Initiative: 3 ways you might be getting this wrong, and how to start getting it right

Jonathan Hobbs
January 28th, 2021

The phrase “takes initiative” has been so overused that it is in danger of having lost its meaning. You can find it in tons of job listings and I would wager that it comes up even more in interviews. When a word or phrase loses its meaning, people (usually subconsciously) define it for themselves. Not surprisingly, when people self-define, it’s almost always in their favor. This means that every time someone sees “takes initiative” they think, “Yeah, I totally do that!” But, the reality is that most of us don’t.  

Here are 3 types of people that FEEL like they are taking initiative but are usually just getting in the way of progress. Before reading further, know that the temptation will be to think of other people that have fallen into these traps. That’s not what this is for.

This is for YOU. Ask yourself if these roles describe you…    

The Complainer

The actual definition of “taking initiative” is something to the effect of “the quality of one to identify problems, and then develop and enact a solution.” I have known far too many people in ministry that seem to think that the first half of that sentence is the important part. In reality, that half is actually the unnecessary part. If you only identify problems and do nothing about them, you are not taking initiative. However, if you take problems that other people have pointed out and develop and enact solutions for them, you ARE taking initiative.  Don’t be a problem finder. Be a problem solver.

If someone sits in a meeting and offers “insights” that are really nothing more than pointing out problems, then that person is most decidedly not helpful. And they are most definitely not taking initiative.   

STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION:  If you are worried this might be you, consider taking the next month and “fasting” from speaking in meetings. If you have concerns about something, take them to people privately. Be very careful if you are about to bring up problems that you have no intention of helping to make right. If you’re not going to be part of the solution, then maybe you should keep quiet for now.   

The Messenger

It is easy to identify the messengers because they begin their talking points with “I have had a lot of people in the church tell me ____________.”  The claim is that “people” (which may or may not be as real as my ‘girlfriend from Canada’ back when I was in middle school) have expressed an opinion to this person, and now that opinion is being shared at a meeting. These people (again, assuming they are real) chose not to actually address this issue with someone that might be able to do something about it, but instead with this staff member. This person doesn’t quietly discuss this with someone with agency but instead feels it’s better to bring it up, somewhat-randomly, at a staff/board/committee meeting.  That is not being helpful… that is being a jerk.  I know many of us have been on the receiving end of this type of exchange (“I’ve heard from many people that the youth group is leaving the kitchen a mess each week!”), but even worse, I know many of us have BEEN the messenger, and this needs to stop. 

The temptation here is that this can FEEL like you’re accomplishing something. You’re relaying a message!  Right?  No! That’s not what’s happening here.  This is triangulation. This is gossip.  This is wrong. And more to the point of this article, this is not actually solving a problem.  It’s publicly humiliating someone. 

STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION: Concerns about someone else’s area of oversight should be delivered privately and pastorally. Stop into their office or better yet treat them to coffee or lunch. You should really just avoid the whole thing by refusing to be the messenger. Practice saying, “That’s an interesting point, but I don’t think it’s my place to relay that. Have you spoken to them about it?”

The Meeting Hijacker

This is the one I struggle with the most. My temperament and personality have me trying to take the lead in many environments. However, I am not in charge of every room I am in and it is wrong for me to try to be so. When I’m in a meeting that doesn’t cover the topics I think it should, I have caught myself trying to steer the meeting, but (and here is the point), that is not my meeting. We have to respect whoever is in charge of the room. Stealing the throne is not something applauded in scripture – or in organizational life.  

STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION:  Identify who is in charge of the meeting before you walk into the room. If a meeting isn’t covering what you think it should schedule your own separate meeting to discuss those things. One caution here: never do this as an act of rebellion. That’s just as bad (if not worse) as hijacking the original meeting.  

Please do not think of this as an exhaustive list.  It’s more of a “starter kit” to help get you going in the right direction. Don’t just talk, do. Don’t just pass along a complaint, solve the problem. Don’t hijack the conversation when a meeting doesn’t cover what you think needs to be discussed, schedule your own meeting.  

In other words…  take the initiative

Jonathan Hobbs

Jonathan is the Director of Family Ministries at the Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, Pennsylvania. He has worked in professional ministry for more than 16 years, including churches in New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. He has spoken and/or led worship for multiple camps, retreats and events around the country. He took karate in high school because he thought it would help make him cool. He was wrong. Jonathan and his wife, Carolyn, have two beautiful daughters, Kaylin and Julia. He loves golf, can juggle two balls skillfully, and does a halfway decent impression of Kermit the Frog. He's also a big fan of the Oxford comma. His first book - "Don't Do This" - is an exploration of failures in Youth Ministry and what lessons we can learn from them. He was also a contributing author of "Youth Ministry in this Season of Disruption" and is currently co-writing a book about using experiential worship environments in Youth Ministry settings.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.