Sunday, February 5, 2012

When the bodies pile up

I am not one who normally gets excited when people leave a church or a ministry when change comes. The truth is that when change comes, some folks (good folks) decide that they don't want to stay on the same bus anymore. I am OK with that. I write about this in my book High Impact Church Boards. I understand the dynamics of change. There are clearly times when people need to leave a church or ministry in order for that ministry to move forward.  The issue is not whether people will leave but which people will leave! 

And, when leaders together chart a new course for the church, there will be those who leave and others who come. This is normal and to be expected.

However, when the pile of bodies reaches a critical mass behind a leader there need to be questions asked. People who have found reason to move on, people who have been marginalized and choose to leave, people who have been hurt and decide to quietly disappear to other churches or ministries! At some point when the body count becomes high enough, wise individuals ask questions! Especially when the common factor becomes the leader himself! Is the fallout from needed change or is the fallout from a toxic leader? This is a critical distinction because change will often bring fallout (sometimes necessary fallout for the church to move forward).

There are toxic leaders who hurt people. Boards who allow those leaders to hurt others at some point become accountable for their choice to not hold senior leaders accountable. The church is by definition a place of grace, healing, compassion, and mercy. When leaders in the church allow it to turn into a place of hurt and alienation the purpose of the church has been compromised. 

Most folks alienated by a church leader will not make a scene. They quietly leave. Sometimes they leave because they no longer fit and need something different. But, when the list accumulates and leaders do not pay attention, ask questions or seek to determine why folks are leaving, they do a disservice to their responsibility as leaders. They may agree that it is not an important issue, but at least they know what the issues are. Too often they are simply negligent in even trying to know. Or, negligent in doing anything about it.

I am saddened by people who have been hurt by church and ministry leaders. I am more saddened by leaders who do not hold their own leader's accountable for their actions that hurt others. 


Vince Miller said...

Great article. Thank you for articulating the balance between grace toward people and action that cares for the corporate body. Thank you as well for defining the balance between signs of vision (change to accomplish future) and symptoms of issues (change resulting from unseen problems).

I know you addressed some of this in an early book, but this stuff is worth saying more than once.

The hard part is leading through this especially when the leader may be unaware of his/her issues or when the church appears to be essentially healthy on the outside and experiences some signs of growth.

Can you enumerate some small steps to take to address issues of this type?

Lady Christmas said...

Toxic leadership is the appropriate term to describe the cause of the resulting body count. We all understand a church cannot be all things to all people but when the situation reaches critical mass with an exodus of people one would think board members or elders would take the intiative to call out leadership. Unfortunately, when the board and elders are hand picked without an election the holy huddle develops like a virus and grows. When the attitude of considering the hiring of church employees and leaders for ministry as looking for the right people and not the best people this solidifies the establishment of an organizational monarchy. The "looking for the right people and not the best people" mentality may have worked for the 1980 U.S. hockey team but it doesn't do well in churches. Can you ever imagine churches hiring atheists or even agnostics because someone in leadership thought they were the right person for the job as if qualified christians are in short supply. What confounds me is why middle level church managers stay or say nothing. I get the fact they may need jobs for their families but there is a higher ethic involved. People are not only being driven away from church but from God and that is the real damage.