Complacent or Content?

Confession: I hold something of a dismissive attitude toward the whole “leadership” publishing industry, particularly as that literature gets adopted by pastors. I’m uncomfortable with the equation of  strategies for profit-seeking businesses with strategies for growing churches.

That attitude, I realize, has been to my detriment. So when my PhD student friend recommended Leading Change during a recent visit, I took it as an opportunity for a fresh start with the whole “leadership” industrial complex and started reading it on the flight home.

Right away I’ve got questions.

The book lays out an eight step process for creating change in a business or organization, the first of which is to create a sense of urgency. Complacency, the book argues, will kill any push for transformation. As long as people are comfortable with the status quo, as long as people are riding on past success, as long as symbols of comfort abound, as long as the people are the top are telling a positive story, attempts to change things will be met with deadly resistance. Leaders must ramp up the urgency. They need to get rid of those symbols of comfort and stop those happy pep talks. They may even need to initiate a crisis. Anything to combat complacency.

The church application couldn’t be more clear to me here, whether you’re talking about a particular congregation, a presbytery (sorry non-Presbyterians), or a denomination. In the case of mainline protestant Christianity in North America, there’s no sense of urgency. Signs of past success are everywhere, mostly in the form of beautiful buildings. Membership is declining, but leaders are skilled at explaining that decline in terms of larger cultural forces affecting everyone, not only the church. We still have General Assemblies, and national media still cover them as matters of journalistic importance. And on the whole, we pastors are not trained to transform our churches but rather to manage them, to see them grow and endure by doing more of the same preaching and teaching and outreach, only doing it better.

That this represents a lack of the urgency required to fuel change is undeniable. Mainline protestantism has distinguished itself from evangelical Christianity over the last 60 years most notably in that lack of urgency. Like it or not, evangelical churches have thrived by making church participation a matter of urgent importance for one’s salvation: if you’re not saved you’re bound for Hell. Lutherans and Presbyterians have, on the whole, said the opposite, and that’s left us with little urgent business to coerce participation.

But here’s my question: what’s the difference between complacency and contentment? Where is the line between a church or a collective of churches contentedly trusting God with its future and complacently resisting transformation God may be calling for? I asked this question on Twitter, and here were some helpful thought prompts:

 What do you think? Where’s the line between Christian contentment and complacency?

2 thoughts on “Complacent or Content?

  1. Hey Rock, welcome to the dark side of the LIC (Leadership Industrial Complex)!

    I think contentment says, “I am happy where I am right now, while working and hoping for future growth and change.”

    Complacency says, “I may or may not be happy with how things are now, but I am comfortable with the status quo, and I do not want any changes. Period.”

    I think contentment is an inward attitude, and complacency is an expressed behavior towards change.

    St. Paul’s words in Philippians provide a good balance:

    (Philippians 3:12) Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

    (Philippians 4:12-13) I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

    So in the one, he is pressing on, forging ahead. In the other, he is content. Contentment is not sitting around waiting for things to happen. But it is also not neurotic, endlessly planning and scheming and worrying about what needs to happen next.

    I think most organizations trend towards complacency, the most comfort for the most people, keeping the anxiety level low, not rocking the boat.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s