The Cost of Leadership

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I just finished a book written by a college roommate of mine, Rev. Henry Wildeboer, entitled When God Shows Up: A Pastor’s Journey. It is the story of his life, beginning from his immigrant days as a child in Alberta. The bulk of the book, however, is about his ministry, and in particular, a church conflict that took place during the turbulent 70s and 80s, when the charismatic movement affected many established churches. It is a story of excited believers and disappointed ones, of emotional agony and painful misunderstanding, of people trying to maneuver around the church order to make it work so that their side would win. Almost everyone who has read this book, myself included, has said that it is difficult to put the book down.

The dynamics explored in this first-person account are far too complex to summarize here, but the questions it raises brought to mind a church where the direction in which the church was being led resulted in a sizable number of families leaving for other churches because they felt their needs were no longer being met.

Questions like these surfaced in my mind as I read this book:

  • What is the best way to resolve a conflict when one group wants the local congregation to go in one direction and another group wants to go in another?
  • Should the pastor steer the members in one direction or the other, or should he/she try to be an impartial referee? What is the essence of positive church leadership?
  • What if the pastor himself/herself is at the center of the debate?
  • Do the rules of church order, especially as they involve classis, truly help resolve an issue by calming emotions and insisting that things be done “decently and in order”?
  • Is there a time when the best way to resolve an issue is a church split, where one group leaves, either to join a church more to their liking or even to start a different worshiping center? Or are there better ways to resolve a fractious issue?

Well, I could go on with more questions, but these are enough to stimulate your thinking about churches you may have been a part of or heard about. Any thoughts?

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Verlyn,

Found your post most interesting in the light of my having just finished reading the book as well as the reality of being "on the scene" at this point. (I'm serving Calgary's former First CRC--now RiverParkChurch as their Interim Sr. Pastor.) When I asked Henry W. for some input regarding my serving here, he suggested "Read my book," which I obediently and wisely enough did.

But, having said all that, doesn't qualify me to answer all of your questions. A lot has transpired at the church since. Folks have headed in a variety of directions, and some of the differnces seem very minimal in the light of developments, even denominationally since. A pastor is always steering in a direction. It's impossible to be an impartial referee. When he/she is or becomes the center of the debate, I'd suggest it may be time to have an honest, reality show kind of discussion and determine which group goes where with whom, being obviously honest about why they're doing so. All too often we use all kinds of rhetoric to explain what is really not honest or maybe explainable.

Seems to me that in those kinds of situations, no real listening takes place. We're too busy givng our impressions or opinions and then forget/refuse to listen. Personalities are a reality, and it's best when we're honest about it. Read Acts again and see Paul & Barnabas' approach, with an eventual compromise and reconciliation. How do we keep the focus when persons become the focal point?  Anyhow, just some ramblings as I deal with a church/people greatly affected. No conclusions drawn......yet.......or ever. Not mine to do, I think.

 

I am currently reading The Painful Side of Leadership, Moving Forward Even When it Hurts by Jeff Iorg. it's an excellent book for pastors and leaders. Sometimes pain comes as a result of followers, sometimes as a result of leaders. Sometimes it happens because of sin, other times it may be just misunderstandings. Iorg shares some insightful suggestions in dealing with painful situations in leadership.

Verlyn,

You have posed the question as if the leader has three choices: A, B or remain neutral

When churches (or groups) experience conflict over choice A or choice B it may be because they (or their leadership) have not passionately sought out, defined, then repeatedly emphasized the ultimate goal X. If X (which it now occures to me can conveniently stand for Christ and his kingdom) is well defined in the current context -- we are called to be..... and to do... -- then discussions about whether route A, B, or C take us there more directly (and at what cost) can be more openly explored.

 I suspect that the leader who allows himself/herself to be identified with A, B, C, D or E before the group has adequately explored them all and chosen one by a clear majority (while being frequently reminded of X) is the leader who goes down in flames or cleans up after a train wreck. 

Eugene Peterson's book The Pastor: A Memoir has some good chapters on his honest struggling with a young church about what they should become (and at the same time what he as a pastor should become).

 

 

I appreciate what the others are writing, and especially the resources that you have found helpful in trying to get a handle on what effective leadership is and how to maneuver through conflict. I have been at Zondervan for over 25 years, though never in a supervisory position. But all employees were required to take a course in Covey's Seven Effective Habits, one of which was "Think Win-Win."

Unfortunately in the American culture, our entire thought patterns are Win-Lose. We see it, naturally, in sports; we see it in the legal profession; we see it politics (the other term for that is gridlock). And I think we see it in church conflict--there will be winners and there will be losers. I don't believe it has to be that way. It wasn't that way in the NT church, but it took time to build a consensus. We need to think win-win (that is perhaps the X that Ron Klimp talks about).