A note from Kelly King: Do you struggle with apathy in your leadership? What about the people you lead? I think all of us can relate to Casey Merrifield’s article today. Take a couple of minutes and evaluate where you see yourself in this area and be reminded to lead others with a focus on your mission and purpose. Take time to invest in those you lead.
Apathy. Complacency. Two words that frustrate leaders when working with people. With these two realities, it feels that those we lead are either going through the motions or settling for a low bar when there is just so much more of God’s fullness available to them. The lackluster that embodies a culture when people seem to lack passion or drive feels overwhelming to many leaders. What can leaders do to turn this tide and create a culture where apathy and complacency aren’t the norm, but the exception?
According to Merriam-Webster, a person who exudes apathy displays a “lack of interest or concern” or a “lack of feeling and emotion.” Complacency is “a self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” While apathy seems to reflect plain disinterest, complacency is more smug and selfish. Apathy is a lack of urgency, whereas complacency is a lack of conviction to strive for anything better.
Chances are if you’re reading this, you don’t really fit into either of these categories, but perhaps you’re leading people who do. Let me encourage you. If you’ll put these suggestions into practice, you may just begin to see a wave of passion and excitement spark around you. They may also serve you should you ever find yourself in an apathetic or complacent space.
The Heart of the Matter—Understanding Internal Motivators
Nature: Not everyone is wired like you. It’s true that some personalities are innately wired to be more passive or hesitant to take risks. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these individuals are apathetic or complacent, but it may mean they don’t display their excitement or passions like you do. As a leader, it’s not your job to change one’s personality, but rather to understand them and know how to give them effective support and challenge as you lead them.
Nurture: It’s all they know. Many people we lead grew up in environments that required little of them for much of anything. These attitudes could have been modeled by parents, teachers, or even ministry leaders. Status quo seems normal to them, and this mindset has taken root in their hearts. Many have never been taught that God calls them to purposeful living, where striving in all areas of life is a normal way to glorify God (Phil. 3:13-14; 1 Cor. 10:31). While it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to change their heart’s motive (Phil. 3:15), it’s your job to fight for their highest good. You do this best when you call them up out of a life of self-centeredness to that which honors God (Col. 3:16-17; 1 Thess. 5:14).
So, what can leaders do?
Give them your time.
Relationship matters. You may motivate some in large group settings, but nothing can replace a face-to-face, one-on-one conversation. Time shows you value them. Time gives you opportunity to dig deeper into their internal motivators. You cannot do this over social media or in large groups. If you want the chance to get to the heart of the matter, sit down over a cup of coffee and truly find out what makes your people “come alive.”
So many women have been taking care of children and spouses or pursuing educations or careers that often they have never been given the chance to pursue passions that have been burning deep within them outside of these other responsibilities. If these are their passions, some may not correlate how they can use them in ministry or serving the body of Christ. Other times, this lack of drive is a result of constant rejection or comparison and they feel that what they have to offer is not good enough. Do you really know what’s keeping your people from God’s best?
Dig deeper. Listen longer. Don’t assume. Make time for those you’re leading.
Remind them of the vision.
People generally desire to be part of a cause greater than themselves. What are you calling your people to and why is their participation important? Remind them of the Christ-centered purpose of the church and the eternal value of that to which you are calling them. Show them how they fit into this vision. Ephesians 4 and many other passages show us that our participation in the body of Christ is for contribution not consumption. When was the last time you put the vision before your people and reminded them of their part in achieving it?
Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). The idea of perish in this verse is unconstrained; directionless. It’s like hair blowing in the wind. Leaders need to give direction and purpose to those they lead.
Communicate the vision regularly. Call your people up to their places in the mission.
Give them specific encouragement.
Leaders often throw out blanket statements of encouragement to larger gatherings, hoping something will stick and motivate individuals. It can feel schmoozy and disingenuous on the other end of it. Take the time in those one-on-one encounters to be specific in your encouragement. Instead of, “We’re so glad to have you on our team,” be more direct. Say, “Few people engage visitors in our gatherings like you do. I am so grateful for the value your gift brings to this ministry. You are making a difference, and I’m so grateful you’re part of it.”
Specific encouragement shows that you see and notice the gifts in each person. It also helps some women discover that they do have something to offer even if their gifts look different than those that seem more public, like teaching. Some women need to be encouraged to step into their callings and know they have a place to serve or lead.
Be specific. Be genuine. Call women up to God’s calling on their lives.
My Specific Encouragement to You
Your role as a leader is not to change hearts. However, it is your job to call people up to God’s vision and help them discover their place in it. Let God awaken apathetic and complacent hearts as you prayerfully practice these things with the ones you have been given to shepherd and lead. Don’t be discouraged when some don’t follow. Equip those that do, and the church will thrive. You cannot give away that which you do not possess. Invite others into your growing, learning, and faithful transformation.
Be prayerful. Speak boldly. Lead humbly. Equip Faithfully.
Casey Merrifield, a proud Texan, lives in Elk City, Oklahoma. She currently works as a Master Coach for GiANT Worldwide, a global leadership consulting firm where she helps leaders grow healthy cultures in the workplace. For over twenty years, she served in ministry to teenagers, but now spends her time teaching and discipling women in the local church or wherever the Lord gives her opportunity. She is enjoying married life with her husband, Scott, and their pug, Bodee.