POSTMODERNITY vs. MODERNITY & A Leadership Exercise to Discover the Differences

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 11/3/15.

In the first half of this leadership exercise (available at this link https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/out-group-members-a-leadership-exercise-of-listing-people-who-feel-left-out/) we discovered how people become outgroup members, i.e. they don’t fit in with the majority of our congregants. And this can be caused by their age and outlook.

Let me explain a bit more about these differences, and then as a leadership exercise you can give a one-sentence reply about which culture you are primarily addressing. (I use the term “primarily addressing,” for all churches have a mixture of cultures. But, I am looking to see if you can identify the primary culture you are leading, and then I am looking to see if your mini-handbook is designed for that culture).

This is a very brief overview, so here goes.

When talking about leadership, the term “modernist” usually means a more top-down, position-based authority with a command-and-control structure. Younger generations, under 35 usually, often eschew this type of paternal leadership, and opt for a more collaborative and consensus style. The postmodern style is thus slower, based upon consensus-building and emphasizes the importance of entry-level leaders rather than executives (see Mary Jo Hatch, “Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives,” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 43-55).

Here would be a (very) short comparison:

————————————————
Modern Leadership
> Authoritative
> Command-and-control
> Leadership mystique
> Executive leadership is lauded
————————————————
Postmodern Leadership
> Collaborative
> Consensus-and-partnership
> Leadership authenticity
> Entry-level leadership is lauded.
————————————————

Here are a couple paragraphs from ORGANIX: Leadership For Tomorrow’s Church (2011, p. 6) explaining more about the difference:

At one time, there was a line of thinking that autocratic leaders could more effectively lead an organization than any other type of leader. Churches led by autocrats will sometimes grow rapidly in times of crisis or hardship, but in the long term rapid church decline often results through firings, unresolved conflict, lack of accountability and group exits. An autocratic leader can help a church survive a time of crisis, but once that crisis ends the same autocratic attitude can rapidly drive down church growth.

Ground-breaking research in the 1930s demonstrated that successful leaders usually practice a style of “democratic” or “consensus-building” leadership. Not surprisingly, millennial leaders prefer a “consensus-building” style of leadership. “We build from the bottom up, where people, not leaders, receive the most attention,” one young leader in England told me. “Your generation builds from the top down, but that doesn’t create health … or unity.” Millennial leaders sense that if there is disagreement, a synthesis must be discovered. Sometimes synthesis is fostered by choosing to disagree, other times by compromise, but always through a type of nurturing.

Now, with these understandings about the difference between modern leadership styles (which typically lead older Gen Xers and above) and postmodern leadership styles (that typically lead younger Gen. Xers and younger), towards which is your mini-handbook in the previous exercise is aimed?

Just one sentence is all that is needed.

Just write down a short sentence about whether your mini-handbook is orientated toward leading modernists or postmodernists.

My purpose is not to make you investigate both styles of leadership, but to ensure you consider the limitations of your mini-handbook based upon which culture you are leading. Thus, my purpose is two fold:

1. I want you to think about which culture you are leading, and ensure that your mini-handbook is orientated toward leading that culture.

2. And, I want you to be sensitive to the fact that different cultures (whether ethnic, generational, affinity, etc.) have different ways of being led.

That’s it for this leadership exercise. Just one sentence telling me which culture your mini-handbook is primarily addressing (I don’t expect you to have just one culture in your church, but address the dominate one and tell me what culture that is). Thanks for the added (one-sentence) dialogue.

Footnotes:
In Church Quake!: The Explosive Power of the New Apostolic Reformation (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1999, chapt. 4) C. Peter Wagner agues that effective leaders should emulate his pastor who controls 65% of a $5 million church budget. I have known Dr. Wagner for years and consider him a mentor. However, I have also observed that rapid church growth associated with autocratic leadership best works during times of crisis subsides (e.g. start-up processes such as church planting, unexpected catastrophes, etc.). My research has lead me to theorize that decline after a church crisis may be directly proportional to the autocratic traits a leader has exhibited. In other words, an autocratic leader can help a church survive a time of crisis, but once that crisis ends the same autocratic attitude can rapidly drive down church growth.
2 This can be a “hands-off” approach (i.e. laissez-fare) or an “autocratic” style of leadership, c.f. Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lippitt and Ralph K. White, “Patterns of Aggressive Behavior in Experimentally Created Social Climates,” Journal of Social Psychology (London: Taylor & Francis, 1939) 10: 271–330.
3 This initial growth that an autocratic leader can bring to a church in crisis, in my opinion misleadingly led Pete Wagner to conclude that such autocratic style is usually preferred for church growth to occur.
4 For more on how conflict often leads to group exits in autocratically led churches, see Bob Whitesel, Staying Power: Why People Leave The Change Over Change, And What You Can Do About It, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002).
5 Under the “G” in ORGANIX we shall see that blending together a collage of different backgrounds, ideas and interests is the way the millennial leader creates consensus and innovative routes forward.

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