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3 Reasons Why Leading Is Harder Than Ever Today

Being a church leader is harder than ever in the U.S. Actually, I think it’s more difficult to be in any kind of leadership position—whether political, spiritual, media, economic, or otherwise. Here are three reasons:

1. Anti-institutionalism.

The first is that Americans of all ages are increasingly skeptical of institutions. Surveys continue to show that we are more distrustful than ever of media, government, the military, education, industry, banking, advertising, religion, and so on. It is simply harder than ever to win people’s long-term trust and allegiance.

2. Accelerated life.

Second, things change so darn rapidly, making leadership more complex. For example, the feedback cycle is nearly instantaneous due to social media. In the excellent book, Onward, Starbucks’ founder Howard Schultz says that he dramatically underestimated the power of the digital conversations that were taking place about his brand. Yesterday, a pastor told me how his younger congregants are fact checking his sermons from their smart phones during worship services. Life is speeding up.

3. Increased expectations.

The third reason leading is so difficult is the super-charged nature of our expectations. Whether we admit it or not, we all aspire to live near-perfect, profitable, and passionate lives. We want it all, and we believe we can achieve it. The problem is that unrealistic expectations are diluting followers’ patience and leaders’ persistence.

One question this raises is what happens when we, as leaders, become disillusioned with the challenge of it all. What happens to our souls when we apparently fail? Are we still committed to leading when our results don’t match our aspirations?

The Barna Group recently launched {w}hole, from author Lisa Whittle. This book is about how to make your life count when you no longer live by unrealistic expectations. Frankly, I find that many books are just not that honest. They make leadership and life look easy. In fact, they lie to readers by heaping on even more expectations. {w}hole looks at meaningful questions that we must face in an era of super-charged expectations. If you are a pastor, what happens when your church doesn’t grow? Or worse yet, it fails entirely? What occurs to your leadership when your best effort does not seem to be enough? Where do you turn when people you trust let you down?

Lisa looks at these kinds of questions in her new book. It includes new research about the expectations that women have of their life and spiritual journey. And George Barna wrote an excellent foreword.

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David Kinnaman is the president and majority owner of Barna Group, a visionary research and resource company located in Ventura, California.