Conflict as Blessing: Please Don’t Waste This Crisis

For Baptists Today
08/01/2011

Conflict as Blessing: Please Don’t Waste This Crisis

By Bill Wilson

Ask any minister, “What is the worst part of your job?” and nearly all will tell you, “Conflict!”. Ask any congregation member what they like least about their church experience, and most will answer the same. Conflict is everywhere people are, and it seems to be escalating. The incivility of our culture is having a toxic effect on ministry and congregations.

The FACT 2000 survey of 14,000 congregations found that, in the past five years, 75 percent of churches have experienced some level of conflict. At any given time, one-fifth of congregations are in active conflict. With our depressed economy and seismic job losses, many lives are deeply stressed. It comes as no surprise that churches are experiencing more conflict than ever. Regarding conflict as blessing seems foolish and naïve. Is it possible, however, to learn to manage our conflict constructively?

Speaking up early

Church leaders are wise to address conflict early and proactively before it escalates to become divisive. The issue is not whether you will have conflict, but what you will do with it. Following biblical commands means handling conflict with openness, compassion and as much transparency as possible. Speaking up early, rather than sweeping disagreement under the carpet, avoids a host of problems that over time can leave a congregation divided and deeply wounded.

Conflict within a congregation can begin as a simple difference of opinion over worship styles, carpet color or youth activities, or it can be as shame-filled as division over clergy sexual misconduct or staff financial mismanagement. It always causes discomfort, and it can be downright painful. And yet, conflict within a congregation can be a catalyst for healthy growth.

Growing through the pain

In my experience, it is the rare adult who makes any significant life change without discomfort and pain. Throughout the Bible, God uses conflict to grow his people. Paul, Peter, Martha, Mary, David and Jeremiah are examples of heroes who learned through the ache of failure and conflict. The letters to the early church are filled with instructions for managing conflict. We are not the first to walk this way.

Conflicts and crises make excellent teachers. They often lead to new and better ways of doing things. If a youth leader’s misbehavior results in a safer policy for adult interaction with teens, the youth ministry is strengthened. If employee theft inspires a smart policy that minimizes risk, congregational trust is enhanced. When bitter argument gives way to thoughtful conversation, community is built.

Keys to navigating conflict

At the Center for Congregational Health, we believe there are several keys to navigating conflict. One is to avoid triangulation. During conflict, it is tempting for people to talk about each other to anyone who will listen. Instead, we are called to take Matthew 18 seriously and learn to talk to each other about the issue. Such conversations must come in from the parking lot to the fellowship hall. Leaders can facilitate opportunities for guided conversations in a manner that allows everyone to voice an opinion. Mature leaders can help others learn to discuss deep issues of differences, disagreements and disappointments. When people feel belittled, ignored or disrespected, the outcome is very different from when they feel valued, included and heard.

A second practice is to anticipate conflict. Healthy congregations have regular times to talk about life together. Opportunities specifically devoted to open discussion create a safe place for the congregation to ask hard questions and relieve anxiety. Deacon or business meetings that include unstructured time for asking questions build trust. Congregational leaders who are willing to hear suggestions and critiques without undue defensiveness model maturity and deepen the fellowship.

A third practice is to get help. As with Paul and Timothy, in some cases, despite the best efforts of leadership and the congregation to remain open-minded and transparent, a polarity cannot be resolved. When conflict gets especially heated, a third-party intervention may be required to enable us to overcome our emotional anxiety and harmful habits.

Finally, we need to learn the art of graceful exits. If a conflict escalates beyond reconciliation, our goal as Christians ought to be to bless one another and then separate. Often, in a worst-case intractable conflict, the two sides take their focus away from the issue and set out to destroy each other. This tears at the fabric of the church and decimates our witness for Christ. We can certainly do better.

While the church of Christ may be filled with sinners and conflict, when we manage conflict in a way that leads to a healthier congregation, we become a message of hope to the larger world. There may be no better way for the church to witness to a conflict-weary culture than to handle its own, internal differences with wisdom and grace.

Crisis and conflict awaken our passions and can motivate us to a better way. When conflict arrives, as it must, please do not waste the opportunity to seek to turn it into a blessing.

Learn more about understanding conflict and a discussion of the levels of conflict, as identified by Speed Leas.

Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health (www.healthychurch.org).

Please site Bill Wilson, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.

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Resources for Conflict

The Center is available to help with conflict. We can provide consultation, coaching, leadership development and spiritual formation.

Learn more at www.healthychurch.org. If we can help you in any way, please contact us!

We are also on Facebook and Twitter.


Congregational Shift: Can a Congregation Transition without Carnage?

For Baptists Today
07/01/2011

Congregational Shift: Can a Congregation Transition without Carnage?

By Chris Gambill

There is no change without pain. Change processes in congregations often have unintended as well as intended consequences. Unintended consequences can include conflict, anger, grief, loss of energy and momentum, or even the loss of staff or members. Regardless of how well intentioned a change process may be, it has the potential to bring more harm than good.

For some congregations, these potential liabilities are enough to check any movement toward change. However, as most faith communities surely know, not changing also has serious liabilities and consequences. Refusing change puts a congregation at risk of irrelevance or even extinction. Church history, both ancient and modern, is brimming with evidence that this can and still does happen. The choice should not be between change and no change. The real challenge is to create transition processes that produce the kind of results congregations hope for and avoid as much as possible those things they least desire. With careful and prayerful planning, a congregation can transition without carnage.

When considering change, congregations should seek to be faithful to their own particular sense of calling. Scripture and tradition offers various points of view about change that can inform a congregation as it seeks to be faithful and relevant. For example, in regard to change in general, scripture seems to revere and value both stability and change.

  • “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8, NIV)
  • “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

Regarding the speed of change and the energy or patience required to see it through, there also seems to be paradoxical guidance from scripture.

  • “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV)
  • “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’(Matthew 10:34-36, NIV)

In our experience at the Center for Congregational Health, most congregational change processes fall along a continuum where one end represents a revolutionary approach and the other end an evolutionary approach. A revolutionary approach is one that is typically carried out in a short timeframe and seeks to establish significantly different ways of thinking and behaving. An evolutionary approach typically utilizes a longer timeframe and may or may not seek to establish the degree of change sought through a revolutionary approach. The biggest difference between the two approaches is the impact on the congregation members, themselves. Revolutionary change is hard to miss. Evolutionary change can happen so slowly that the transition is almost indiscernible. Both have a significant emotional, psychological and spiritual impact on members of a faith community.

For congregations ready for a revolutionary approach, the sudden and often dramatic change is welcomed by most people. However, if a congregation is not carefully prepared and does not have enough of a sense of urgency to support quick and dramatic change, then the transition may be resisted or rejected. Quick change processes have less time to build cohesion and consensus. This means there is a higher risk of congregation members not “owning” the changes or of feeling left out of the decision-making processes.

Evolutionary change, because it is slower and more gradual, may be more readily accepted or produce less resistance. Because more time is available for the progression, it has a higher likelihood of producing broader ownership for the change and decision-making processes. On the other hand, the slow pace of evolutionary transition may be frustrating to those with a greater sense of urgency about what they perceive to be needed change.

Which is better, revolutionary or evolutionary change? Neither. Just as it is not an option for a congregation to simply choose change or no change, the choice is also not simply between a revolutionary or evolutionary approach. Picturing change processes on a continuum with the two extremes being revolutionary and evolutionary allows change leaders to move back and forth along the continuum to find the appropriate methodology, speed and forcefulness for any particular situation.

Those seeking to lead change processes in congregational life need to ask good questions. For example:

  1. Which theological principles should take precedence in the change process?
  2. How urgent is the need for change?
  3. How much time does the congregation have to devote to a change process?
  4. How much emotional energy surrounds the potential change?
  5. How much risk can the congregation afford regarding potential unintended consequences?

Listening carefully and answering these questions accurately can help congregational leaders determine the right speed and energy needed for a change process. While congregational transitions are never easy, they can be managed in ways that bring largely positive results.

Chris Gambill is senior consultant and manager of congregational health services for the Center for Congregational Health (www.healthychurch.org) based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Please site Chris Gambill, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.

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Resources for Communication

The Center is available to help with transition. We can provide consultation, coaching, leadership development and spiritual formation.

Learn more at www.healthychurch.org. If we can help you in any way, please contact us!

We are also on Facebook and Twitter.


Examples of Communication from The Key to All Transition

Examples of Communication from The Key to All Transition

Published in Baptists Today by Chris Gambill with Natalie Aho

Change is inevitable. Significant transitions do come, but because they occur infrequently, most congregations do not naturally have the tools to cope with them effectively. Transitions – positive or negative – create anxiety. Whether it’s hiring a new pastor, changing location, saying goodbye to a church patriarch or matriarch, adding or subtracting a worship service or even deciding how to handle a large financial gift – transitions can cause discomfort, distrust and conflict.

The primary way to decrease discomfort and anxiety and to increase trust during a transition is through communication: intentional, consistent, multi-modal communication. While effective communication is important to any faith community, it is vital during a time of transition. Communication engenders trust when leaders do what they say they will do. Effective communication can move a change process forward by creating positive energy and anticipation. Where transition can be foreseen, congregational leaders should create a communications plan and assign responsibilities.

Read the rest of this article.

We wanted to provide a few concrete examples of when we have seen churches using communication effectively during a transition.

Quarterly Church Conference:

Search Committee Process:

  • As mentioned in the article, the church first created a “logo” of sorts that provided some graphical consistency (colors, font type, font words) – example: “2011 FBC Pastor Search”. In their printed pieces (newsletters) and online (website), they provided a timeline with the full search committee process (in the consistent colors) and they would move an electronic arrow along the timeline as they moved through the process. They also created a “life-size” version of this timeline on white board and hung it in a main hallway of the church. They moved the arrow along this timeline as well.

Moving Forward:

  • To provide a participatory experience, the church created a time capsule. They wanted to say “good-bye” to their past in order to move forward with a new plan and a new future. They put in the time capsule the things (or image representations) they want to stay in the past and they also included gifts to the future members. This was an opportunity for them to physically “bury the past” and expect there will be a future. They held an elaborate, focused outside service. One particular memory for Chris Gambill was of a very old member pointing to a group of young children watching her place a “future” item into the time capsule. She then said to them, “I want you to give this to my great, great grandchildren.”
  • One congregation wrote a play depicting the life and history of the congregation. They had vignettes portrayed by characters in costumes from the past. This is a great way to mark a significant time in the life of the congregation and then move forward into a new time.

Financial Gift:

  • The best way to communicate effectively when the church receives a significant financial gift is to have a policy in place NOW (before any gift is received) to prevent any problems. The church should not have react but should be proactive. Eliminate designated funds (the outsider now handling the gift may not know if the designated fund still needs money). There should be a process of review, input, and decision making. Be thankful and acknowledge the gift. Put it in escrow, and then move through the process of discussion and input opportunities for anyone who has an investment in the outcome of this fund (which should be every member of your congregation). Every idea should be heard, and then evaluated. The conclusion of what to do with the fund should be a decision process with a possible range of outcomes (the fund may not be used in just one way).

Significant Transition of Change:

  • Recognize that a lot of change-related decisions are really about trying to resolve a polarity, rather than solving a problem. The question may be, “Do we want to be innovative or traditional?” and the answer is “yes.” Options that seem to be opposites must be held in tension with one another. You need to be able to recognize when the question at hand is really about polarity and develop a strategy to wrestle with the benefits and liabilities of any decision (from both sides). The Center for Congregational Health has experience in helping your congregation make a better decision. Contact us to learn more about polarities through a workshop or a consultation.

Interactive Communication:

  • The wide use and availability of the Internet and mobile devices has allowed the average church to communicate instantly and, in some cases, intimately, with its congregants. Visit the icm4clergy blog created by Natalie Aho for tips and theories on how to use the Internet for communication during transitions.

If your church has other examples of successful communication plans used during times of transition, please comment here or on our Facebook page.


Communication: The Key to All Transition

For Baptists Today
06/01/11

Communication: The Key to All Transition

By Chris Gambill with Natalie Aho

Change is inevitable. Significant transitions do come, but because they occur infrequently, most congregations do not naturally have the tools to cope with them effectively. Transitions – positive or negative – create anxiety. Whether it’s hiring a new pastor, changing location, saying goodbye to a church patriarch or matriarch, adding or subtracting a worship service or even deciding how to handle a large financial gift – transitions can cause discomfort, distrust and conflict.

The primary way to decrease discomfort and anxiety and to increase trust during a transition is through communication: intentional, consistent, multi-modal communication. While effective communication is important to any faith community, it is vital during a time of transition. Communication engenders trust when leaders do what they say they will do. Effective communication can move a change process forward by creating positive energy and anticipation. Where transition can be foreseen, congregational leaders should create a communications plan and assign responsibilities.

Multi-modal communication

A multi-modal approach is essential. Every individual has a preferred way to receive and process information – some of us prefer to read, others to see, hear or witness an event. Church leaders should engage all communication methods – newsletter, worship bulletin, oral announcements during worship and other community gatherings, as well as online communication tools like the church website, Facebook church page, Twitter and email newsletters and groups (see examples).

Visual communication is often neglected. One church that I know of did it effectively by placing a large, multi-colored timeline of the pastor search process and moved a large arrow along the timeline to show the congregation where the search committee was in the process. The same graphic appeared in the newsletter. (Read of other examples.)

For oral announcements, it is important to find a spokesperson with excellent speaking skills and a presence that inspires trust. The speaker should have written remarks, prepared in advance, that give the appropriate amount of information. Be thoughtful and intentional about how much to communicate. Too much detail, too soon in a transition process can increase anxiety if those details change. Too little information leaves people distrustful and wondering what they are not being told.

When using online communication, it is important to remember that most of these platforms are accessible to the general public. For example, the church website is likely to be viewed by a visitor or non-member. Be selective about what is shared with the larger population. Consider providing a “members only” area, which requires a log-in. Emails should be limited to regular releases once a week to refrain from overwhelming inboxes. One suggestion would be to set up a separate news list that members can choose to subscribe to for information regarding a transition (see example).

Talk among yourselves

Besides communicating effectively to the congregation during transition, leaders need ways to foster healthy communication from and among the congregation. Congregation members and leaders need the capacity to dialog about important issues. For example, during a pastoral transition, leaders must engage the congregation in a discussion of the gifts, skills and experiences needed in a new pastor.

Social media platforms like Facebook can be an effective means of online communication. Relationships and boundaries should be established before serious discussions begin. It is important for the congregation to encourage friendly engagement, learn about one another’s lives, and when meeting in person, reference status updates and photos seen online. It is a good idea to create a church covenant of guiding suggestions for online interaction (see example).

Sometimes for efficiency, a church uses non-conversational methods for data gathering, i.e. surveys. Using a survey alone to gather data can be a mistake, because surveys do not address the emotional concerns and deeper issues raised during times of change. There is no substitute for a good conversation.

Planned dialog

Churches can use a structured process to ensure good face-to-face conversation about sensitive issues. This can be as simple as a community gathering with a volunteer moderator and a few ground rules. Or it can be a structured dialog led by an outside moderator such as one from the Center for Congregational Health. Both are appropriate, depending upon the anxiety level surrounding the topic and the skill level of lay leaders.

These days congregations rarely have conversations about the life of the church. Most time spent together is in worship, working or learning. Even fellowship events are usually unstructured and don’t facilitate healthy communication. Most leaders only hear from the most upset “squeaky wheels,” who may not accurately represent the majority of the congregation. Consequently, every faith community can benefit from regular opportunities for conversation without decision-making. I recommend quarterly gatherings for discussing “our common life together as God’s people in this place.” This type of relaxed forum allows leaders to take the pulse of the congregation and address needs before they become problems. And when the gatherings conclude, leaders can share the thoughts with the community at-large by posting on the church website, Facebook page or blog (see example).

Good communication is the key to all transition, and it is a key to a healthy congregation. When a congregation has already established intentional, consistent and multi-modal methods of communication, transitions go much smoother and can become opportunities for positive growth.

See examples how a congregation can actively use these communication tools.

Chris Gambill is senior consultant and manager of congregational health services for the Center for Congregational Health (www.healthychurch.org) based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Natalie Aho is communications consultant for the Center for Congregational Health.  Follow her Interactive Communication for Clergy blog at icm4clergy.wordpress.com for tips.

Please site Chris Gambill, Natalie Aho, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.

A few questions for thought:

1. How has your church used communication to help with a transition?

2. What was one of your communication plans?

3. How do you communicate “from and among” your congregation?

4. When did your congregation last discuss the life of your church?

Comment here or respond on our Facebook page.

Resources for Communication

The Center is available to help with communication and transition. We can provide consultation, coaching, leadership development and spiritual formation.

Learn more at www.healthychurch.org. If we can help you in any way, please contact us!

We are also on Facebook and Twitter.


Four Essential Practices for Missional Congregations

Being missional requires more than just passion. Research has identified four practices that either support or undermine a church’s efforts at missional ministry. Join us for this dialogue at the CBF General Assembly in Tampa, FL.

Friday, June 24, Convention Center in Tampa, FL
2-3 pm or 3:30-4:30 pm

If you can’t make the workshop, follow us on twitter (www.twitter.com/cntr4conghealth) for tweets from attendees.

 

Questions for Discussion

1. What “practices” best define or describe your congregation?

2. What are some healthy practices your congregation does well?

3. In what area of congregation does your congregation struggle the most?

4. What one thing does your congregation do well?

5. If you could change one thing about your congregation, what would you change?

6. Can you identify helpful and unhelpful patterns of behavior in your congregation?


From Fuzzy to Focused: How to Bring Clarity to Mission and Vision

For Baptists Today
05/01/11

From Fuzzy to Focused: How to Bring Clarity to Mission and Vision

By Chris Gambill with Beth Kennett

During a transition, it is essential for a faith community to clarify its mission and vision. Why? Because when individuals enter or leave a community, the group’s sense of identity is affected and it has to be reformed. This is especially true during a pastoral transition. Clergy typically play a key role in forming a congregation’s self-understanding. When they leave, the congregation has to wrestle with who it is and will be apart from their former pastor. Moreover, clarifying mission and vision during a pastoral transition is a matter of practical necessity. Potential pastoral candidates want to know who a congregation is and in what direction it is moving.

Why clarity matters

Clarifying a congregation’s self-understanding has other benefits as well. A national survey of congregations by Faith Communities Today (2008) showed a strong correlation between congregational spiritual vitality and its sense of self. It also showed a significant positive relationship between sense of self and other measures of congregational vitality like financial health, worship attendance growth and lack of conflict. A congregation gains a clearer sense of self when it clarifies its mission and vision.

Furthermore, confusion or ambiguity about identity can have negative consequences. In a 2004 Christianity Today survey, 64 percent of pastors cited vision/direction as a source of conflict. A congregation that does not have widespread agreement and understanding of its vision is more prone to internal conflict.

A congregation’s mission – its reason for being – is usually easier to articulate than its vision – or picture of its future. Both are important, but vision has a particularly large impact on congregational life. A clear and compelling vision is attractive and energizing both for members and potential members. It also provides a touchstone for decision-making. With a clear sense of mission and vision, leaders have a tool to use in discerning whether to say “Yes” or “No” to mission and ministry opportunities that present themselves to the congregation.

How we get there matters—a lot

Some congregations want their pastor to articulate a vision for the congregation. Articulating mission and vision should never be left to a pastor alone. Pastors are temporary, and particularly when new, do not fully understand a congregation’s giftedness, assets, and passions. Similarly, mission and vision discernment should not be left to a small group of congregational leaders to decide. While this method may be efficient in terms of time and energy, it is highly ineffective in creating ownership and energy for mission and ministry within the larger congregation.

Clarifying mission and vision is best understood as the work of the congregation. God equips and calls a congregation for mission and ministry, and the congregation needs to work collaboratively in this vital work of discernment. At the Center for Congregational Health, we believe that the wisest decisions are made by the congregation. Any process seeking to bring clarity to mission and vision should engage as many members of the congregation as possible.

Before a congregation can articulate its mission, it must understand who it is. Many congregations have dated ideas about themselves that must be traded for a current, more accurate view of the congregation. A breakdown by gender, age, and life stage is important, because it changes over time.

A congregation can then take positive, appreciative approaches to identifying its strengths and assets by asking questions such as, “What are the human resources that we have? What are our physical resources? What do we value most as a congregation?”

To understand who a congregation is and what it aspires to become, it is important to name its values. One way to approach this is for individuals to reflect upon those times and places when the congregation has been at its best, and then identify the values exhibited in those circumstances. Exploring a congregation’s history and traditions is also a helpful way to gain important insights about its core values.

Once a congregation has identified its resources and values, it is easier to say, “This is our mission – this is who we are.” The next step is to clarify vision – to answer the question, “What is God calling us to do and be?” Clarifying a congregation’s vision – how it wants to impact the world – is both challenging and energizing.

Every congregation needs an empowering and compelling vision to guide its mission and ministry. Creating a compelling vision requires careful listening to the Spirit along with creativity and courage. Otherwise, a congregation risks just repeating what has been successful in times past—but probably won’t be in the future. Instead of simply asking, “What shall we do?” we suggest that congregations use a visioning exercise. For example, small groups can be utilized to create the front page of a newspaper with headlines describing the church’s accomplishments five years in the future.

Though it is challenging work, clarifying mission and vision is vital if a congregation wants to remain faithful, healthy, and thriving. God’s call is dynamic—so should be our response.

– Chris Gambill is senior consultant and manager of congregational health services for the Center for Congregational Health (www.healthychurch.org) based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

– Beth Kennett is spiritual formation coordinator for the Center for Congregational Health.

 Please site Chris Gambill, Beth Kennett, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.

A few questions for thought:

1. What do you think are the key components of “identity” for a congregation?

2. How important is it for a congregation to identify and communicate it’s uniqueness?

3. There are potential liabilities associated with articulating identity. Do the benefits outweigh the liabilities?

4. After clarifying identity, what are other key tasks for a congregation seeking to communicate it’s message to it’s community?

Comment here or respond on our Facebook page.

Resources for Clarity

The Center is available to help with your time of clarity and vision as a congregation. We can provide consultation, coaching, leadership development and spiritual formation.

Learn more at www.healthychurch.org. If we can help you in any way, please contact us!

We are also on Facebook and Twitter.


Managing Transitions from the Inside Out

For Baptists Today
December 2010

Emotionally Intelligent Ministry: Managing Transitions from the Inside Out
By Chris Gambill

Few like change. It creates anxiety and discomfort and it is just plain hard. Yet change is necessary for any faith community seeking to remain healthy and relevant. Intelligent ministry seeks effective ways to lead a congregation through constructive transition. Emotionally intelligent ministry recognizes and welcomes emotion as an integral part of any change scenario.

After all, the majority of ministry is set within an emotional context. Any change – large or small – within a congregational setting can stir up emotion. Knowing how to perceive and use emotion is a key to effective ministry. Emotional intelligence has a huge impact on an individual’s ability to form and maintain effective relationships. It also plays a vital role in how we respond to and manage any sort of change or conflict. The good news is that with proper assessment and coaching emotional intelligence can be improved.

So just what is emotional intelligence? According to John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who defined it in 1997, emotional intelligence is “the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.” This concept was further refined by psychologist David Caruso for use in business management, and it works equally well in a congregational setting.

To put it simply, emotional intelligence is using emotion to help us cope with our environment successfully. The goal is to let emotion motivate and inspire us to constructive action.

The Flip Side of Conventional Leadership

In many ways emotionally intelligent ministry turns upside down conventional wisdom about good leadership. Conventional wisdom has encouraged leaders to focus on facts and to assume that emotional undercurrents are at best unhelpful and at worst dangerous and to be avoided. This cold and logical approach seeks to weigh the facts for sober evaluation of possible alternatives and choose the one with the most benefits and least liabilities. This approach, though sensible, often falls short.

The alternative, emotionally intelligent approach – a warm approach – rather than being avoidant of emotions takes them seriously and receives them as vital information to be included in the decision making and transition processes. This warm approach combines both cold data and emotional realities. Ministry leaders who consider rational and emotional channels of information together are best able to manage successful transitions inside and out.

We have all witnessed failures of congregational leaders’ cold approach to change. One that comes to mind is that of a church that built a modern sanctuary – a lovely facility that won architectural awards. The old, decaying sanctuary – insufficient and located too close to a major roadway – was expensive to maintain. Despite leadership efforts, emotional ties prevented the congregation from mustering the votes to tear it down. That church is now saddled with an eyesore and money pit.

Congregations often use a cold approach to the revisioning process. Leaders design a congregational survey, but receive fewer responses than expected. Too late, they realize that the survey does not provide information needed, or that it contains mountains of unusable data. The next step in the cold approach usually involves an ad-hoc visioning team of twelve of the smartest people in the congregation going on a retreat to create a new vision for the church. They come back excited and present the plan to a congregation that responds with a big, collective yawn.

What has happened in each of these change processes? The critical role of emotion was downplayed or ignored. The best transition efforts will fail unless the action plan not only addresses surface needs for change, but also considers how those affected by change will respond emotionally.

Exercising Emotionally Intelligent Ministry

The first step toward exercising emotionally intelligent ministry is developing the emotional self-awareness that allows one to ask questions such as:

1. What is my own emotional response or investment in this decision?

2. What are my natural strengths and tendencies, and are they helpful in this situation?

3. What are my defense mechanisms when there is opposition to my leadership?

4. What are my stress responses? How do I exhibit stress and anxiety?

The other aspect of emotional intelligence is an awareness of the emotional response of others. After ministry leaders identify their own feelings about upcoming changes, they must identify the feelings of the people involved in the transition. Emotional awareness requires empathy toward others and imagining how they might respond to a proposed change, then trying to recognize those who will become angry, those who will become anxious, and the people who might not be happy but who will take a wait and see attitude. Leaders who take a warm, emotionally intelligent approach to transition consider the various points of view and emotions of the faith community. Then they work to utilize and manage emotions to support the change process knowing that change will result in some discomfort but, ultimately, in a stronger ministry.

Competence in Four Areas

Emotionally intelligent ministry involves competence in four areas:

1. Perceiving Emotion

Perceiving emotion depends upon our ability to be observant. It begins with asking, “What emotions am I experiencing?” That leads to questions about what others are feeling and tests our ability to read facial expressions, voice tone, pitch and speed, and body language. A word of caution: a primary tool that congregations use to manage transition is the written word. It is important to read emotional communication in writing, but it is difficult. Never assume the emotional content of a written message. Ask.

2. Using Emotion

If we know how to perceive and then use emotions, we can more effectively accomplish a task. It is worth asking, “Are the emotions present helping or hindering decision-making and thought processes?” Or “What emotional climate do we need to do this work right now?” For example, if you need creativity and spontaneity, a positive, energized climate is best. If you need to spot errors or analyze a plan, a subdued energy level is best.

3. Understanding Emotion

Understanding emotion enables us to foresee what might happen during a transition. Emotions develop along a predictable progression. It is important to know if a current emotional movement is helpful or detrimental. For example, one that can happen during a period of change is this negative slide: someone starts out skeptical, something happens and he becomes anxious, then distrustful. The situation escalates and he becomes alienated, angry and finally enraged. If we recognize the sequence, we may be able to head things off at the skeptical or anxious stage and avoid the rage. Conversely, there are patterns in positive emotional chains, such as the progression from calm and content to happy and joyful. These are worth knowing and utilizing.

4. Managing Emotion

Managing emotions does not mean suppressing them. It means recognizing emotional states and deciding how best to utilize or adjust them in order to support the leadership needs of the moment. This involves realizing our own emotional state and deciding whether we need to do some self-coaching to change to a more helpful one. It also involves knowing ways to manage the emotional state of the larger group in order to help in decision-making and transition.

Though some people are naturally more emotionally intelligent than others, it can be improved with self-awareness, practice and coaching. There are a number of good tools to develop self-awareness around emotional intelligence, such as the WorkPlace Big Five Profile, emotional intelligence tests, and 360 feedback assessments. These tools, combined with personal coaching can help to increase emotionally intelligent ministry.

Chris Gambill is senior consultant and manager of congregational health services for the Center for Congregational Health (www.healthychurch.org) based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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Please site Chris Gambill, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.