Bystander Effect

My undergrad is in psychology from Oklahoma State University (Go Pokes). I enjoyed many of the classes I took and learned many things about human cognition and behavior. The degree has helped me immensely as I’ve led in the context of church and people.

One of the things I did learn about is called the by-stander effect. The by-stander effect works like this. Tom doesn’t lead or take action because he believes Franklin is going to do the action or lead. Inversely, Franklin doesn’t jump in to help or lead because he believes Tom is going to do it. Therefore, no one does anything.

The encouragement today is that whatever your career or vocation, whether you are paid or volunteering…LEAD. Don’t wait on someone else to do the job. Take the reigns. Make the call. Put your best foot forward. Too many times as I’ve worked with other ministers/pastors over the last 26 years, those ministers/pastors do not lead. They are simply waiting to be told what to do and then, don’t do it well if at all.

And if you lead, your hope is that others will follow. Your hope is to bring about healthychange for the better, no matter what line of work you find yourself. Two things need to happen if you hope for change as you bring others along in the direction you hope to go. These ideas can be found in Tod Bolsinger’s book Canoeing the Mountains.

First, you must show technical competence. No one is going to follow anyone that hasn’t proven they know what they are doing. Those first 12 months “on the job” are crucial to show you have the competence and capabilities to fulfill your obligation. Take the time now to write down the top 5 things that would tell those around you that you are technically competent. These things must be measurable.

At the same time, you can begin to work on the second most important thing to bring about change. That’s relational congruence. You must take the time week in, week out to build relationships with the people you want to lead and change. This isn’t a fake moment for you. But you really desire a deep relationship with those you are working with. This can happen over coffee, lunch, game nights at the house, team work building excises…the list goes on. Just know it doesn’t happen overnight. This is a commitment over a long period of time.

Once you’ve taken the time to show you are competent and relational, you have found the influence you need to facilitate change. And know while you are doing these two things, you are leading. Change happens slowly, especially in a church context. Keep in step with the Spirit. Stay grounded in the Gospels. Focus daily on prayer and a call for God to change you as well.

Don’t settle for the by-stander effect. Be the leader God has called you to be. Take that first step. With the Holy Spirit leading you, all things are possible. Blessings on your journey.