Changing Cultures — Part 2

In my last post I noted a particular style of leadership that places the responsibility of cultural changes in an organization in the hands of a charismatic leader endowed with a strong vision. This “top down” approach to leadership has been part of the history of the church since the beginning, and can be a very efficient way to bring about cultural change.

However, as the church has evolved and God continues to be revealed, another approach to leadership was envisioned and put into practice. This model is likewise based in the scriptures, but focused less on the stories of specific leaders and located in Jesus’ command to servant leadership, demonstrated in the washing of feet and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. This form of leadership recognizes that the knowledge of God can be an elusive thing, and requires the leader to humble him or herself so as to enter into a process of discernment. Yes, they may indeed be given a vision of a new way from God, but leaders in this stream recognize that carrying out a vision is only as good as one’s ability to inspire others to believe that this image is from God, and to then buy into that vision.

This form of leadership also draws upon two other biblical descriptors. The first is the communitarian ideal of the church described at the end of Acts chapter two, and later in chapter four. The other is Paul’s repeated use of the image of the church as the body of Christ, in which every person is a vital and valued part of that body. These texts point to a power in the gathered community (a power demonstrated at Pentecost when the gathered community received the Holy Spirit). It is in the gathered community that God is most often revealed, and thus any visions given to a member of that community must be brought forth and discerned by the community as a whole.

Practically, this form of leadership places great trust in the power of the community to discern the will of God. This approach buys into “the wisdom of crowds,” understanding that persons affected by a proposed vision often have great insight into the practical realities of that vision, and can often enhance the original vision with new possibilities never considered.

This style of leadership in bringing forth change has the ability to defuse potential conflict because it understands that God’s vision more often than not arises from the bottom up rather than the top down. It values the input of all, recognizing that human weakness and sin may lead to a resistance to change, but knowing that this resistance must be acknowledged and valued in order for change to occur. This approach doesn’t immediately see resistance as attempts to undermine the vision, but rather welcomes it as a means of perfecting what God is doing in our midst.

The problem with this form of leadership is that it is extremely inefficient. Discernment rarely happens quickly. The ability to reach some sort of consensus decreases with the addition of each additional member of the decision making team. This is an approach that recognizes change at a glacial pace, believing that the change will be more deeply rooted in the cultural ethos than that which has been imposed from on high.

The fact is, for Type A individuals, a servant leadership model of cultural change is painful in its willingness to eschew efficiency for relationship. This is not a model where things can move quickly. Rather, it is a model which values the community relationships more than bringing about change.

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