Thursday, May 28, 2015

Some of the worst things leaders can do when there is controversy or conflict in the church

One of the most difficult jobs of a church leadership board in the local church is to deal with differences of opinion within the congregation especially when the issues are major, sides are being taken by parishioners and there may even be the possibility of a church split (whether that means many people leaving or the church literally splitting). 

Boards often respond to such situations just as a person does when attacked - with a defensive posture. Often it includes a circling of the wagons where there is a great deal of secrecy, the labeling of people who may disagree with their position as dissidents, an attempt to shut down discussion of the issues and even intimidation through threats of "church discipline." In other words, just as each of us operates in difficult circumstances with either good or bad EQ, there is a corporate board EQ that responds either in healthy or unhealthy ways to church related issues. 

Ironically, while boards can point the finger at what they may justifiably (or not) label behaviors of congregants as sinful or divisive, they can be equally guilty of the same behaviors. Of course they can use the "authority" card, even when their behaviors are not healthy!

I have several suggestions for boards who find themselves in this position.

One. Do not shut down legitimate discussion. Whenever we try to muzzle people we are operating out of fear rather than from a position of health. Whenever there cannot be a free discussion of differences - while staying connected with one another we are operating from fear. Healthy leaders both invite candid dialogue and work toward win/win solutions rather than a win/lose solution. They are non-defensive, open, listen carefully and work toward solutions that preserve the unity of the church. When boards circle the wagons free dialogue is over.

Two: Do not marginalize people who disagree with you. This is a common behavior when one feels under attack. Rarely is this about whether those who disagree with us are sinful or righteous, but rather that we disagree on process or solutions. Often division comes when one side or another takes a position that disenfranchises the other rather than looking for ways to address the concerns of both sides. 

Three: Don't do it alone. When issues become magnified and positions become stakes in the ground you often need an outside facilitator who can help moderate a discussion. A skilled outside facilitator does not have an agenda and therefore can speak to both sides and help them come together. Resisting an outside voice is usually an indicator that we want our way rather than a win/win solution. 

Four: Realize that the more you spin the issues and try to manage people who disagree with you the more dysfunctional the debate will become. People don't like to be manipulated and many boards who go on the defensive do just that with spiritual language, board "authority" and actions that put people in a corner. The more a board tries to "manage" the debate rather than allowing it to occur the more dysfunctional the debate will become. Ironically it is in trying to shut down discussion that the issues become even more problematic. When people don't feel heard, they will try all the harder to be heard. 

Five: Remember that you can split the church (the bride) simply by making it clear that "if you don't agree you should leave." Many will not fight a board and pastor but feel forced out nonetheless. When people start redirecting their giving, for instance, it is usually done because they feel no other way to send a message to leaders about the direction of the church. Leaders who don't pay attention to such signs are either in denial or foolish. I am always amazed by leaders (including pastors) who are willing to see large numbers of people leave who don't agree with them. They may get their way but there will be no end to the conflict as those who leave continue to have relationships back at the church they left. 

Six: You cannot move forward by marginalizing a segment of the church. Leaders need to honor the past as they build for the future. Being willing to sacrifice the past for the future is neither Biblical nor unifying. Yet it happens all too often. Ephesians 4:3ff is a good place to start in terms of how we see the folks in our congregations: 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

Boards and other leaders who feel on the defensive need to live out the theology of unity. It takes wisdom and humility but it is possible.


Posted from Rockford, IL

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ways that otherwise good leaders often sabotage their leadership

It is very possible to have significant leadership skills and still undermine one's own leadership. And this is not only a risk for young leaders for often for leaders that have seen significant success. 

Hubris. This should be obvious but it isn't always! Success breeds confidence and that confidence can cause us to overestimate our wisdom and underestimate our need for counsel. This can creep up on us over time without our realizing it until we are no longer open to the input of others which eventually comes back to bite us.

Schedule. Good leaders are in demand. That demand can cause us to say yes too often and no too seldom. Busyness wears us down, tires our bodies and minds, robs us of think time and even God. Schedule erosion eventually catches up to us in negative ways.

Entitlement. Successful leaders can start to believe that the rules don't apply to them as they apply to others. One of the ways this often plays out is in behaviors that they would not allow others to exhibit but which they feel they can. This may be carelessness in the treatment of others in words or attitudes or simply taking staff for granted. Because they have positional authority they often get away with behaviors that they shouldn't but by doing so they lose the respect of their staff.

Laziness. Many leaders who saw success in one period of life lose their edge in another because they no longer feel the need to stay sharp, learn new skills, and understand the changing environment around them. This can be the result of out of control schedules or hubris but whenever we stop being intentional in our own development we begin to lose our ability to lead well.

Health. This is one I understand and I have had to become deeply intentional about addressing my own health issues. When we don't those issues often compromise our energy and our ability to carry out our leadership roles. In the second half of life, this is one that leaders must become more intentional about if they are going to go the distance.

Transformation. It is what God wants to do in our hearts, thinking, priorities (lifestyle) and relationships and it is a life long process. I love the comment my brother made at my father's funeral service. "He was not a perfect man but he kept getting better." Cooperating with the Holy Spirit to become everything God made us to be and to become more and more like Jesus is one of prime responsibilities of leaders who model transformation for others. When we lose our intentionality here others notice and it sabotages our leadership.

Clarity. Lack of personal and leadership clarity leaves both us and our staff without focus. No matter how brilliant one is, a lack of focus creates confusion for those one leads and dissipates the energy that one expends. Life should be journey toward ever greater clarity about what God wants us to do (and alternatively not do), what our priorities should be (and there should be only a few) and what the target is for our work (without which our staff will lack direction). 

Discipline. No amount of brilliance makes up for a lack of discipline in our lives. Our personal discipline is a reflection of our understanding of God's call on our lives and our commitment to steward the gifts He has given for maximum impact. Lack of discipline communicates a carelessness about that stewardship. 

Jesus. Life is not about us but about Him. It is easy to forget that and to focus on our things rather than His things. Whenever we take our eyes off of Him we start to sink as Peter did when He left the boat to be with Him. To the extent that we lose that focus we hurt our leadership - and ourselves.

What sabotages your leadership? It can be one of these or it can be other things. Being sensitive to whatever it is will allow us to go the distance.

Posted from Rockford, Il

The worlds least religious countries - from the Washington Post

Map: These are the world’s least religious countries

Monday, May 25, 2015

Signs that leaders are leading from a posture of fear and insecurity

We often do not realize it when our leader is leading from a posture of fear but there are symptoms that give it away. It is dysfunctional and it feels bad but we often do not understand what is going on. Here are some of the symptoms of a leader who is leading from a place of fear. 

One: They demand loyalty to themselves rather than to the mission of the organization. Leaders who lack self confidence require their staff to be loyal to them - usually meaning that their staff agree with their views - rather than loyalty to the organization and its mission. They are intimidated by independent voices who speak their minds and if they perceive that the loyalty as they define it is not present they often marginalize those voices.

Two: They try to keep people from talking to others about issues they feel strongly about. When pastors, for instance tell staff that they cannot talk to board members or board members to staff or staff to congregants it is a sign of fear rather than a sign of confidence. Whenever leaders seek to limit the conversation of others (beyond appropriate channels) they are operating out of fear rather than health. Prohibiting open conversation is usually a precursor to an unraveling of leadership.

Three: They display an underlying anger that erupts in inappropriate language, statements, requirements or rules. People who live with fear or insecurity often try to control the environment around them with threats, anger, strong statements that intimidate or rules that are meant to keep their staff in line. When it does not feel good, it probably is not good. When it feels intimidating or coming from a place of fear, it probably is. When it does not feel healthy it probably is not healthy.

Four: Those who disagree are let go or marginalized and the reasons for departures, voluntary or involuntary are disguised. Truth is usually a victim to insecurity and fear. There is an inordinate desire to control the message and to spin the reasons for departures in the name of being graceful for those who are leaving but usually to protect the insecure leader responsible for the departure of the staff member. 

Five: There is a culture of fear on staff. Anytime, fear becomes the culture and people are not allowed to talk with one another or others it is a sign of an insecure leader. No secure leader creates an environment of fear or intimidation. None. Where there is fear among the staff in general there is a dysfunctional and usually a fearful leader. 

Six: Candid feedback to the leader is not allowed or appreciated. Only insecure or fearful leaders create an environment where candid and honest feedback is limited, controlled or not allowed/appreciated. It says more about the leader than it does about the staff. It comes from fear and insecurity rather than security and freedom.

Seven: A leader's board and senior staff must toe the line of the leader. Some years ago, our organization made a decision that irritated a senior pastor within the denomination. He forced his board (through intimidation) to agree with him and to withhold all support of our organization in the face of irrefutable evidence that we had reasons for our decision. But no pushback was allowed and he forced his board to go along with him. When a board or senior staff must toe the line of the leader, it is usually a sign of control, fear and insecurity.

My question is why such behaviors are not seen for what they are in the ministry arena and why staff and boards allow this kind of behavior? It demonstrates naivete on the part of boards and usually fear on the part of staff who are put in an impossible situation. Don't be fooled and don't get sucked into a dysfunctional leaders stuff. It is poison and it is foolishness. Too many board members get sucked into the dysfunction.

Posted from Knoxville, Tennessee


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Living and leading with expectation rather than discouragement

It is very interesting to listen to people regarding their circumstances in life and whether they see their glass as half full or half empty. I suppose this can vary on any given day but I would argue that for believers we have reason every day to live with expectation rather than with fear and discouragement. 

I love Psalm 5:3 in this respect where David says:
"In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation."

David is suggesting that it is possible to walk through our days with expectation of what God will bring and do in answer to our prayer. This is not a life of fear and discouragement but one of faith, courage and expectation.

The word expectation has a sense of mystery to it. How will God answer? What will he do in response to our prayer? When will He act? It also has a sense of faith for in expecting Him to act we are conscious that He hears our prayers and answers them - in His wise and sovereign way. 

After many years of leadership I have learned that I don't  need to live with anxiety over challenges in the ministry I lead. What I do instead is give the issue to God and wait to see how He will show up and what it will look like. I always have a choice: I can see life as a glass half full or half empty. As believers we ought to see our glass as half full - in expectation of how and when He is going to fill up the other half. You never know, it might even overflow.

An attitude of expectation is contagious. As God gives it to us, we in turn can give it to others through our attitudes, faith, courage and expectation.

Posted from Knoxville, Tennessee

Friday, May 22, 2015

Pastors, staff and board members who use inappropriate language, emotions and actions

I was once doing an intervention in a church where the pastor was in conflict with several associate pastors. During a "reconciliation meeting" the senior pastor acknowledged a whole lot of behavior that he termed was "below the belt" but his further comment was that "It was no different than what the associate had done to him." Really? 

I told them both that their behaviors would be a no brainier for termination in the ministry I lead and that foul language, anger, threats, shouting at one another and undermining each other was simply unacceptable behavior in ministry and would be cause for termination in the business sector. What I said to them was that they were like two year olds throwing sand at one another in a sandbox rather than grown ups who deal with one another with grace and the attitudes of the Fruit of the Spirit.

I am always amazed at the behaviors that are acceptable in the church but would be unacceptable in business where the standards presumably are lower than in the church. When the Fruit of the Spirit is not exhibited by those who are in church leadership - whether pastors or board members or volunteers there is a deep problem. When the scenes behind the scenes are not consistent with the public portrayal there is hypocrisy in the camp.  Yet boards and staff seem to ignore this all the time. Why? 

I suspect boards ignore such issues because when it is a fellow board member they don't have the courage to confront one of their own. I suspect they ignore these issues with a senior leader when that leader is "producing results," irregardless of the behaviors that should be deemed unacceptable. That is a pragmatic approach that ignores the inner dishealth of the leader. What they don't get is that the health of the leader will inevitably determine the health of the staff and the entire congregation. As goes the leader, so goes the church. When it all comes apart, I have often had boards acknowledge that they knew all was not well with their leader but chose to ignore it because the leader was bringing people in. The facade was good but the inner structure was unhealthy.

Paul told Timothy to watch both his life and his theology with diligence so that all would notice (1 Timothy 4:15-16). He also told him to "set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12). Theology without a life that reflects that theology is unacceptable in the Kingdom of God. No one is perfect but there are boundaries to what is acceptable and if it not acceptable in public it is also not acceptable behind the scenes. 

If our behind the scenes leadership (language, actions, behaviors attitudes) do not reflect our up front leadership there is a dissonance that should be addressed because it will eventually cause deep problems. Our public lives should directly reflect our private lives and when that is not the case there is a discontinuity that will eventually hurt the organization - especially when it comes to leaders. In the case cited above it caused the explosion of a church which has taken several years to heal.

See also, Abuse in the church. When the bully is the pastor.

Posted from Bloomington - Normal, Illinois