Joel Snider says church leaders need new skills to move people toward common goals in a time when conflict surrounds so many church decisions. Rather than leading by force, he suggests building consensus one person at a time, probing ideas through questions rather than criticism, and responding respectfully to the ideas of others.
Leadership comes hard these days. Everyone wants to argue. Political leaders, PTA presidents, and pastors find themselves in the crosshairs of social media for the slightest disagreement. Shouting at one another is a new leadership skill. The loudest voice wins. However, there can be effective leadership without force.
Congregations want ministers who have strong pastoral skills. Ministers who possess these skills are often mismatched to their responsibility to lead in the current climate. Many are conflict adverse. Yet, they now find themselves attempting to lead at a time when conflict often surrounds major church decisions. Consequently, ministers are burning out and leaving the ministry at an alarming rate. Little gets accomplished.
What new leadership skills can ministers use to lead, even if they have a low tolerance for conflict?
1. Consensus building
Ministers can lead churches to make decisions one person at a time. If you have an idea, conviction, or vision, talk with one leader first. Choose someone who will be sympathetic and influential to help give birth to the idea. Ask the person who else you should talk to.
Continue the process until three or four people share your vision. By then, you will have gained an understanding of the issues and personalities you face as you lead. When you float the idea publicly, some will already be on board.
2. Ask questions and probe.
No one wants to be told what they ought to do. No one wants to be told they have a bad idea. Lead by inquiring instead of making demands or criticizing another view. My first verbal tool for probing is “Help me understand ….” This request can be used to reveal motives behind strong emotions or unhelpful behaviors. A variation is “Can you unpack that statement for me?”
3. Don’t reject ideas publicly.
We all want to be heard. Ignoring comments or dismissing ideas can embarrass others. Name a time you found it helpful when someone said to you, “We already thought of that,” or “Your idea won’t work.” If you were in a crowd, such comments are doubly painful. Instead, try phrases like:
“I’m glad you brought that up because we spent time considering it.” If someone makes a suggestion that isn’t helpful, respond with, “Thanks for that input. We’ll consider it as we make a final recommendation.” (Of course, you must be true to your word.)
One of my mentors often responded to an unhelpful idea by saying, “That’s one way to do it. Another good idea is …” or perhaps “Yes, and ….”.
Responding in kind to harsh challenges only escalates tension. Whether we are talking about the skills of emotional intelligence or following the principles of Christ, “A soft answer turneth away wrath (Proverbs 15:1)”. Effective leadership does not mean overwhelming anyone who disagrees. It simply means being able to move a group toward a common goal. Some very simple verbal skills can be learned by any personality type to be a more effective leader, even in today’s argumentative climate.
This article was originally published by the Center for Healthy Churches under the title Effective Leadership Without Force. Used by permission.
- Learning to Underreact by Dan Hotchkiss
- 5 Suggestions for Managing Conflict in Polarized Contexts by David R. Brubaker
- 10 Dos and Don’ts for Handling Difficult Conversations by Chris Sonksen
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