by Grady King –
Getting stuck as a church leader or as a leader group is frustrating and exhausting. And no matter what we say to the church, they know we are stuck. They feel it, experience it and yearn for things to be different. Over time, a stuck leadership will drain the energy of a church, leaders will be talked about, not with, and people will slowly disengage or leave.
There are many reasons for stuck leadership. Some of the more common reasons are:
- Poor group processing skills
- Lack of clear purpose
- Bad meeting/process habits
- Personality conflicts
- Competing agendas
- Pain avoidance—postponing conversations.
- Unacknowledged “elephants in the room”
Ironically, theological and/or doctrinal tensions are generally not in the top five and when they are, all of the above apply. An inability and resistance to talk about what really matters— “the elephant in the room” and reaching a decision is the most common stuck factor among leaders.
Simply talking around issues, avoiding the hard conversations and the implications of making a decision impacting giving, attendance or morale ignores the elephant. Some leaders simply don’t have the energy to deal with their friends who will wear them out if they make the “wrong” decision. Courage wanes in the face of resistance and pain.
As my friend, Randy Harris says, “Most churches are held together by what we won’t talk about.” It’s particularly true for leader groups.
So, what’s a leader to do? What are the indispensables of courageous leadership? Besides one’s own relationship with the Lord and growth in his Word, these are indispensable.
Manage Yourself —To what do you need to pay attention?
My late friend, Dr. Charles Siburt consistently reminded me and all leaders, “Manage yourself!” Pay attention to your emotions, be self-controlled, don’t be a victim, watch your fear language, and by all means, stay calm. Behave responsibly even when you don’t feel like it. Anxious leaders foster anxiety. If the leader is anxious the church will be anxious. Paul told Timothy in a very difficult situation in Ephesus, lacking healthy leadership — “Watch your life and your doctrine/teaching …” (1 Tim 4. 16).
Listen Well — Who needs you to listen right now?
Two ears. One mouth. This is difficult for teacher types who are prone to giving explanation—of using many words. Listening is hard work. People want to be heard without interruption. If I am always thinking how to defend, respond, or justify, I am not listening. Listen without patronizing. Acknowledging feelings, concerns, and pain does not mean agreement or disagreement, rather it is a way of communicating value. It’s what leaders do. And sometimes, we simply “take it.” James said, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1. 19-20).
Set Direction: Take a Position — Who are you concerned about disappointing?
Not to make a decision is a decision. Leaders must provide direction. Call it what you want—mission, vision, goals, or plans. It is the responsibility of leaders to set direction. Clarity of direction is a common cry of churches of their leaders. Yes, to decide is to disappoint some or thrill others. It’s inevitable. Placating or making people happy is not the goal of leadership. When placating dominates a leader group, one can be assured that stuck is the reality. Taking a position does not mean “laying down the law,” rather, deliberately, thoughtfully and calmly communicating where you stand, speaking for yourself in humility open to conversation.
Stay Connected —With whom do you need to take initiative?
Disagreement is inevitable. It takes courage to stay connected to those with whom we have strong disagreement. Our tendency is to distance ourselves or merely rally around those with whom we agree. In times of disagreement, doing what we need to do rather than want to do is essential. Acknowledging our disagreement and being one in Christ, acting in the best interest of the other is not only possible, but what it means to live Christ. When the church knows of disagreement but sees mutual respect, care and kindness, unity is modeled.
Encourage Always—Who needs your encouragement now?
Barnabas is the “Son of Encouragement”—someone who came alongside of others, no matter what. He is third most mentioned person in Acts. At every critical juncture in the life of the church he was present. To encourage is to bless with sincere presence, care, and endurance. It is hanging in with people in difficult times. Courageous leaders encourage, always.
Courageous leadership—you can do it through the power of the Holy Spirit! It’s indispensable! Go for it!