How to Use Your Leadership Influence in the Age of Expressive Individualism

How to Use Your Leadership Influence in the Age of Expressive Individualism

Because my leadership development work is with Millennials, GenZs, and emerging leaders, this article caught my attention. When being interviewed, often the first question is – what are the key differences between Baby Boomers, Millennials, and GenZ leaders?

Of course, there are the usual comparison grids that we can discuss. Those can be helpful. And, I believe that it’s their worldview that explains their behavior the best.

Worldview isn’t a word used in every language. So, what does it mean?

Here’s one definition from David Naugle:  “A vision of God, the universe, our world, and ourselves rooted and grounded in the embodied human heart as the seat and source of our worship and spirituality, ideas and beliefs, loves and affections, and decisions and actions.” 

And here’s another definition by Sire (2004): “A worldview is a collection of attitudes, values, stories and expectations about the world around us, which inform our every thought and action. Worldview is expressed in ethics, religion, philosophy, scientific beliefs and so on.”

One’s worldview typically answers questions like:

  • Who am I and what’s my purpose?
  • What is the problem in the world?
  • What is the solution?
  • What needs to happen so that I will be ok/redeemed/made right?
Because this concept isn’t talked about over coffee every day of the week, I thought I’d ask ChatGPT how it would define worldview. I thought it was reasonably thorough. Plus, it listed more than just 4 questions:

A worldview is a comprehensive framework of beliefs, values, assumptions, and perspectives that an individual or a group holds about the nature of reality, the world, and their place in it. It serves as a lens through which people interpret and make sense of the world around them. Worldviews encompass a wide range of topics, including philosophy, religion, culture, science, ethics, and more. They shape how people perceive reality, make decisions, and interact with others.

A worldview answers a set of fundamental questions that help individuals understand their existence, purpose, and the nature of reality. These questions vary across different cultures and belief systems, but some common questions that a worldview seeks to address include:

  1. Origin: Where did the universe, life, and human beings come from? What is the source of existence?
  2. Identity: What is the nature of human beings? Are we simply physical entities, or do we possess a spiritual or metaphysical dimension?
  3. Meaning and Purpose: What is the purpose of life? Is there a higher meaning to existence? How do we find fulfillment and meaning in our lives?
  4. Morality and Ethics: How should we determine what is right and wrong? Are there objective moral principles, or is morality relative? What guides our ethical decisions?
  5. Destiny and Afterlife: What happens after death? Is there an afterlife, reincarnation, or some form of continuation of existence?
  6. Relationship with Others: What is the nature of human relationships? How should we treat others? Is there a sense of interconnectedness or a social contract?
  7. Nature of Reality: Is reality primarily material and physical, or does it include non-material aspects such as spiritual or metaphysical dimensions?
  8. Knowledge and Truth: How do we acquire knowledge? What is the nature of truth? Are there absolute truths, or is truth relative?
  9. Existence of Deity or Deities: Is there a higher power, a divine being, or multiple gods? How does this entity interact with the world?
  10. Suffering and Evil: Why does suffering and evil exist? How do we reconcile the existence of suffering with the nature of the world or the beliefs about a benevolent deity?
  11. Science and the Natural World: How does science and empirical observation relate to our understanding of reality and beliefs? Are scientific explanations compatible with religious or spiritual beliefs?
  12. Social and Political Values: What are the principles that govern society, politics, and governance? What is the role of government and individual rights?

A person’s worldview is often shaped by their upbringing, culture, religious beliefs, education, personal experiences, and exposure to various ideas. It provides a foundation for one’s beliefs and informs how they engage with the world, make decisions, and form opinions on a wide range of topics. Understanding the concept of worldview is essential for fostering cross-cultural understanding, engaging in meaningful dialogues, and appreciating the diversity of perspectives that exist in our global society.

The 3 key spiritual leadership development strategies I picked up from this article are:
  • Cultivating community for the isolated
  • Sharing God’s dignity for those searching for purpose
  • Offering rest for the exhausted

I believe this principles apply not only to churches, both to businesses and schools. Isn’t it reasonable that we provide work places and gathering places where we:

  • Cultivate community, so that people feel like they belong?
  • Share how God has unique crafted each person, that leads to a fulfilling purpose?
  • Offer a place of rest, where downtime is okay.
Expressive Individualism is infusing our culture, including our institutions of higher learning, our churches, our entertainment, and our families  What might we do to help those in our sphere of influence. I’m interested in your thoughts. Please feel free to comment at the end of this article, or eMail me at or call me at 701-621-2331.

Title: The Faithful Church in an Age of Expressive Individualism

Publication: The Gospel Coalition

Author: Trevin Wax

Date: October  22, 2018

You can read the article here:

In earlier columns, we looked at the definition of expressive individualism and the challenges it poses for the church that seeks to be faithful in this cultural moment. This emphasis on being true to yourself and discovering the “real you” to express to the world can make discipleship and Christian faithfulness more difficult.

But opportunities accompany the challenges. Here are three we should consider.

1. Cultivating Community for the Isolated

Expressive individualism is inherently isolating. Yes, it may seem heroic to cast off whatever expectations others may have of you, but in the end, when you “let it go” (like Elsa does in her anthem from Frozen), you wind up in an ice prison of your own making. You’re free, but at the cost of social relationships.

The authors of Habits of the Heart recognize both the thrill and terror in this way of seeing the world:

American cultural traditions define personality, achievement, and the purpose of human life in ways that leave the individual suspended in glorious, but terrifying, isolation. . . . 

This clear-sighted vision of each individual’s ultimate self-reliance turns out to leave very little place for interdependence and corresponds to a fairly grim view of the individual’s place in the social world. Self-reliance is a virtue that implies being alone.

Advanced stages of expressive individualism are characterized by isolation. (It’s no wonder that the United Kingdom has appointed a minister of loneliness!) Over time, we lose the willingness to create and sustain close bonds of friendship, because these relationships may require something of us.

In this environment, the church has the opportunity to be salt and light—to resist the trends pushing us toward loneliness and alienation. Our beliefs should not be inherently isolating but should turn us outward in love to God and neighbor. We need the community of faith, with all its flaws and foibles, with all of its gifts and obligations, in order to flourish on mission together.

The church has the opportunity to cultivate meaningful community among people who stand out in a world of loneliness, people whose beliefs and experiences unify them around the gospel—a message we steward and uphold, not because we’ve created it, but because it has created us.

2. Standing Out in a World of Fitting In

A restless, individualistic pursuit of happiness evolves into a strange conformist impulse. In Democracy in America, Tocqueville pointed out the irony of how compatible American individualism is with conformism. We think we’re blazing our own path, but the paths we make look strangely like everyone else’s.

In the exhilarating rush to bypass all external traditions and authority, we grow exhausted and eventually discover that our cultural rebellion has no significance apart from the community we’ve spurned. The reaction, then, is to look for others to confirm our decisions. We aren’t satisfied with declaring our own lives to be “good” and “acceptable.” We need—no, demand—others do the same.

This ironic pursuit of approval is why the constant demand for affirmation of another’s personal life choices seems necessary today if our decisions are to have meaning and significance. Without others affirming us, our expressive individualism remains unsatisfying.

How can the church respond to this challenge? What is the opportunity we have before us? For starters, we don’t look inward to discover our inherent dignity but upward to God who bestows his image upon us. Hannah Anderson writes of the humbling elevation (or elevating humility) of this truth:

In God’s wisdom, our identity as image bearers simultaneously elevates and humbles us. It reminds us our calling is too grand and too glorious to be contained in human categories. But it also confronts our pride by reminding us we are not God. In this sense, finding identity as image bearers center us, putting us in our place in the best possible way.

Second, we recognize in the gospel that the affirmation that matters most is that of our heavenly Father who looks at us, baptized into the death and resurrection of his Son, and who says over us what he said over Jesus at his baptism: You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. In Christ, we have the affirmation we crave, and it’s not something we have earned, but a gift of grace that has been given.

Third, we have the opportunity to stand out in the world by choosing to die to ourselves, to lay our lives down for something greater than ourselves. The New Testament tells us to crucify the self the world tells us to be true to. Nothing is more non-conformist and radical and rebellious than seeking conformity with Christ and the death of your old self. Mark Sayers is right:

To be shaped by grace in a culture of self, the most countercultural act one can commit . . . is to break its only taboo: to commit self-disobedience. To acknowledge that authority does not lie with us, that we ultimately have no autonomy. To admit that we are broken, that we are rebellious against God and his rule. To admit that Christ is the ruler. To abandon our rule and to collapse into his arms of grace. To dig deep roots into his love. We don’t just need resilience; we need gospel resilience.

3. Offering Rest to the Exhausted

Another problem with expressive individualism is that, once the exhilaration wears off—the idea that you are making your way through the world against opposition on all sides, finding and staying true to whoever it is you believe yourself to be—the “freedom” offered in this kind of society turns out to be a different form of slavery. Exhilaration leads to exhaustion.

Thankfully, the gospel has a fresh word for the weary and guilt-ridden. “Our hearts are restless until they find themselves in You,” Augustine wrote. The gospel frees us from judgment—from God or from others. In Christ’s death on the cross, our guilt and sin are absolved. Our reception into his family, apart from any merit on our own, is a lavish display of grace that is amazing precisely because we are unworthy to receive it.

Christianity has a fresh message for an exhausted generation pursuing happiness: salvation doesn’t come from mustering up your willpower and making your mark on the world, but in recognizing your dependence on God and receiving the mark he made on the world in the person of Jesus Christ.

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