The traditional paradigm that has dominated Western thought for the last four hundred years can be summed up in a simple equation:
Reason + Good Choices = Transformation
This paradigm grew out of the Enlightenment. When René Decartes uttered his famous phrase, “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”), he started a revolution in philosophy that believed the most important thing about being human was our ability to reason. The British philosophers took this a step further and argued that people are molded by the choices they make. According to these thinkers, choices built on reason (as opposed to superstition, or faith, or revelation) were the best choices. These academics taught a philosophical theory called voluntarism, from which we get our equation “reason + good choices = transformation.” The English brought this very rational idea to the colonies, where it took root and since then underlies many of our assumptions about “how things work”—including in the church.
The idea is that if you give people good information, they can make good choices and change their lives. Most preaching and most discipleship programs are built around this philosophy. Of course, as most preachers can tell you, just giving people good information doesn’t guarantee that they will make good choices or guarantee real life change is going to occur. In fact, in both ministry and business we take it for granted that good information doesn’t necessarily lead to good choices, so we add another element in the hopes of producing changed behavior—accountability.
WHY ACCOUNTABILITY DOESN’T WORK
More than once, I (Marcus) have been asked by a ministry leader to develop a discipleship program with some “teeth” in it. By this they mean discipleship that is strong on accountability. Most pastors have figured out that simply telling people what is wise doesn’t mean they are going to do it. So, the assumption is that people need to be told what to do, then forced to report on how they are doing, or nothing will change.
The accountability solution has ruled the business world as well. Voluntarists believe that if we want to see change (either personally or corporately), we need to inform people of how we want them to behave, get them to commit to adopting that behavior, and then hold them accountable to their commitment. (See: performance reviews.) It is virtually a given that any book on leadership will say accountability is the key to transformation.
As widespread and apparently sensible as the accountability solution has become, it has proven to be a massive failure at producing the results it promises. Nearly all discipleship and leadership training we provide our pastors and corporate managers is based on accountability. Yet when we look at the fruit, we see a long history of fallen leaders, relational train wrecks, and discouraged followers.
One of the reasons the accountability paradigm falls short is that the model is fueled by fear. When I meet with my accountability group, I am only happy to see them if I have been successful in keeping my promises. If I have failed, there is fear in the meeting. I am afraid to disappoint the group. I am afraid to fall short of expectations.
I am afraid of the consequences of my failure. More than one accountability group has fallen apart because people simply stopped coming when they started failing.
IDENTITY, BELONGING, AND TRANSFORMATION
Choice runs in the “slow track” of our brain. What, then, runs in the fast track that has executive control? The answer is identity. Who we are determines what we will do and identity operates faster and more powerfully than choices. Identity’s power over choice does not fit our rational mindset. In addition, our brain thinks of who we are not only as an individual but as a group identity as well. Group and individual identities are not the same but they also cannot be separated. I always understand myself in reference to others like me. I am a woman, a carpenter, a Cubs fan, a Canadian, or a leader according to my group identity.
The four RARE habits of exceptional leaders are built around identity and belonging. The power of these two key ingredients, missing in the old paradigm, cannot be exaggerated.
R – Remain relational (belonging)
A – Act like yourself (identity)
R – Return to joy (being glad to be together)
E – Endure hardships well (using hard times to bring us closer)
Belonging and identity also provide the real keys to transformation. When accountability groups work, most of the time it is a byproduct of good group leadership. Strong relationships are formed, a sense of belonging develops, and a positive identity emerges that produces real life change. The more pronounced these identity elements are, the more lasting the transformation. If we were to reduce this solution to a formula, it would be:
Identity + Belonging = Transformation
Lasting transformation takes place when a person’s identity changes and that person becomes comfortable in living out of their new identity. The best coaches, pastors, teachers, managers, and leaders are the ones who instill a clear sense of identity into their group and help people understand “This is who we are and this is how it is like us to act.”
MARCUS WARNER (MDiv, ThM, and DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is the president of Deeper Walk International. He is a former pastor and college professor who has written several books on topics ranging from how to study the Bible to spiritual warfare, emotional healing, and leadership. Marcus has also led training events for organizations such as Navigators, Willow Creek Prison Ministry, and The Moody Church.
JIM WILDER (PhD, clinical psychology and MA, theology, Fuller Theological Seminary) has been training leaders and counselors for over 27 years on five continents. He is the author of nine books with a strong focus on maturity and relationship
skills for leaders. His coauthored book Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You has sold over 100,000 copies in 11 languages. Dr. Wilder is currently executive director of Shepherd’s House Inc., a nonprofit working at the intersection of brain science and theology and founder of Life Model Works, an organization that is building contagiously healthy Christian communities—through equipping existing networks—with the skills to thrive.
Adapted from Rare Leadership by Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder. ©2016 Moody Publishers. All Rights Reserved.