Clergy Leadership Is Key!

January 06, 2015

Failure-of-NerveAny time change occurs, there is a possibility that conflict is not far behind.  Edwin H. Friedman, author of the well-known book Generation to Generation, addresses the courage it takes to face change and dealing with conflict that may ensue in his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.  Kim Shockley, a WNC church vitality strategist offers a reflection on the book and the role of leadership by the clergy as a church faces change.  

Clergy Leadership is Key by Kim Shockley, WNC Church Vitality Strategist Over the past few years I have been studying the patterns of pastors who lead churches that have lived through change or are actively involved in change within their current appointments. While I can say clearly, the pastor is not the be all, end all in how successful a church will be dealing with change, their role is certainly key to that success. Here are a few character traits or patterns of behavior that I’ve identified in pastors who can lead churches toward vitality.
  1. These pastors do not lead from the strength of their own ego. While their personality differences cover the board – introverts, extroverts, thinkers, feelers, etc. – their strength comes from their relationship with God through Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit to motivate a congregation to a new place. The way of leadership is how their relationship with God spills over onto the people entrusted to them. It is a marvelous thing to see, characterized by joy!
  2. Edwin Friedman is the person from whom I first learned of self-differentiation. In my humble translation, I think this term defines those who are able to hold themselves above the fray of other people’s emotions and emotional reactions to life’s stuff. Self-differentiated pastors who lead through change are able to keep themselves from getting tangled in the muck, mostly by painting a new picture of God’s preferred future for each person and the congregation as a whole. This is tough work – it demands daily that I am responsible for my stuff, so I must identify what is your stuff and decide not to carry it for you. I will care for you while you carry it, I will point you to resources, but I will not carry it for you. Friedman’s book, The Failure of Nerve, would be a good read for any pastor or leader who is dealing with change issues.
  3. Communication is a key role for any pastor, but for those who are leading through change, it is paramount! Being able to communicate a clear, positive message in the midst of change is essential to getting where you want to go! I often encourage pastors to end every meeting with agreement around the clear, positive message that will be carried by each person leaving the meeting. This agreement is the most important thing a team can do to lead through change.
So, relationship with God, self-differentiation, and good communication practices are three characteristics that help pastors lead through change. Friedman’s book also takes a significant look at chronically anxious systems, whether they be families or nations (and everything in between!). He shares five characteristics that are interesting for us to know.
  1. Reactivity is the vicious cycle of intense reactions to events and one another.
  2. Herding is a process where togetherness trumps individuality and everyone adapts to the least mature members.
  3. Blame displacement leads to “playing the victim” rather than taking responsibility.
  4. A quick-fix mentality is always looking for system relief rather than real change.
  5. A lack of well-differentiated leaders equals the failure of nerve that contributes to the other four characteristics.
When we explore this list I hope you will notice that the first four characteristics are typically the “other people’s stuff” that pastors are asked to carry and they are all emotional responses to life. When the disciples questioned Jesus as to why they couldn’t cast out the demon in the boy (Mk 9:27-29), Jesus replied that this is only possible through prayer. So much of what our leaders face in our local churches today are only possible to resolve through prayer and a deep desire to align ministry with God’s desires for our communities. In many ways we must all “grow up” so that God can use us in fruitful ways to grow God’s Kingdom in the world.

Find the book HERE.
Follow Jesus. Make Disciples. Transform the World.