August 27, 2018—It’s no secret that congregations experience times of anxiety. Those periods of acute anxiety can be triggered by any number of events, conditions, or situations. Here are the 15 most common anxiety triggers in a congregation (in no particular priority order):
2. Sexuality (acting out, abuse, and sometimes just talking about it!)
3. Pastor’s resignation
4. Lay Leadership Functioning
5. Growth and Survival issues
7. Trauma and Transitions
8. Church Staff Conflict (resignations, insubordination)
9. Issues around Children (violations, deaths)
10. “New” (new programs, hymnals, buildings, members)
11. Worship styles (contemporary, traditional, seeker)
12. Tensions between the ideal and reality
13. Building, Construction, Space, and territory issues
14. The presence of a former pastor in the congregation
15. Theological and cultural issues.
Other contributors to anxiety can arise from incompatibility between pastor and church on vision, the pastor’s “leadership style,” conflicting values, political views, and theological interpretation among members; and challenges to a congregation’s cultural values.
Experienced pastoral leaders understand that anxiety is just a natural part of the communal and corporate experience–and, it comes with the job. It is when anxiety results in reactivity that things get messy. And when reactivity spawns sabotage, that’s when things get really interesting.
Keeping the list of the most common anxiety triggers handy can help pastoral leaders accept that their situation is not uncommon—all congregations will at some point, and to some extent, experience anxiety around these issues. Some will handle them better than others, and sometimes, how the leader responds to and addresses anxiety can be the key.
It is also worth remembering that the matter is not so much that congregations will periodically experience acute anxiety, rather, it is that congregations are by nature chronically anxious systems. A chronically anxious system has the following characteristics (1) it holds someone in the system responsible for other people’s functioning, and, (2) it is structured to inhibit the effectiveness of its leaders. Which can help answer the question, “Why can’t we get anything done around here?!”
What are the most common anxiety triggers in your context?
How effective are the pastor and other leaders in recognizing anxiety and responding, rather than reacting, to it?
In what ways are you able to intervene in ways to help prevent anxiety reaching the level of reactivity (acting out)?
To learn more about leadership, anxiety, and reactivity in the congregational context join us in the post-graduate Leadership in Ministry program.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context..
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.