Several years ago, I read the book Toxic Faith. It sounded like the organizational handbook of the para-church ministry from which I had just resigned. While I wish my situation were unique, it was not and books are written because bad leadership does exist. Having said that, truly ‘toxic’ situations are not the norm, so this first blog is meant to address the more normal situational conflicts that arise when ‘your leaders are wrong’.
It’s important to define terms. Someone is “wrong” when their actions are contrary to that which is moral, ethical, and biblical. There’s a myriad of things your leaders can do that are not, in your opinion, good judgement, but they are not “wrong”. It not morally wrong to be outdated, disorganized, inexperienced, non-intuitive or culturally naïve. Being any of those things will hinder the effectiveness of a ministry but it’s not morally wrong to be ineffective. This is not to raise inefficiency to a virtue but suffice to say it is not a moral vice.
Most of the time, if you have a conflict with a leader there is a difference of opinion, personality or generation, that is of no moral consequence. I know that I make decisions that appear as though I am shooting from my aging hips when in fact I am making a decision based on more factors than I can reasonably articulate. Leaders should expect to answer reasonable questions, asked at a reasonable place and time. If you see your leader make a significant choice with which you don’t agree, make note of it and ask him or her about it, privately, at an appropriate time. Pick your topics wisely. If you don’t like the color scheme of the church nursery, get over it. If you lead youth group and don’t understand why certain activities are not permitted, ask those in authority in a private context. Questions asked publicly are often perceived (and subliminally intended) as a challenge to leadership. If you are asking in an appropriate way but get a response that is demeaning, and such responses are the norm, you have a real problem. (Be sure to read the next blog.)
But what do we do when leaders we love make poor choices? How do you respond when your pastor is discouraged that people don’t participate in worship but you realize that having a music team that consists of a tambourine and zither player has made congregational participation difficult?
Step One: Talk to your leader. In a healthy situation, you can probably talk most things out with your leader. Maybe your pastor does not realize there are affordable alternatives to a live worship band. Maybe he secretly has nightmares about the zither, too. Most leaders are approachable if you are respectful. Be nice. Buy his/her coffee. Listen to your leader as much as you want him or her to listen to you. Maybe your pastor will be thrilled if you take ownership of the solution. Give it a shot.
Step Two: Ask yourself why you are serving where you are. If you know the Lord called you to a certain ministry, stay where you are and wait until the Lord tells you to go. If your leaders are making poor choices that are not “wrong” perhaps your faithful service will win the right to be heard so there will be a change. Renting an inflatable castle for VBS is not an issue of right or wrong. The decision may not go your way, but if you are not the final authority for the church, remember that Christians in the world suffer fates worse than outdated VBS choices.
The bottom line is most issues are not issues of right or wrong. Sadly, some issues are, when your leaders are truly wrong you will be on track for a very difficult road. That is why this is a two-part blog.