The Simplicity And Complexity Of Leadership For Our Troubled Times


Dr. John Jackson is the President of William Jessup University and a Ministry Partner of Vanderbloemen Search Group. A sought-after speaker and consultant, Dr. Jackson is the author of six books on leadership, transformation, and personal enrichment.

Former Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is reported to have said “I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity this side of complexity, but I’d give my right arm for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” That thought has been rolling around in my mind as I think about transformational leadership for our troubled times.

Tension threatens to overwhelm us with the shocking murders in Charleston and San Bernardino, fast moving changes in ethical norms, rioting in various US cities amid racial tensions, and the perpetual and instantaneous reporting of all of it by the media.

We long for simplicity in the midst of the complexity of our world. Tweet: We long for simplicity in the midst of the complexity of our world. @DrJohnJackson via @VanderbloemenSG

As a leader, I feel the tension of insuring my leadership is appropriately complex (robust enough to withstand the reality of our times) and appropriately modeling simplicity (so that it can be catalytic and transferable).

Here are some thoughts regarding this leadership challenge that I think may be helpful to pastors and church leaders as you consider those same tensions.

1. Simplicity becomes simplistic when we fail to recognize complexity.

Failing to recognize complexity in our leadership or faith can be dangerous (and shallow).

Our world calls for a robust and meaningful faith.Tweet: Our world calls for a robust and meaningful faith. @DrJohnJackson via @VanderbloemenSG

The rise of the “nones” in recent religious affiliation surveys as reported by the Pew Research Center and the increasing plurality of the American landscape call for a recognition of the underlying principles of freedom of religion we hold sacred in the American founding documents. Religious freedom in a pluralistic present given a Judaeo-Christian dominant past is a complex exercise, and we do well to acknowledge that fact. People of faith in the United States (still over 90% of the population!) carry a special burden of advocating for religious freedom for others, even those who do not share their specific faith perspective.

2. Real faith moves towards simplicity when it is lived out in a loving and redemptive fashion, even in the face of undeniable evil.

While some continue to deny the presence of evil in our world, most of us see tragic evidence of it every day. This world, this beautiful and evil world of ours, needs faith that is understandable, transferable, and experienced in our everyday reality. As a Christian, I am called to testify to my faith in ways that are understandable and compelling to the culture around me. The recent tragic events in Charleston and San Bernardino saw yet another redemptive and loving act as Charleston family members offered forgiveness to the gunman even as they were in the midst of their pain. In 2006, the Amish community in Nickel Mines, PA demonstrated complex and simple faith when they forgave and loved the family members of the murderer who killed 10 of their young girls.

we need faith that is personally, organizationally, and culturally transformative.Tweet: We need faith that is personally, organizationally and culturally transformative. @DrJohnJackson @VanderbloemenSG

This faith will be both complex and simple; it will call forth love into action. Movements occur when complexity is translated into simplicity. Helping others to understand, grasp, apply, and reproduce complex and simple faith is a powerful calling. This is catalytic.

How are you, as a church leader, daily translating your faith into simplicity in love and action?

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