Public Square

The Massive Leadership Opportunity for the Church Today

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We are poised at the edge of a new Renaissance period. This could be one of the greatest chapters in human history if we have the right kind of leaders.

This is a massive leadership development opportunity for the church, which is uniquely qualified to develop them.

Hallmarks of the Renaissance Period, Then and Now

Consider the hallmarks of the European Renaissance period spanning from the 14th through 17th centuries:

  • They reached back to antiquity to take a fresh look at old books and ideas.
  • They created new technology options for communicating and construction, even finance.
  • Exploration and scientific inquiry were celebrated and encouraged.
  • Both humanistic and religious ideas and worldviews flourished.
  • People of means used their wealth to improve life for people by promoting art and invention.
  • New trading markets opened up and new business models appeared.
  • Ideas about equality of opportunity through education and diligent work spread far and wide.
  • Leaders recognized that the “old ways” of governing and administrating were insufficient.

Does this description seem somewhat contemporary?

The European Renaissance paved the way for the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Western democratic republics. It was one of the first periods in history where many thousands of people could design their own life. They were not compelled to do what their parents did to make a living.

Let’s consider the raw materials of our leadership landscape today:

  • Unprecedented abundance in the history of the world. The biggest poverty issue in developed countries is obesity and consequential health issues. More people are living at higher standards of living than at any time in history.
  • 3 billion more people will be online in the next few years.  This represents enormous talent that can be connected and leveraged to do fantastic work.
  • Information is a commodity. We’re awash with information, much of accessible in seconds with a digital search.
  • Technological advances in computing (semi-autonomous vehicles, a supercomputer in your pocket connected wirelessly with a million supercomputers), robotics, and manufacturing (3D printing).
  • The rise of blockchain as a platform (Bitcoin is just one element) will transform many of our financial, licensing, and regulatory institutions.
  • A sea-change of the types of jobs that will be available in the future – the combination of increased automation and global labor dynamics mean that 80 percent of the types of jobs in developed countries today won’t exist in 10 years.
  • Billion-dollar valuation businesses launching with no capital, owning almost no assets other than human ingenuity.
  • Accelerating understanding of human performance and biological engineering.

You see why I believe we’re poised at another Renaissance period?

We Need Entrepreneurial Leaders of High Character

There is enormous wealth and momentum behind the technological changes. What’s desperately needed is a critical mass of entrepreneurial leaders of high character.

When I say “entrepreneurial,” I mean people who can create value that didn’t exist before.

These are people who can let go of the old (even successful) ways of doing things. They have large imaginations and the drive to turn that imagination into something better in the world.

You don’t solve the world’s problems through government programs and handouts, though these have a place. You improve the lives of millions through businesses which add value and support families. We’ve seen this story repeatedly in history.

Despite the fabulous opportunities available today, most people are content to be consumers rather than creators, even though our highest joy comes from creation.

Billions of hours are spent passively watching TV and YouTube, living vicariously through Facebook and Twitter, or medicating pain and frustration a hundred different ways.

It’s been said that we have millions of people sleep-walking through their lives, wasting their potential.

If we can get even 1 percent of people who are sleep-walking through life to wake up, the world will be so much better. There are 319 million people in the US today – 1 percent is 3.2 million people.

Think what leadership potential of 3.2 million people could accomplish!

That’s just the US. 1 percent of the population of India is 12 million people. 1 percent of the world population is 72 million potential leaders!

People and Change Are Our Primary Leadership Opportunities

The primary leadership opportunity for the future – just as in the past – is about people and change.

Astounding improvements have happened in my lifetime, and yet every generation needs to learn the same lessons.

Despite the acceleration of technology and business options, people haven’t fundamentally improved. We’re messy, complex, and our potential greatness is matched by our propensity for silliness, sin, and waste.

Why do all these things still happen?

  • Business leaders hit the wall and fail at different levels of growth of the business?
  • Political infighting within organizations?
  • Conflicts between organizations and between nations?
  • Corruption?
  • Leadership burnout?

These things happen because people are still people. We have the same basic challenges and biology of all our ancestors. That’s why the book of Proverbs is still the best business management book after 3,000 years.

We must have leaders of high character.

We already live in a world where other people know a tremendous amount about you. Anything you’ve done online is available. Companies have all the data about your phone calls and text messages, including where you were when you sent a text.

The “internet of things” means that even physical objects we use will expose us to digital search and manipulation. We can fool ourselves for a while longer about privacy, but not much longer.

What’s the best way to live in this kind of world where nothing is anonymous and practically nothing is private?

Simple: Always speak the truth. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” (James 5:12).

What Leaders Need to Do to Meet the Challenges of the Future

The leaders of the future must guard against tyranny. There are many elements in place today to facilitate the rise of dictators and totalitarian states. Those who study history can see weak parallels to the run up to World War 1.

My favorite scene in the first Avengers movie is when Loki commands a crowd to bow down to him. At first everyone kneels down in fear.

Then an elderly man stands up – one instantly thinks “Holocaust survivor” – and says, “Not to men like you.” Loki replies with a smile, “There are no men like me.” The man says, “There are always men like you.”

Noble leaders serve others. Ignoble leaders demand others serve them.

Significant leadership skill will be required to manage the expected behaviors of populations of people. We can make a few predictions.

Education Levels

The base level of education and the approach of education must change. We need to promote fundamental literacy (words and numbers).

We must have more technologists and people comfortable with technologies that haven’t been invented yet. We must stress the skills of how to learn, because the primary advantage will always go to people who know how to learn.

A basic high school proficiency without continuing adaptation and learning consigns people to miserable (if any) work in the future.

The Search for Meaning

Many people will seek deep meaning rather than more “stuff.”  You will see more efforts to harmonize religious beliefs with scientific and technological advances.

Christianity is the foundation of Western Civilization precisely because the Christian worldview supports scientific progress and celebrates the high calling of helping others. The Judeo-Christian ethic celebrates fundamental human rights of every person.

Paul’s statement to the church in Galatia in Galatians 3:28 is the first recorded idea of equality:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Rejecting Technological Progress

A subset of people will reject technological progress. We might call them neo-Luddites.

In some cases they might become activists who aim to destroy the work of others (The English word “sabotage” comes from the story of the Dutch workmen who threw their wooden shoes – sabot – into machinery).

It will take wisdom to navigate our transitions as technological changes shift our work and relationships, without sacrificing the best of who we are as humans made in the image of God.

We face enormous leadership challenges to work with people who fundamentally don’t change very fast successfully adapt to an accelerating set of technological, economic, and cultural changes.

Richard Foster wrote about this challenge in 1987:

The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.

Leaders are needed who are deep themselves, and who can help others grow deep.

The Leadership Opportunity for the Church in the 21st Century

Where will find the leaders we need for this new Renaissance? The Church is the best institution for developing leaders of the right character.

Consider Paul’s instruction to Timothy for selecting overseers (elders) and deacons, found in I Timothy 3:1-13:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.

Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.  For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

These are the characteristics of the leaders of high character that we need!

Technical skills can be taught and learned in many settings – those aren’t limiting.

The church can and must provide the community with opportunities to develop leaders with the necessary worldview, perspective on why we serve, and effective at working with people.

We collectively have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Who knows better how to lead and work effectively with people than their Creator?

We have the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to center us on timeless truth. The Church has a long history of adapting to technological, economic, and cultural changes.

A young man is recognized by his corporate bosses as exceptionally good as a leader. “Where did you learn how to lead this well?” they ask.  “At my church,” he replies. That is a story worth fighting for!

This is why I am investing more time and energy in developing the next generations of leaders. We’re poised for a great adventure, if we have the courage to remain noble, seeking wisdom, and serving others.

Author’s Note: I’ve been influenced by writers like Perry Marshall, Richard Koch, Peter Diamandis, and Matt Perman on these ideas.  

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  • David R. Reed

    A fabulous message for a time such as this… It appears we have shifted our emphasis from “developing leaders with the right character” to creating, celebrating and rewarding celebrity…

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