Leadership in a Time of Transition

      What does it mean to provide good leadership in a season of transition? It is an important question because all faith communities are in a time of transition, whether they recognize it or not.  The culture is changing, the world is changing rapidly, and churches are facing changes on an unprecedented scale. Whether we like it or not, (and there may well be parts of this change that we resist), those who seek to provide leadership for faith communities need to understand and respond appropriately to this changing context.

     But where do we start? The Lombard Mennonite Peace Center offers this simple but profound reminder: When leading your church through a season of change, “stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course.”

       First, stay calm. What does it mean to stay calm? Do we have to become a  Spock-like Vulcan with no emotions and complete rationality? No, that would be impossible even if it was desirable. In fact, we cannot provide leadership without acknowledging our own personality type and using our own particular gifts. We do not provide good leadership by pretending to be something that we never were and never will be.

     To stay calm is not to deny our humanity but rather to focus as much as possible on the issue at hand rather than the anxiety of the people around us. Staying calm means attending to our own internal anxiety in ways that keep us from withdrawing from the conversation as a way of avoiding conflict but also from reacting out of anger so as to add fuel to the fire. To stay calm is to stay engaged in such a way that people know we are committed to the cause but also in such a way that the relationship is not endangered by our disagreement.

    Second, we work at staying connected to our people including those that we know disagree with us. This requires pastoral sensitivity and a willingness to honor the journeys of people who have come to different understandings of the meaning of the gospel than have we. It also means to be physically present in places where we can see and speak to people in the normal routines of congregational life even when disagreements remain. This can be difficult and yet often produces rich blessings.

    And third, good leadership means to stay the course. This does not mean we have all the answers or that group wisdom can never provide a different solution for the challenges we face. In fact, it is to be hoped that group engagement will be the key to finding the best solutions for the issues before us. But we need to find ways of keeping the conversations before our people at times when they are tempted to retreat from the questions at hand.

     Some writers have compared it to cooking in a Crock Pot. You want to provide enough heat that the possibility of change within the ingredients remains an option but not so much heat that people feel burned or burned out. It is a fine walk and we will sometimes err on one side or the other. But it remains the function of leadership to help folks engage the issues of change in our changing culture while remaining engaged fully throughout the process. This is a big challenge for even the most gifted among us and none of us will do it perfectly. But the effort at such faithfulness can produce surprising and even exciting breakthroughs in understanding and movement.   

         Dan Holloway

        Pinnacle Leadership Associate

Helen Renew