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Along the Journey  |  

Five Types of People Emerge in Crisis

I’ve learned 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 tend to engage in magical thinking. They form prayer groups and solicit rescue responses. However, these individuals will not perform responsible actions. Instead, they’ll 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 blame. They may seek scapegoats and 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 seduce, seek compromise at the cost of responsible action, and cannot 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 exit at every chance, quietly disappearing from the scene or making a fuss to “make a point” before leaving the system. Some can be 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 unwilling to commit to staying to help overcome the crisis have not earned the right to be heard.

5. Those who step up to responsible leadership. Finally, amid a crisis, some will step up to responsible leadership to address the situation. The people who make up the last group may surprise you. Many of these people are on the “fringe” of congregational life. They may be perceived as not “good church members” because they lack participation in church life. But often, these persons do not stake their salvation in the church. They have a more mature relationship with the church than others who depend more on it and its leaders for their “salvation.” And while they do not require their congregation or its leaders to fulfill every need for their spiritual care, growth, or fulfillment, they step up, often sacrificially, when their church needs them. It is not unusual to see these types of persons recede into the background after the crisis.

To learn more about congregations and church leadership, visit the Pastoral Excellence page.


This post was adapted from Perspectives on Congregational Leadership: Applying Systems Thinking for Effective Leadership.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Programs of the Center for Lifelong Learning.

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