From Passive to Proactive

by Evertt Huffard

They Smell Like Sheep, author Lynn Anderson observed that: “Good spiritual leaders are shepherds, not saviors, leaders not lords, guides not gods” (p. 74). Good shepherds, leaders, and guides cannot be passive and serve well. 

A paradox commonly observed in church leadership is the tendency to select good men who are passive (and “safe”) yet expect them to be proactive leaders.  After serving as an elder for ten years, one of the tipping points that led to my resignation came from my frustration with fellow elders who said nothing in critical meetings, but afterward told me they appreciated what I said and were thinking the same thing. I am aware that my experience and training could give me more responsibility to serve, but they also have a responsibility to participate. I was tempted to take their passivity as happily letting me be the “bad guy.” To be fair, they were good men, cared for people in need and were good listeners. But when we needed their input on the team, they dropped the ball.

After many years of consulting with church leaders, I have appreciated those elders who admitted that they don’t communicate well, take too long to make decisions, avoid conflict, and lack vision. They know they are too passive and want to change.  

Becoming more proactive can be a learned skill. In Navigating the Storm, Charlie Herndon and Jimmy Adcox offer “A Proactive Shepherding Model that Works” (p. 235-253). They offer a simple plan that would empower shepherds to mentor and care.

They ask and answer the following questions:

  1. “How can a few shepherds know the flock, be proactive in offering spiritual care and become more than boardroom decision-makers?” 
  2. How can elders move from reactive intervention (problem-solving) to proactive blessing and encouragement (caring and facilitating growth in Christ)? 

Real shepherds encounter a similar paradox. They spend a massive amount of time passively sitting under a tree, watching the sheep. However, they go into action when anything threatens the safety of the sheep, and they proactively lead them to better pastures. Being a shepherd is no easy task and these resources will be invaluable for your leadership group as you serve your church family.


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