July 31, 2017—It has been my observation that in times of crisis you can count on seeing five kinds of people emerge. Leaders do well to discern the persons in the system that represent each leadership type, and respond appropriately. Here are the five types:
1. Those who look for miracles. The people in this category want to be rescued and will tend to engage in magical thinking. They form prayer groups, solicit rescuing responses, but will fail in stepping up to responsible action. They may make demands of leaders for a quick fix.
2. Those who criticize but don’t offer solutions. People in this group will exhibit reactivity, anger, and find blame. They may seek scapegoats and may rally the most reactive persons in the system into factions. Leaders can be seduced into placating this group or investing a lot of energy and attention to their issues, neither of which will address the crisis.
3. Those who want peace at any price. People in this category have little tolerance for conflict or uncomfortable feelings. They often engage in seduction, seek compromise at the cost of responsible action, and are not able to hold others accountable. They are the ones who cry, “Can’t we all just get along?”
4. Those who will abandon the system and run from the crisis. Persons in this group are not an asset to the system. They leave in all manners, quietly disappearing from the scene, or making a fuss to “make a point” before exiting the system. Some are capable of being loud and distracting voices demanding to be heard with no intention of staying around to contribute to positive change. Leaders do well to help the system discern that while everyone has a right to speak, you have to earn the right to be heard. Persons who are not willing to commit to staying to help overcome the crisis haven’t earned the right to be heard.
5. Those who step up to responsible leadership. Finally, in the midst of a crisis there will be those who step up to responsible leadership to address the crisis. The people who make up that last group will often surprise you. Many of these are persons on the “fringe” of congregational life. They may be perceived as not being “good church members” because of their lack of participation in every aspect of church life. But often that is because these persons do not stake their salvation on the church. They have a more mature relationship with the church than others who are more dependent on the church and its leaders for their “salvation.” And while they do not require their congregation or its leaders to fulfill every need they have for spiritual care, growth, or fulfillment, when their church needs them, they step up, often sacrificially. It is not unusual to see these types of persons recede into the background after the crisis.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. 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.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.
This post was adapted from Perspectives on Congregational Leadership: Applying Systems Thinking for Effective Leadership.
The Center for Lifelong Learning offers the Leadership in Ministry workshops in four locations: Atlanta, Boston, Portland OR, and West Virginia. To learn more about the Leadership in Ministry workshops.