Review: Organix

October 3rd, 2011

Dr. Bob Whitesel, associate professor of graduate studies at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, has written extensively in the areas of church growth and change. He also travels extensively, consulting with congregations and church leadership. His latest book, Organix, is a creative look at millennial leadership.

Whitesel’s main contention is that a new style of leadership is emerging in younger leaders under the age of 35. The aim of Organix is to introduce this style of leadership to leaders operating out of the older “modern leadership”’ paradigm and to provide a platform for millennial leaders to connect with one another.

Modern leadership, Whitesel contends, is a more autocratic, authoritarian, command-and-control style. In contrast, millennial leaders are collaborative, vision-motivated, consensus building, people-sensitive, and process-driven. Organic organizations, to which they provide leadership, are dependent on their environment, emphasize harmony among their various parts, adapt to their surroundings, and are each unique.

In an attempt to visually convey some of the feel of millennial leadership in organic organizations, Whitesel employs a set of intriguing icons to go beyond the written word in identifying key concepts and to aid the reader in memory retention, each corresponding to a letter in the title o-r-g-a-n-i-x. (For example, a triangular recycling symbol is used for the “A” and corresponds to a chapter about “recycling” resources, people, worship, etc.)

Each chapter works from certain recurring sections: examples or case studies first of modern then of millennial leadership, suggestions for cultivating millennial leadership, questions for personal growth and study, and extensive footnotes and resources for further reading and exploration.

Leaders of both millennial and modern styles would be well served to ponder the case studies and work through the questions at the end of each chapter. These could be particularly helpful, for example, in seminary classes where leaders of both styles are learning side-by-side, or on church or judicatory staffs where leaders of both styles seek to better understand the style of the other. Pastors might also be assisted in reflecting on how their style interfaces with those of different members of the congregation.

Having said that, I would nevertheless offer two primary critiques of the book. The first is that writing as participant in and product of what has been called the second wave of the women’s movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s, I find most of Whitesel’s descriptions of “millennial leadership” to echo hallmarks of feminist styles of leadership. “Women’s leadership,” as frequently described is collaborative, team-based, vision-oriented, organic, and so forth. Therefore, being a “modern”-aged woman (in Whitesel’s paradigm), I find that his descriptors of millennial leadership fit my own leadership style more closely. This causes me to wonder if his description of “modern” leadership is not actually a description of white male leadership styles, rather than of a more over-arching “modern” cohort.

Secondly, as one who has attempted to live out what Whitesel calls “millennial” leadership in an institution of “moderns,” I find his depictions of the two to be lopsided and uncritical. In his case studies and commentary, “modern” leadership is more often than not “bad,” arrogant, self-serving, ego-centric, and flawed. In contrast, he portrays “millennial leadership” as sensitive, creative, inclusive, prayerful, and caring. Instead, it might be argued that both styles have strengths and potential weaknesses, that both reflect, at times, the glory of God and the hubris of human aspiration, that all stand in the need of forgiveness and grace, that all are worthy of both praise and correction.

Perhaps the gift of the book could be seen not in its over/against paradigm, but in a both/and approach, discerning the strengths and down-sides of both styles. This may be the intent of Whitesel’s “Afterward” comments on “meshing.” In this way, the wisdom of the past might combine with the energy of the emerging future to strengthen the work of the church and give witness to the glory of God.  

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