In the last article, we discussed three principles that have served me well in approaching a church crisis. These three principles have something in common–the need for leaders to manage their own fears and emotions in a crisis. Stress, personal attacks, threats, pain, anxiety and a host of fears can make it extremely difficult to give up the quest for a quick fix or to over-manage the church through a crisis. A transition to a healthy assessment of a church will begin with leaders managing their own emotions so they can think clearly, do the right thing, and be more than “survival leaders.”
Peter Steinke describes survival leaders as those who “take expedient action based on emotional pressures; play it safe for the benefit of preserving stability; use quick fixes for restoring harmony; and find scapegoats to blame, looking outside of self for rescuing.”
“Survival leaders” manage the crisis, not themselves, out of the anxiety shared by the people they lead. In contrast, leaders who manage their own anxiety, says Steinke, “take thoughtful action, risk goodwill for the sake of truth, stay the course, and manage self.”
Each crisis actually strengthens their spiritual influence because they witness to the power of the spirit in walking by faith.
Steinke says, “…to lead means to have some command of our own anxiety and some capacity not to let other people’s anxiety contaminate us; that is, not allow their anxiety to affect our thinking, actions, and decisions.”
When a leader gets in survival mode, it is so easy to slip from normal objectivity and discernment about how to take long-term steps to health. This is a good time for a church consultant to serve a valuable role in helping leaders differentiate between emotional reactions to a crisis and thoughtful spiritual responses.
Churches in crisis and conflict need leaders who are more spiritual than managerial. Paul prayed for the Colossians to have the wisdom and understanding that the spirit gives (1:9). His instructions were much more specific in Galatians 5 as he contrasted life of the flesh to the fruits of the spirit.
We can expect spiritual leaders to have patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control in good times and bad. The fruits of the spirit do not just happen to show up at the time of crisis. In fact, I have witnessed just the opposite. What really makes a spiritual crisis is the absence of the spirit as leaders become impatient, controlling, harsh, rigid, or unreasonable.
Strong spiritual leaders cultivate the spirit in their hearts and lives consistently–as a daily discipline–so they will be prepared for each crisis and conflict. When leaders have the ability to walk by faith in tough times, the potential for a healthy assessment of the crisis will be more likely.
 Peter Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times (Alban Institute, 2006), p. 149.
 Steinke, p. 149.
 Steinke, p. xii.