Take a stand at church (and keep your job)

Leadership means you have to say things that not everyone wants to hear. You know this. I know this. Even your board may know this. But a lot of people still resist it.

So how is leadership looking in your life right now?

Do you have a bold new leadership direction you want to call people toward?

Are you facing  people who want to control everything in the church?

Do you feel called to speak out about public issues of today?

In any of these cases, you take a risk when you speak out.

Now, you can never eliminate risk. But here are some ways to reduce it and stand in your leadership.

1.   Get your thinking clear. What do you think about the issue at hand? What are the principles and values that inform you? Write it down. Get feedback from a thoughtful colleague, coach or mentor. Feedback is no substitute for doing your own thinking; however, it can help step back and  see things you might have missed, reflect on your own anxiety, and consider the implications.

2.   Prepare the ground. If you are making a bold move, you can’t do it alone. You need allies. Lovett Weems suggests in the case of a new initiative that you ask the question, “Who are the people without whom this will not happen?” (I heard him say this at the recent Ecumenical Stewardship Center conference, and I’ll never forget it.) Have a conversation with those people, and get their input. Genuinely listen. You may want to adapt your plan based on the feedback. Likewise, if you are dealing with challenging individuals who are making church life a misery, you can’t manage it alone. You need others who will stand with you. And if you are going to take a controversial stand on a public issue, run it by the most mature individual in your congregation, regardless of their perspective on the issue. I wish I had done this when I was a pastor. I would have saved myself and others a lot of grief and frustration.

3.   Take your stand. Take a deep breath, and preach the sermon, or have the difficult conversation, or make your statement. Do your best to be in your own skin, as authentic and honest as you can be about your position. Speak from your heart. Don’t tell others what they ought to do, think or believe. Don’t try to talk them into anything. Don’t be judgmental or scolding. Instead, use the word “I.” “I think” “I believe.” You may feel anxious. That’s all right. It’s about regulating your anxiety, not eliminating it.

4.   Observe the reaction. When you take a stand, there will be a reaction. This is not personal. It is part of the automatic reactivity in a church system (and other systems, too). Get curious. You may be surprised. Your relatively neutral response to the reactivity can have an enormous impact. This doesn’t mean you change your point of view on the issue. Rather, it means you are able to manage your emotions when people react, even when they criticize or demonize you.

5.   Stay connected. Don’t avoid the people who disagree, even the ones who are upset. It is tempting to cozy up to the ones who like what you are doing, and even to complain about “those people.” Don’t do it. If some people are behaving badly, you may need thoughtful lay leaders to help you respond, but that’s very different from complaining

6.   Let go of the outcome. You can’t control whether others agree with you or not, come along or not, do what you want or not. They will decide. Continue to be curious about what happens and where people take it. Remember, this is just one conversation out of many in a years-long ministry. Trust that God is with you and with them as you move (inch?) forward together.

When have you bravely taken a stand? What happened? And when is the next time you’ll take another?

Blessings,
Margaret

 

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