Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Leadership in Anxious Times

I’ve started what looks like a really helpful book entitled, “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times”, by Peter Steinke. It is a book obviously written for congregational leaders, but the insights are readily helpful for a lot of settings and our personal relationships.

One section talks about how most congregations react to anxiety. Anxiety is a natural part of life and congregations whenever a God-sized vision has taken hold of an individual or a group of people (Think Nehemiah the cupbearer before the king shaking in his boots and praying hard, 2:2-3). Living into the vision almost always means trying on different mental models for how things operate and exist.

Right now, our Advisory Team and one of our Visionpath Teams are dialoguing quite a lot about worship. We have tried hard to keep from locking into a false dichotomy of Traditional versus Contemporary Style. A much deeper, more significant basis is taking hold and capturing our imaginations; namely, letting the Spirit open us to the notion of not letting anything stand in the way of connecting people to Jesus and one another in more effective ways. But as you can imagine, as the dialogue expands to more and more groups in our congregation, so expands the level of anxiety.

The reaction to that increasing level of anxiety is automatic, gut level and quite normal. Strange as it may seem, often congregations have a hard time “seeing” their problems. Hey, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know – we ALL have problems! We have a strong tendency to react in such a way that denies we have troubles. Not recognizing a problem is an anxious defense mechanism. Another related reaction in anxious times is “Simplifying”. We say things like, “That just happens,” or “Things were worse before.” We often try to shine up what is already being done, but not deal effectively with deeper level issues and needs.

Another common reaction is “Ignoring”, we drift away from active participation, or even give up our membership and go elsewhere. Hey, it happens. I’m never happy about it, but it happens. The problem is that the opportunity for learning and change disappears. We can also react by “freezing,” by letting ourselves get stopped and stuck. Since action might trigger opposition, we delay and delay. Ever been there? I have. Ever done that? Sure enough, I have.

There’s no judgment in this – all that these reactions say is “Hey, we’re human.” It’s a basic part of the human equation. But we can learn this about ourselves and acknowledge it, and once that is done, we now have the capability to manage ourselves well in the midst of the anxiety that inevitably comes when people latch onto a God-sized vision.

I’m enjoying the book, so I’m betting there will be more to come. Until then…