place to make a difference.

Morgenthaler is right.  We live in a different world, and it’s time to help people connect and serve.  Our congregations should be fertile ground for community formation.  They should be places known for making a real difference.    What do we need to do as leaders to empower and equip others?  What do we need to do to inspire people to new heights of interconnected service?  It’s too important to ignore.