By Kim Shockley
This is actually the subtitle for Bolsinger’s part four – Relationships and Resistance – of Canoeing the Mountains. I have been an active lay person in ministry for all of my adult life, and a good part of my teens too. When I go to visit a local church for the first time, I don’t go with any hesitation anymore, because I have seen it all! I have experienced the good and the ugly in every size of church. I agree wholeheartedly with this chapter, resistance to any change will come, you best be prepared for it, and learn to think relationally rather than strategically.
Again, the price of this book is well worth the information shared about the six necessary relationships for leading in uncharted territory. So I don’t want to give away all that I learned from this reading. There are, however, two groups of people that can propel a new vision forward when you use them properly. One is the “Maintaining Mission Group”. Their job is “to be committed to giving safely, time, space, protection and resources to the project. At best, they actively voice support, keep a steady hand at the wheel and monitor the inevitable anxiety. They provide cover for the transformation team, while also caring for the organization. They make sure that the community feels safe while a few are venturing forth.” (Loc 2637 of 4571) In our United Methodist world, this is our regular Leadership Team, Administrative Council, or Single Board. This is the group that buffers between the “Transformation Team” and the congregation. When I work with a congregation’s leaders to develop clarity there is always a time when that clarity is presented to the whole Leadership Team. This is the group that has to begin to embody the behaviors and values that are changing. They have to point the people they influence to the clarity of how God wants to use us, while they listen carefully to concerns. They may have to help gently hold congregants accountable to new ways of behavior and point them to new ways of thinking about who we are as a congregation. They have to know how to talk about these changes in positive ways.
The “Transformation Team” is the keeper of the energy around the new thing. It “must be those with the most creativity, energy, credibility, personal maturity and dogged determination. They must be enthusiastic for the idea, resolute about seeing it through and willing to expend relational capital to bring genuine culture change.” (Loc 2659 of 4571) When I ask a pastor to bring together a group of people who can work on defining clarity for their congregation, these are the people I ask them to bring.
We have the best chance to survive sabotage when we practice relational leadership with these two groups, especially when we are trying to change or adapt a culture toward how God wants to use us. Saboteurs are usually doing nothing more than unconsciously supporting the status quo – they simply don’t want anything to change. It is not malicious or intentional – people have learned that by simply staying still and quiet the new things usually just lose momentum and go away. Unfortunately, in today’s church, staying still and quiet often leads to fewer people and closed churches.
Although Bolsinger doesn’t spell this out, the most frequent behaviors that church people use to sabotage are gossip and triangulation. We know what gossip is. Triangulation happens when I have a problem with person B, but I go to person C to process. Person C either goes to person B for me (not wise) or talks to even more people about the problem I have with person B – gossip. If I can’t go to person B, then it either isn’t such a big problem, or I should take a mature person with me to talk to person B (Matthew 18). All of our churches would be healthier if we stopped these behaviors! Parking lot conversations are a further example of both triangulation and gossip and should also be banned!
Bolsinger says that surviving the sabotage has more to do with focusing the leaders’ attention on the emotionally strong – find the calm, courageous people and lift them up. Build healthy alliances with those who will share your convictions, your sense of God’s preferred future. Together you form a tipping point that allows change to come more naturally.
Bolsinger, Tod. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2015.