At the end of last week I started reading Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times by Peter Steinke. It was published in 2006 but really could have been published in the last year or two because everything I’m reading applies today in so many places.
Here’s a segment from Part 2:
After reviewing more than one hundred reports I had prepared for troubled congregations, five recurring issues emerged: 1. high anxiety; 2. systemic impasse (two parties polarized); 3. lack of a clear sense of mission (even if a mission statement was in place, it did not inform their action, and most people were unaware of it); 4. poor boundaries (including gossip, allowing hearsay to represent fact, intimidation of others, misuse of funds, voting irregularity, not confronting questionable behavior, indiscriminate firing of staff); 5. and avoidance of problems. Whether congregations turned things around or addressed their situation depended on the response of the congregational leadership.
(page 47, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times)
This paragraph is true not just for congregations, but all organizations. And I would argue for nations as well. Our current political leadership fails miserably in all five of these areas that Steinke has identified. Instead of lowering anxiety, those in leadership positions seem hell-bent on increasing anxiety – as if leadership were only about drawing attention to oneself and the best way to do that is to do and say controversial things. That’s not leadership, it’s rather narcissistic instead.
Unfortunately, there are many churches that live the same way. I recently heard a story of a pastor who felt like the congregation walked on egg shells any time a controversial topic was brought up. That’s a real shame. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Leadership means addressing the problem that no one wants to talk about and doing it in a way that is honest and lowers anxiety. It doesn’t mean the leader has all the answers. It means that the leader will walk with people together as they address the problem at hand. They will not abandon the people. This takes some courage.
Leadership isn’t about drawing attention to oneself. It’s about moving the organization forward in its purpose and mission. It’s about walking with people and encouraging people along the way. It’s about being a non-anxious presence so that safe place is established in order to take risks. It’s about truly caring about the people you are entrusted to lead. It’s about creating an environment where people are empowered to move the organization forward. Leadership is about all of this and more. But it certainly isn’t about raising anxiety level. We have enough anxiety in our world. We don’t need so-called leaders to add more anxiety. Those leaders should get out-of-the-way so they don’t cause more harm.