Western secular liberalism is, at heart, a selfish consumer culture. The individual is raised from early childhood to ask "What's in it for me?" Either overtly or subliminally, John F. Kennedy's famous challenge: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country" is being answered: "Screw my country. What's in it for me?"
As a result, the traditional role of authority figures in society has change from a paternalistic one into a consumer-related one. The professor teaching the class in university is no different in the eyes of his students than the guy in the blue smock at Wal-mart who knows what aisle the salted peanuts are in.
In concert with this, the role of the rav in the Jewish community has also changed, and not for the better. As this article by Rav Levi Brackman notes, the impact of the evolution of the rav from spiritual leader to synagogue employee is profoundly negative:
In by gone times rabbis used to lead their congregations—they would be involved in every level of communal affairs. Nowadays rabbis act as agents of the communities rather than as leaders of them. Having been a congregational rabbi and also having met with synagogue rabbis to discuss issues affecting the wider Jewish community I can attest to this.
It is rare that a rabbi can make a decision on his own. There is always the caveat that he must first discuss it with the board of management or more accurately with his boss. Often the rabbi’s ideas will then be overruled by the management and nothing will get done. Most seasoned rabbis know not to act on anything of consequence without prior approval of their employers.
On occasion one finds a congregational rabbi who actually takes his own initiative and leads. Unfortunately the fallout can be devastating for the rabbi...
With shackles like these it is impossible for rabbis to actually lead. So indeed there is a crisis of leadership within our Diaspora Jewish communities. This may just explain why Anglo Jewry and congregations in the USA can’t seem to revive their stagnating and dwindling synagogue memberships. Simply put: without real leaders there won’t be any followers.
Now I'm not suggesting that rabbonim attempt to return to the role of benign dictators guiding their flocks without input from the unwashed masses beneath them. However, the current situation prevalent in many shuls, especially Modern Orthodox ones, is not conducive to long-term congregational stability.
Let me illustrate with two personal examples. In the community I grew up in, the shul hired rabbonim to six year contracts, usually a recent musmach from YU. Each rav went through a predictable pattern. In the first two years, we were all told how lucky we were to get this one. In the third and fourth year the shine came off and political lines started to be drawn. In the fifth and sixth year, the rav forgot he was a shul employee and started playing politics in an attempt to increase his influence in the congregation. Unfortunately each would always pick the wrong allies and wind up without a contract extension.
As a result, the shul drifted slowly downwards over time. No long-term planning was done because each rav would come in and try to start things over instead of commiting to anything the last one had attempted to get going. What's more, the rav inevitably figured out that he wasn't going to be spending his life in the community. Why care about the big picture when you're leaving in a few years? As a result, today the shul is stumbling forward with a minyan on Shabbos morning but not much else.
Then there's the community I live in now. The previous rav came to town in 1952 or so. At the time the congregation was envious of the success of the nearby Conservative synagogue and was planning to switch denominations. The idea was for this rav to hang around for a couple of years and then be given a choice: either go Conservative with them or leave. However, the rav had other plans and along with a gift for all matters financial, headed off the defection and effectively took over the shul. Far from going Conservative, the shul stayed properly Orthodox. In addition, since the rav was committed to staying in the community for the long term, he was able to plan and execute the building of the city's first day school. For ten years we even had a yeshivah high school until monetary reality and politics conspired to kill it.
What was the difference in this case? The rav was a leader, not an employee. He was also in the enviable position of being financially independent so that threats of a pay cut or sudden loss of employment from the layfolk meant nothing to him. Finally, as the board faded into irrelevance he established his long term plans and carried them out with a consistent sense of direction.
Today his son is the rav of the shul. How many community shuls can boast a dynasty like that?
Under the influence of secular Western culture, people don't like to follow. They like their autonomy and independence. These are all great things to have but if a community is to thrive, each person must put a certain amount of desire for them aside for the greater good. Otherwise, like herding cats, no one gets nowhere real fast.