FROM JAY MCCUMBER
“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… ” (excerpt from Leadership Nugget, April 2019)
Reactive leadership is a necessary tool for employment from time to time in the life of a church or ministry leader. I do not want to build a good/bad paradigm here, saying that reactive leadership is bad and active leadership is good. Leadership sometimes requires moving in response to a situation, circumstance, or person. When leading re-actively, however, the question is: To whom or what am I reacting?
Healthy leadership operates from a presence-based posture that is toward the presence of Christ in all things, receiving first His heart, desires, way and will for you as a leader. Active leadership operates from this foundation, as does reactive leadership. All leadership that is healthy leadership is based in and on the presence and voice of Christ in the moment. Healthy leadership uses Jesus as its primary example of leadership, and the example of Christ is that of mostly active leadership. Certainly, the leadership example of Christ is a strong opposition to appeasing any/all consumeristic expectations leveled against him.
When Jesus says, “I only do the things I see my Father doing…” (John 5.19), He is building a restrictive and boundaried model of leadership for Himself. Apparently, the ministry of the Son of God was not one of total freedom to act and react as a leader however He wanted.
Jesus stayed inside the framework of the Father’s ministry activity, modeling for us what leadership looks like when it is based in the already-and-ongoing active work of God.
I’m working on a half-baked thought that says when God reacts, it’s still active because He was already there before the event. Therefore, when it is God who is leading you to reactive leadership, it’s actually active. Furthermore, it is active in ways that we may not expect.
Jesus employs reactive leadership in Matthew 9.36-38:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Jesus has an experience of another person or persons. In this case, the pain and alienation of people who have been neglected by the leaders who should have been caring for them.
Jesus has an emotion that accompanies that experience. In this case, Jesus experiences the emotion of compassion.
Jesus only does what the Father is already doing. This is Jesus’ presupposition for all ministry, and He is in touch with the fact that God is preparing people to minister to these people who are neglected by their leaders.
So he calls the disciples to prayer.
That’s reactive leadership that is truly active! All of this work is in front of them, all kinds of people who require ministry, who have situations in life that are begging for reaction, and Jesus calls the disciples to prayer. Reactive leadership becomes active leadership when it aligns with and joins the already active work of God. Reactive leadership becomes consumeristic appeasement when it aligns with the cultural and personal demands leveled against it and capitulates. The people in Matthew 9 were not being demanding, they just had needs. However, in light of those needs, even Jesus does not assume His posture is to meet all those needs. Rather, He calls His followers to prayer, which is the truest active work in that through prayer we discern and discover the work that God is already doing.