Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Church Leadership: Enabling or Serving?

If your church, Sunday School, or small group was suddenly placed in a setting in another country that had limited resources, was not airconditioned, was unheated, and had poorly built facilities, would your group survive? Have we perpetuated a culture of complaining in our small groups and churches by enabling instead of serving?

As I travel, listening and observing church and Bible study group culture, I am amazed at how seemingly small trivial things can rattle relationships, disrupt unity, and even split churches.

I recently experienced this regarding a simple piece of curriculum. In an attempt to simplify the ordering process, I decided to choose a standard size print for everyone. My curriculum choices included "large print" and "small print." I thought, "Surely no one would mind getting large print if we could make ordering simpler." Well, I was wrong!

You would have thought I had just embezzled money or committed a major moral failure based on the responses. Sadly, the complaints were, "The print is too large" ( I honestly welcome larger print now that I have to wear glasses); and "The book won't fit in my Bible."

My first response was one of frustration and disappointment. Then I started scrambling to make everyone happy. "Oh wait," I thought, "I just enabled negative behavior." Then I thought, "What will happen the next time the church decides to implement a change that is really significant? Will we have to focus on enabling or accommodating negative behavior instead of serving in a way that moves people forward?"

Here are some thoughts that might help you become more of a proactive servant leader instead of an enabler. I must admit, I too need to learn. You might have other ideas as well. Feel free to share.

  • Communicate: When you plan to change something, communicate in advance, no matter how small the change. This was my failure related to the curriculum. I had felt it was too small of a change to communicate in advance. I was wrong! Admittedly, I could have communicated in advance my decision to order large print curriculum had I known it would have devastated so many people's faith. I just didn't realize what this would have done.
  • Don't Overreact: When something changes and people complain, don't overreact. Be patient. Don't start scrambling to immediately provide a solution. Serving is not enabling. Listen and think; don't defend!
  • Don't Make it a Competition: When people argue or complain to you in the church hallways, via email, or other venues, don't try to win or fix every problem. Listen, thank them for sharing, and walk away.
  • Make Appropriate Course Corrections: If there is an issue that can be corrected, do so. Communicate with complainers about how you have addressed the issue, but don't correct something just to quiet the complainers; this is enabling.
  • Stay the Course: If you and your team believe that the direction you are going is the right direction, don't cower down. Gently continue leading forward.
  • Affirm Your Leaders: I have Bible study group leaders who "watch my back." They are patient with me, I think they understand my motives for most changes, and they help "put out fires." I am so grateful for these leaders because they understand the difference between enabling or serving. 
A church leader's position gives him an opportunity to observe human behavior at its best and, sadly, at its worst.  At times, others' behavior is awe-inspiring. At other times, it is very disappointing. Personally a leader should step back after a disappointment, spend time in prayer, and never let the discouragements blind him to the great things God is doing all around in the church and small groups. God is always at work, even when others are complaining!