Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part eight)

We’re investigating a fifth leadership concept: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight. This perspective is of central importance to pastors who are committed to lead their congregations through change.  Maybe it’s because the religious culture’s assumption is that the shepherd’s role is to comfort and soothe the sheep, that ministers tend to give most of our time and attention to those least motivated to change.  Of course, there are exceptions.

Yet, in my more than 20 years of ministry—much of it to ministers—it’s stunning how much of pastors’ time, thoughts, and prayer lives are consumed with those who are least motivated to follow.

While you are breaking yourself to provide compelling insight to inspire the unmotivated, they are breaking your will to lead, to bring the change you believe God wants, and to see God’s Kingdom advanced in your city.  Once the pastor’s will is broken, it’s “lights out” for that church—and for the un-churched community the congregation was assembled, by God, to influence.

Pastor, your courageous, decisive leadership is just that important.  Your will, your resolve, and your stamina in the face of opposition from people you love dearly, is essential to the Kingdom’s advance in American society.

Today’s blog is to help you avoid the energy-sapping, confidence-draining effect of the unmotivated on your leadership.

To lead, you can’t “push on the rope”. Rather than focusing on the resistant, give yourself to those who are most willing to go with you.  Give them your time, your creativity, and your energy. In any community, you’ll find three kinds of people.  This is over-simplified just a bit, so you can use and benefit from the concept.

There are some in your congregation who have trained themselves to take risks, to try new, untested possibilities, to leap into the unknown just to see if something better can result.  These are pioneers. They are God’s gift to you!

The majority in any established congregation, however are not pioneers.  They are belongers. Belongers are willing to change when certain conditions are met.  They’ve trained themselves to move with the community.  They will move when the discomfort of not moving is greater than the risks associated with the change.  Put another way, they will move when they decide it is safe to do so—and not before.  The belongers are God’s gift to you!  They build community.  They are stabilizers.  Many of these folks are great, reliable workers in the bowels of your organization.

This leaves a third group. The resisters. These are people who have trained themselves to avoid the possibility of loss, and so are unlikely to implement any change that can be avoided or delayed.  A core motivation is to avoid being wrong or failing.  They too, are God’s gift to you!  They are steady.  They are loyal.  They’re the ones likely to show up whenever the doors are open.  Traditionalists, they engage in church life in much the same way people have for fifty years and longer.  They still tithe.

Resisters and pioneers interpret life in mutually-exclusive ways. When a pioneer is confronted with an opportunity, as soon as she sees the possibility of improvement, her default is: “Why not?”  The resister will intuit the possibility of failure or loss and think: “Why take an imprudent risk?”  The belonger will move, but only when it’s “safe”.

The culture that’s been established in your congregation will determine how predominant each group is.  Curiously, “church” is one of the few places in American society where resisters can congregate en masse.  I suppose government is the other.  Think bureaucracy, not politicians.

Here’s the key: Pastor, live with your pioneers!  Make sure they populate your appointment calendar.  Every week, insure that you spend most of your time with them. In the next blog, we’ll clarify what to do when you’re together, so the change you believe God wants, actually takes hold in the congregation.

For now, work to clear your calendar of resisters, and to fill it with pioneers.  It may take you three months or more to wean yourself away from the passion-extinguishing complaining and tantruming of the unmotivated.

Pro-actively schedule your office appointments with the folks who are most responsive to your leadership. Invest generously in their lives.  Support them as they grow up in Christ.  You’ll enjoy it a lot more, and more Kingdom fruit will be borne, as well.

By Easter, you could be leaping into your workweek with a vigor, optimism, and enthusiasm that most of your folks have never seen in you.