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Smaller, Simpler, Slower...Deeper?

By Laurie Mellinger, Ph. D.
Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation and Christian Theology
Dean of Academic Programs

I have a friend (he posts on this blog!) who often mentions the "bigger, better, faster" orientation of many organizations. Leaders are rewarded for implementing ideas that cause organizations to grow (bigger), for cultivating efficiency and economy (better), and accomplishing those quickly while juggling multiple commitments and innumerable relationships (faster). The "bigger, better, faster" mantra, if I may call it that, characterizes not only Fortune 500 companies, but also non-profit organizations...and even our churches. To go against the grain, to advocate for "smaller, simpler, slower," seems somehow dangerous, even disloyal to the mission of our organizations.

I was reading an article where the author noted how difficult it is for introverted people to succeed in academia, and by extension in positions of leadership as well. He referred to several recent books about introversion, highlighting that the majority of people are extroverted and that many of those see introversion as problematic, even abnormal. Speaking as an introvert myself, I completely agree with him. I need time alone to recharge after events where I interact with lots of people (like teaching an all-day class). I strongly prefer rich conversations with one or two others to large-group discussions. I really have to push myself to offer an opinion or direct the conversation in a large group meeting. All those are recognized as signs of introversion-—and don't help me at all in a bigger-better-faster culture.

In fact, my introverted style seems the opposite of bigger-better-faster: "smaller, simpler, slower." I like smaller groups, and simpler organizational charts, and a slower pace. When I talk with students about living as Christian leaders, I mention the advantages of rich relationships with a few persons who know them well... about the freedom in empowering others to serve rather than trying to control a complex organization by ourselves... and about the healing rhythm that practicing the Sabbath can bring to our lives. And I'm reminded that Jesus did these same things. He told stories to the crowd, but explained them to his small group of disciples; he sent them out in pairs to serve others, rather than try to touch each of those people himself; he spent time alone with his Father and regularly attended corporate worship, and took his disciples away to rest. He didn't seem very interested in bigger-better-faster. He didn't systematically build a huge following, or create layers of bureaucracy for the disciples to navigate, or talk about the pressure and hurry of ministry. Yet the people he trained turned the world upside down!

Might smaller-simpler-slower be one of the keys to becoming not only a better leader, but a deeper one?

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