Renewal leadership is a high-risk calling given that renewal demands change, change creates anxiety, anxiety fosters tension and tension in a community often becomes a leader’s undoing. Countless renewal leaders are told that a faith community desires change only to discover that the community likes the idea of change, just not its reality (even though change remains essential for their survival).
Recently I have been thinking about leaders who survive the tension of change. Three resources have been helpful. The first is Tod Bolsinger’s TEMPERED RESILIENCE: HOW LEADERS ARE FORMED IN THE CRUCIBLE OF CHANGE. The second is Christianity Today’s podcast “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” Finally, I have been blessed by a recent blog from Justin Carruthers about the rising number of pastor/church separations in the CRCNA given our changing culture. His post can be read here.
In TEMPERED RESILIENCE Bolsinger quotes a senior pastor of a large church who said, “The question I find myself asking is not ‘Can I learn the skills I need to lead change?’ but rather ‘Can I survive it?” There are behaviors that help renewal pastors survive change when tension reaches a boiling point and threatens to undo the good that has been done.
Here Are Some Tension Reducing Suggestions:
Suggestion 1: Tell Yourself, “There Are No Bad People in This Room”
The first goal is to resist the temptation to separate into warring camps. When we believe others are operating with good motives, we foster peace. They may be anxious, ill-informed, risk-averse, or needing assurance but that does not make them bad people.
Suggestion 2: Keep Your Ego Out of the Mix
It is easy for leaders to get their egos bruised when tensions rise. Often, they have invested in the changes being challenged. It feels personal. Leaders who survive “go to the balcony” through self-differentiation. Emotions are tabled. Reason rules. A non-defensive posture is chosen.
Suggestion 3: Listen Well
James said “be quick to listen and slow to speak.” God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. When we listen, we learn; we learn of potential pitfalls, looming opposition, and fatal flaws. We also learn what it will take to lead the community into a God-preferred future.
Suggestion 4: Apologize Quickly
Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We see that the Bible is filled with calls to speak peace-filled words including sincere apologies. Begin by embracing the 10% rule. Even if the offense is only 10% yours, apologize!
Suggestion 5: Trust the Holy Spirit to Change Minds and Hearts
In Romans 12:9 God says, “vengeance is mine.” In other words, “Let me take care of this.” Renewal leaders should argue less and pray more. It is amazing how many times renewal pastors invested in prayer have folk call and say, “I’m starting to see things differently.”
Suggestion 6: Stay Clear, Stay Calm, Stay Connected, Stay the Course
That important list (minus “Stay Clear”) is from Richard Blackburn of the Mennonite Peace Center. It captures Tod Bolsinger’s emphasis on avoiding “a failure of nerve” (lacking the courage for change) or “a failure of heart” (lacking connectedness during change). A clear vision + a quiet spirit + a connected heart + a tenacity of calling, wins the day.
Suggestion 7: Know When to Call it a Day
Leaders who know they are loved and called by God do not quit quickly. They find coaches, allies and friends to increase staying power. Still, “when the people themselves refuse to take on the work of changing, then your season as a change leader is over” [Bolsinger, p. 216]. Good leaders know leadership has a shelf life. Blessed are those who know the expiration date.