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A Swedish proverb declares, “In calm water every ship has a good captain.” That proverb has repeatedly been proven true in the life of congregations. Every church leader is a good captain when their faith community is navigating quiet waters. The test of a great church leader, however, is when a congregation is traversing the turbulent seas of ministry change. Only those with unusual leadership gifts can help their congregations avoid crashing on the reefs of change.

Here are some of the unusual skills of great congregational captains:

They are unusually calm. Great transitional leaders telegraph personal quiet in the midst of disquiet. They demonstrate emotional maturity by not vibrating with the anxious vibrations of those around them. Even when they’re personally stirred inside they keep an outer aura of tranquility. Someone once said, “Leadership is the ability to hide your panic from others.” Calm is nurtured through a life of prayer.

They are unusually connected. Great transitional leaders stay connected to their people. They listen carefully, respond kindly and explain thoroughly. While they remain determined leaders they never stop being pastors. Great leaders hold the hands of their congregation while exploring the new unknown waters of ministry.

They are unusually conscientious. Great transitional leaders know that change only happens when a community stretches beyond comfortable practices. In other words, (as Jim Herrington puts it) leaders generate and sustain creative tension. But great leaders are conscientious when it comes to the limits of change. They know when a faith community has stretched to the point of breaking and ease off to provide time for acclimating to an uncomfortable new.

They are unusually clear. Great transitional leaders are consistently clear about their “why.” Theodore Hesburgh, past president of Notre Dame said: “The very essence of leadership is to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow a weak trumpet.” 

They are unusually confident. Great transitional leaders have a deep confidence born out of a divine call. This confidence isn’t prideful and isn’t stubborn and it isn’t blind. Rather, it’s a confidence based on the unshakable hope that God will see us through if we will only remain true to joining Him on His mission to redeem and restore.

The Church Renewal Lab can point leaders toward helpful resources for navigating congregational change. For information please contact the Lab at [email protected] or leave a comment below! 

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