By Jessie Cruickshank In a world of microwaves, drive-through’s, and 5-tips to a quick fix of anything, it is worth considering the value of the long view of organizational change and development. With our conditioning to quick change and demonstrable results, is a 30-year plan worth anything, or even realistic? Will people, so habituated to the sound-bite culture, even be inspired by a long vision or participate in a long journey? I think the answer to this depends on how one defines success.
There are consumer-model based definitions of leading organizations. These can essentially be boiled down to a transactional relationship where the leader is the owner of the vision, has the answers, and directs the rest of the organization accordingly. These can be done through effect and inspirational means – think of Steve Jobs and how he changed the CEO report to stockholders. In these models, the leader’s credibility is based upon their experience, knowledge, engaging communication style, network connections and most importantly – delivering results. Essentially, they are the communicator of an idea to be evaluated through metrics and fine-looking graphs. The follower, in this transactional relationship, either up-votes or down–votes the leader, where they stay because they are compelled by the vision, purpose, the programs described, and the results demonstrated, or they leave and find a different leader to follow in the same way.
This transactional method creates a self-feeding communication loop where the leader has to increasingly entertain and simplify the “self-fixes” into sound-bites and memes, setting shorter and shorter term goals, while the follower increasingly only engages in the short term visions and commitments are sliced into increasingly smaller chunks.
The misunderstanding and inherent folly of this and other consumer-based models is that vision does not disciple people. Vision-casting is not leader-releasing. And a book, video, blog, paper, sermon, pod cast, or any other one-directional form of communication cannot make a movement.
But this consumer-based paradigm of movemental leadership is not the only one. Movement builders and Jesus himself had a different paradigm. For the sake of simplicity, however, let us consider the practices of Jesus himself. Much of the teachings of Jesus is based on the conversations he had with the disciples and the experiences they all shared along the way. For the disciples of the bible, there were not quick-fixes, top-5 things to accomplish the church’s vision, or disconnected sermon bites. Instead it was the rawness of life on the road with a group of people, doing all things together for three years. It was the long journey with a mentor. That was how Jesus made disciples, how he developed leaders, and how he started a movement. Why do we think we can do better? I think it is arrogant for a teacher to think he can make a disciple outside of a mentoring relationship with that person. And I think it is arrogant for a leader to think they can create a movement by merely having followers. Only in a life-on-life dynamic can development and movement truly happen.
Indeed, the consequences of our short-term view of development (demonstrated by an overdependence on results) and immature understanding of leadership (demonstrated by the unbiblical dissecting of leadership and disciple-making) are even more sobering. Developmental psychology explains to us the results when the long journey of the growth and change process is short-cut. Precocious development is the term used for development in a specific area beyond what is typically normal for the age or cognitive range. For example, when a child is raised in an abusive environment, the child’s ability to read emotional cues radically advances, well beyond what is typical for their age and can even mimic that of adults. This is adaptive for the unstable and threatening environment, and often necessary for survival. The result, however, is that it is mal-adaptive in other environments and has significant consequences. While the child may be advanced in that one area for their age, they are often stuck at that capacity for the rest of their life. Furthermore, because their development is out of sync with the rest of their cognitive development, it hinders the future development and the integration of other social-emotional processing. These kids are often diagnosed with emotional disabilities in their teen-age years. Precocious development is not a complementary term; it is a disorder.
The risk for precocious development exists on any developmental plane, including faith development and organizational development. As described by the author of Faith Development Theory in his seminal work Stages of Faith Development, James Fowler described the process of spiritual radicalization. “The expectations and evaluations of others can become so compellingly internalized (and sacralized) that later autonomy of judgement and action can be jeopardized.[i]” Social pressures for conformity mixed with broad conceptual language for ideas which one does not truly understand yields a kind of precocious development.
Organizationally, the consequences of precocious development can be just as detrimental. For example, being precocious in its expression of one of the five-fold (apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, teacher) can hinder the development of a church, perhaps permanently. It can and has been argued that the church at large is over-developed in the teacher capacities. As Dallas Willard says, “We are educated beyond our obedience.” This is the description of a precocious development. In this kind of world, individuals are stuck with large vocabularies of high concepts or high expressions of prophetic worship, but they are coupled with the inability to walk those concepts or worship expressions out in daily life. They can talk the talk, but are not able to walk the walk.
Developmental psychology demonstrates that due to the precocious development, further development is hindered,[ii] making the case that because they have not taken the long road of natural development they may not be able to walk the walk. I don’t personally know how fatalistic of a view is accurate, but Fowler’s research demonstrates that precocious development leads to radicalization, or to apathy and “compensatory intimacy of God unrelated to mundane relations.” In other words, a low-level socially-required intimacy with God unrelated to ‘normal daily life’. Fowler also describes the consequences of such radicalizing as lacking the character qualities “of inclusiveness of community, of radical commitment to justice and love, and of selfless passion for a transformed world.”[iii]
I would strongly argue that precocious development and its results described above are significant factor in our inability to create movements. We get good at one thing and then try to ride that into the sunset. We settle into a niche and don’t know how to do things any other way. I would further argue that the degree to which we see these results in ourselves and others and the degree to which the consequences above describe the state of the church and Christianity is directly linked to our short-cutting the full expression of APEST in a balanced and self-regulating manner – knights of the round table style. The call of Ephesians 4, and the challenge of the mDNA capacities as described by Alan Hirsch[iv] are that we should find balance in the equal tension and symmetry of all the movemental capacities.
I am committed to the long view of the Bride of Christ, and a transformational ecclesia because it is the only way. To short-cut the journey, the relationship, or the speed of change is to create a Frankenstein-monster of a church. You get something the mimics a body but does not have the ability to reproduce one because it is something that mimic life but does not truly have it.
[i] Fowler, J. W. (1981). Stages of faith: The psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. New York: HarperCollins, page 173
[ii] CATHERINE C. AYOUB, ERIN O'CONNOR, GABRIELLE RAPPOLT-SCHLICHTMANN, KURT W. FISCHER, FRED A. ROGOSCH, SHEREE L. TOTH and DANTE CICCHETTI (2006). Cognitive and emotional differences in young maltreated children: A translational application of dynamic skill theory. Development and Psychopathology, , pp 679-706.
[iii] Ibid, page 201
[iv] Hirsch, Alan. (2016) The forgotten ways: 10-year anniversary edition. In Press.