FROM JAY MCCUMBER

Quick review from my last submission regarding reactive and proactive leadership in the local church and ministry world:

  1. Reactive leadership receives an issue, situation or challenge and chooses to engage it in hopes to resolve the issue, clarify the situation, or overcome the challenge.  Reactive leadership is necessary, but in the life of a pastor or ministry leader, it should not be primary.

  2. Proactive leadership has a good grasp of what is healthy in a given environment and works to keep the fundamentals of that environment strong so that the people being led can flourish, even (especially?) when there is challenge. Proactive leadership should be the primary activity of a pastor or ministry leader. 

Healthy leadership spends more energy, time and investment of emotional resources on proactive leadership than it does on reactive.

This differentiation between proactive and reactive leadership is particularly important given the current cultural climate in which church and ministry leaders serve within western culture.  In his brilliant book, The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani notes: “If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Christians have become pop culture’s most devoted admirers.” Consumerism as a worldview has insidiously and virally invaded the western Church, and the tension experienced between meeting the consumeristic desires of the people in our congregations/ministries and staying true to the calling to which the Lord has spoken to us as shepherds of His flock is often the divergence point of reactive and proactive leadership. This leaves local church pastors and ministry leaders at a crucial point of self-examination:

Do I choose to react to the consumeristic demands of the people in my congregation or ministry (many of whom have don’t even know they have adopted a consumeristic worldview and have never been taught a better way)?

or

Do I choose to hold the standard of the Gospel that is rigidly and stubbornly positioned against consumeristic worldviews and risk losing families from my congregation or ministry to another church or ministry in our region?

It’s a tough spot, and one that our seminary theology classes and ethics seminars failed to address.  Make no mistake about it, the consumeristic worldview has been and is here.  Jonathan Hayashi points out, “Most people want Jesus as a consultant rather than a king. Many want to consume the kingdom of God without first carrying the cross of Christ.”

Consumerism by nature seeks out reactive leadership.  Remember those Willow Creek surveys back in the day (the mid-70s as I recall)?  That church model was constructed around a survey that gauged what people liked or did not like in their church experience.  Upon discovering what the seeker did or did not like, they then reacted to that information.  Once they found out what seekers do enjoy in their church experiences, then they reacted to that. This 1989 article from the LA Times reviews the manner and process of reactive leadership from a consumeristic slant. In and through it all though, was something bigger and stronger than even the Bill Hybels/Willow Creek phenomenon.  What was being established and falsely covenanted with was a false and ungodly definition of what success was in a local church ministry: bigger and relevant, able to keep up with the world.  Willow Creek is just one example among many, reactive leadership in the midst of consumerism is way bigger than Willow Creek and the suburbs of western Chicago. 

This was a generational stronghold positioned strongly within the sociological framework of who many call Baby Boomers that is continuing to have impact to this day.  Success means we are growing, we are relevant, our people are happy with what we give them, and we get big.  Period.  That growth is most strongly demonstrated in the ability to retain and mobilize members/attenders.  In the same way that a business reacts to customer dissatisfaction, so too are the models of church ministry which we currently engage in regard to how our members and attenders feel about their church experience.

What exactly does “unchurched” mean, and why are we using that as a measuring rod?  Does it really matter if we move a person from being “unchurched” to being “churched”?  Does being “churched” do anything for that person and their relationship with Christ or to their relationship to the Body of Christ?  Are we simply perpetuating a system of local church rotation for nominal believers through our reactive leadership postures to their consumeristic demands?  Read Revelation Two and Three and observe the state of that regional Church.  See that just because a person is “churched” does not mean he/she is encountering Christ. 

Day in and day out the people in our congregations subliminally, unknowingly, correctively and boldly demand that you meet their local church consumeristic needs, that as a pastor or ministry leader you react to their need and desire for you to fulfill their expectations of what it means for them to be a part of the church or ministry that you lead.  And so, as leaders, we often received those expectations.  We react and try to meet them where they are and serve them with grace and love, listening and engaging their expectations with just the right amounts of forbearance and boundaries.

Problem is, it’s all reaction.  There is a better way.  Stay tuned…

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