Tag: conflict

What Do Wisconsin and Egypt Teach Us About Leadership?

Update: BuildingChurchLeaders.com, a Christianity Today site,  cross-posted this on their Off The Agenda blog today.

The news from both the Middle East and the midwest has been interesting lately.  On the one hand, government leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, and now Libya are being challenged by their own people.  On the other hand, here in the heartland of the United States and the home of the Green Bay Packers another challenge is being played out as thousands of demonstrators oppose the budget cuts of a conservative governor.

Before anyone starts siding with or against Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, let me issue this disclaimer:  I am not interested in the politics of either Wisconsin or Libya for the purposes of this discussion.  What I am interested in is what both of these events teach us about leadership, especially church leadership.

Here’s my point:  Egypt’s struggle for relief from the oppression of the Mubarak regime could have ended very differently.  But it didn’t.  Egypt’s leaders realized that common, everyday people had legitimate grievances.  And when an attempt was made to crush the revolution by force, these same leaders were rebuked by world opinion.  In other words, the leaders of Egypt, however reluctantly, listened to the will of the people.

The result in Egypt was a change in direction, and a new future which is still being formed. Other countries followed Egypt’s example when royal regimes in Bahrain and Jordan pledged reforms in response to demonstrations there. Libya by contrast, is a study in the use of force, violence, and propaganda by Gaddafi against his own people.

Here in the United States, conservative governors like Scott Walker are standing firm, refusing to talk with their opposition.  Political intransigence has produced a legislative logjam, and it’s doubtful if either side will get what it wants.  Politics aside, what are the lessons about leadership that we should be learning from these events?

Here are three quick observations:

First, leadership depends upon the consent of followers. Once the majority of the Egyptian people turned on Mubarak, even he knew his days were numbered.  The same is true in churches.  Just because you have the title of pastor, doesn’t mean you can exercise power without regard to the opinions and feelings of your church members.  Leadership, by its very definition, depends upon the cooperation and support of those being led.

Secondly, force succeeds sometimes, but not all the time. China successfully suppressed the democracy movement by killing students in Tiannamen Square in 1989.  Gaddafi is holding off the opposition with force for now.  Pastors can push and cajole to get their way sometimes.  But the toll in both the political world and the faith community can be very high.  I have read that 1,000 pastors leave the ministry each month, and much of that has to be due to conflict.

Finally, how you get there is just as important as where you’re going. The journey is just as important as the destination, especially in churches.  While dictatorships are a sure way to keep things under control, eventually that kind of government becomes unbearable for its citizens.  The same is true for churches, and especially small churches.  How we deal with difficulty, how we treat each other, and the means we use to accomplish our goals are just as important as the final outcome.

I do understand that churches need to change, that new people ought to be reached, and that sometimes the process is painful.  But world events offer us a ringside seat on lessons of leadership.  Listening and learning gets my vote.  How about you?

CAIRO, EGYPT - FEBRUARY 11: An anti-government demonstrator weeps with joy upon hearing the news of the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. After 18 days of widespread protests, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has now left Cairo for his home in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik, announced that he would step down. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Small church mentality?

There is an idea floating around out there that small churches are inherently resistant to change.  This is often called a “small church mentality” because the conventional wisdom is that every church will be growing numerically if it has the right attitude.

However, small churches should not be disparaged because they are small.  Size is not a determinant of faithfulness, authenticity, or effective ministry.  But small churches get labeled (or should it be libeled?) as having a “small church mentality.”  Don’t believe me?  Here’s an example from Twitter just today:

“Moving from small church mentality and accepting the pain and disagreement that brings.”

I am not trying to pick a fight here, but I have several problems with this comment (I realize that this is the digital equivalent of eavesdropping, but you’ll just have to forgive me).

First, I am assuming this is a pastor talking about trying to transition his church from a small one to a bigger one (I have deleted the identifiers from Twitter).  My question would be, “What is the mentality that you label ‘small church?’ Is it a reluctance in the church to do what you want to do, or is it a resistance to be the church God intends?  Because there is a difference.  I have led churches to do what I wanted them to, and most of the time it turned out okay.  But I fully realize now that some of my vision was not anywhere close to what we should have been doing.

Secondly, why does the idea of change in a small church assume the presence of pain and disagreement?   Just for the record, I’ve experienced my share of congregational discord.  I’ve been there and done that often because what I represented as God’s will was simply my willfulness.  Not attractive in a pastor, by the way.  Pastoral willfulness is a kind of religious “my way or the highway” all dressed up in spiritual language to justify it.  I know this is true because I’ve done it before.  Everything from Sunday School reorganization to selecting pulpit furniture, I let it be known that I had the right answer.  I’m not saying this pastor-tweeter is guilty, but that attitude does tend to create some pain and disagreement.  However, my more recent experience is it doesn’t have to be that way in a church, small or large.

Finally, do we as pastors have the right, much less the calling, to insist that our congregations follow our vision, which might fundamentally change something about the church that some members value?  Or let me put this another way: Are we like the U. S. Army commander who said of the Vietnamese village they had just leveled, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it”?

Church change will create some anxiety.  But change (read, conflict) can be managed positively.  When it is, then both pastor and people come out in new places neither had dreamed of before.

Before we start invoking the myth of “small church mentality” we as church leaders need to examine our own approaches and motives.  If our attempts to bring change are instead bringing pain and disagreement, it could be we need to take a step back and listen, love, and learn from the faithful folks who are part of this expression of the body of Christ.  What do you think?  Am I completely wrong here, or do you agree?

13 Triggers for Anxiety in Churches


Peter Steinke has written a helpful book, Congregational Leadership In Anxious Times.  Steinke subtitled his book, Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What.  Good advice for these anxious times.  In my presentation to small church pastors at The Cove last week, I borrowed Steinke’s “13 Triggers for Anxiety” in churches.  Here’s his take on what causes the panic meter to go up in congregations.  The categories are Steinke’s, the comments are mine:

  1. Money. We have lots of financial anxiety now, including at our own church.
  2. Sex/Sexuality. Does this really need explanation?
  3. Pastor’s Leadership Style. Whatever yours is, it’s not like the previous pastor’s and that can be good or bad, but in any event it’s different.
  4. Lay Leadership Style. Either doing too little or doing too much, or acting out in other ways, lay leaders can create anxiety in a church by their actions and reactions.
  5. Growth/Survival. Fears of survival, or anxiety about “all these new people” — either way growth or the lack of it can create tension in a congregation.  After a church I pastored had grown from 400 to 600, and had baptized 40 people in less than one year, the main concern of one deacon was that “we don’t have as much money in the bank as we used to.”  Growth is not the end of all your problems, it may be the beginning.
  6. Boundaries. Folks who cross them, intrude on the turf of others, or act inappropriately can cause lots of social anxiety.
  7. Trauma or transition. Changing pastors, relocating, natural disasters, community tragedy — all can take their toll on a church.  Just ask the churches in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
  8. Staff Conflict. Self-explanatory.  If God’s leaders can’t get along, who can?
  9. Harm Done To A Child, Death of a Child. Churches want to believe that they are safe places for children, but when a child is harmed or dies in the church’s care anxiety levels rise dramatically.
  10. Old and New. I’m sure you wondered when Steinke would mention this conflict.  Ever try to change anything in a church.  You know what this means.
  11. Contemporary vs. Traditional Worship. They don’t call it the “worship wars” for nothing.
  12. Gap between the Ideal and the Real. “We should give more to missions, but we can’t make the building payment.”
  13. Building, Construction, Space, and Territory. Having been through several remodeling and building programs, this is an anxiety creator for everyone involved — pastor and people.

Steinke says these are listed in no particular order, but any one can create anxiety in a congregation.  Mix two or three together — pastor’s style, growth, money, and a building program — and you have a recipe for high anxiety goes to church.  What anxiety triggers would you add to Steinke’s list?  I notice he doesn’t have any references to pastoral care or preaching, which would make my list if either is done poorly.  What would you add?   Tomorrow, How Not To Behave Like a Cat in a  Roomful of Rocking Chairs.

Disclaimer: I purchased this book from Amazon and did not receive any consideration from anyone for this post.