Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part two)

After illuminating characteristics of a Culture of Cowardice and making sobering observations about how appropriately it applies to the Church, we’ve turned our attention to the kind of leadership that can serve to restore the Church to a place of redemptive influence in society.  Edwin Friedman, in Generation to Generation defines a leader as a self-defined person with a non-anxious presence.  Last week, we unpacked some of what it means to be self-defined, or as my CRM teammates prefer: “God-defined”.

Today, a non-anxious presence.

A non-anxious presence does not mean carefree, laid-back, detached, disengaged.  It means an absence of anxiety.

As a powerful squall threatens to swamp their boat, the disciples are a mess.  Anxious.  Fearful.  Panicked.  Jesus … is … asleep. [Mk 4:38]

Non-anxious.

After benefiting from the miracle of the loaves and fish the crowd wants Jesus to seize political control, overthrow the Romans, declare himself King.  His response was simply to withdraw to a solitary place, alone.

Non-anxious.

A non-anxious presence is easy to carry off when your leadership is well received, when people are saying great things about you, when folks are happy and grateful for you.  A non-anxious presence is essential when anxiety appears omnipresent.

Recall the phrase: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part”.  The less mature are always attempting to enroll others in their disquiet, their “crisis du jour”. A perceived catastrophe on the part of certain members of the congregation does not constitute a calamity for a well-defined leader.

Do you think for one minute that God, up in Heaven, is wringing his hands over that leaky roof, or the lawsuit brought against the church, or the lousy turnout at the society meeting? I often remind my coaching clients that God is not looking down at them stunned, saying: “Oh my goodness, I didn’t see that coming!”  And, since God is fully aware of your predicament, what do you suppose God wants to do in you as a result?

The self-defined leader chooses to interpret these “crises” as precious opportunities to develop mature disciples of Jesus Christ. Friedman is clear: the leader’s capacity to contain her own reactivity to the trepidation of others, to avoid becoming polarized, and to self-regulate while staying connected to those who behave as if in distress is key to both the leader’s differentiation and to catalyzing maturity in the culture.

Think this through, Christian leader:

a) How are you growing in governing your own emotional reactivity?  Ask your spouse, your kids, your staff and elders: what evidence do they see of your growth in controlling your reactions when those around you are out-of-control themselves?

b) When individuals or groups are locked in opposition, are you becoming more apt to get “altitude”, above the fray, and remain curious?  Are you getting better at living in the tension, without knee-jerking yourself to one side or the other, primarily to exit the tension of the issue being, as yet, unresolved?

c) When you react with frustration and anger to the low-tolerance frustration and anger of the immature in your ministry context, you’ve put yourself in exactly the same soup! The key is to manage yourself when in conflict and to stay in relationship with those who prefer to attack, blame, and remain irresponsible for their own being and destiny.

It takes stamina to continually define oneself to those who lack self-regulation. Sadly, that kind of stamina is not developed within a culture of cowardice.  Nor is it promoted in the American education system that presses for togetherness over against the self-differentiation that is natural when honest competition and individuation is endorsed.

As Friedman noted some 15 years ago, most of us are leading chronically anxious emotional dwarfs. In many denominational systems, the church has become one of the hideouts for the immature.

Sad.

We could be the most powerful, clear, selfless, and confident people on the planet.

God-defined people with a non-anxious presence.