Have you ever looked at your to-do list and felt totally overwhelmed?
I certainly have. Years ago, I thought the answer was to just work harder. I soon learned that I was missing certain priorities.
If you are church leader (or businessperson), you may have had a similar experience. Yet, in all of the things you might have on your list, there are three behaviors which are especially important. These three originated (for me) with Dr. Edwin Friedman who wrote Generation to Generation and A Failure of Nerve.
Be a calm presence.
There is often much anxiety in congregations. Various people want this or that. Some may threaten to leave. Others make demands and ultimatums. Often a group of elders will want a new minister to carry the anxiety that is already in their group. “If we just had a great minister. . .” They may want this person to fix the congregation or make up for their own dysfunction. Sometimes, it is the minister who is very anxious and carries into the elder group the anxiousness he feels over what various church members are saying. It might be nice if this person was a non-anxious presence. Perhaps it might be good if this person could at least be a less-anxious presence in the congregation.
Far too often, church leaders contribute to the anxiety in the church. Perhaps several families leave the congregation in one month with each family saying they are leaving because of their small children. In some congregations, there would immediately be hand-wringing in the next elders’ meeting with someone declaring that “we must do something immediately.” A quick, rash decision is made and a hurried announcement is made on a Sunday morning about a change in the congregation. Often, there will then be considerable push-back from the congregation. Quick, rash decisions are not usually the way to deal with anxiety in a church.
When a congregation (or any other group) experiences anxiety, church leaders might be tempted to disconnect emotionally from those with whom they are having the greatest conflict. In other words, if I have conflict with a particular elder or minister, I may begin to look for ways to disconnect with him physically and emotionally. The temptation to disconnect may occur when a church announces a new project or initiative and then receives push-back by the church members. The minister might even become embroiled in an anxious dispute with the elders in an us-versus-them conflict. He may disconnect from them emotionally and then wonder why things are getting even worse.
It is so important to stay connected (emotionally) as much as possible with the people in your church, even those who don’t necessarily agree with you on very much. This doesn’t mean you have to be “close” or great friends. However, one can take the initiative to prevent cut-offs and complete disconnections.
Have a position.
Staying connected with others does not mean that you do not have a “self.” Some ministers/elders try to ride the fence on most everything. If cutting myself off from those with whom I disagree with is on one end of a continuum, the other end might be those church leaders who attempt to lead by trying to be whatever any group in the church wants me to be. In other words, this particular leader loses his identity in whatever group he happens to be with.
Perhaps some attempt to do this in an effort to be a peacemaker. However, peacemaking is usually not the end result of such efforts. These efforts basically reflect that the church leader is willing to abandon any sense of leading in order to avoid conflict. In other words, he is willing to sacrifice progress over peace. Ironically, true peace is really not the result of such efforts.
It is far better to state where you are in your thinking while valuing everyone else in the congregation whether they hold your position or not.
Leadership is hard work. It begins with learning to manage yourself. These three behaviors are very important if a congregation is going to be able to make any progress.