Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard Presbytery Leader firstname.lastname@example.org
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. John 9:1-4
I once worked for a bad boss in an anxious organization. We were under deadlines and he would take up to a week to return an email. He was often out of the office when I was pressured and needed his permission before I could act. Of course, he didn’t answer his cell phone either! Projects were late, pressure increased, and going to work became a nightmare.
As I blamed him for everything that went wrong, I asked myself, “How am I and the rest of the team contributing to this problem?”
It is easy to blame the one in charge (or the least vulnerable person in the office), but we often fail to ask how we contribute and maintain the anxious dysfunctional system that exists around us. Scapegoating is a sign that a system is anxious.
A leader in an anxious system is tempted to emotionally react and not patiently respond to problems and crises. My boss reacted by hiding and being secretive. In Uproar: Calm Leadership for Anxious Times, Peter Steinke lists other common reactions by leaders in a system with chronic anxiety:
- emotional reactivity replaces careful thought
- the herding instinct is strong (circle the wagons, strength in numbers, groupthink)
- blame displacement (finding a scapegoat)
- wanting a quick fix (for the reduction of unpleasant anxiety)
- weakened leadership (failure to take a stand and disappoint some segment of the system)
- invasiveness (boundary violations).
We are living in difficult times for the life of the church. Congregations are bombarded with moral and ethical issues, divided along political lines, struggling to balance budgets, pressured to gain membership, and maintain older buildings. For congregations searching for pastors, they find the pipeline to be dripping and not flowing as fewer and fewer young and geographically mobile people are entering seminary. It is easy to see why congregations and other non-profits would be anxious.
Our presbytery is an anxious system as well. As the presbytery leader, I try to be thoughtful, a patient listener, and clear in my thinking. But there are times I react and take an immature route. I am constantly reminded how being in a web of anxiety causes leaders to take one of the seven choices listed above.
My prayer is that the various ministry contexts in which our pastors and leaders serve develop a mature long-term approach to its challenges, and our pastors and leaders learn to respond with maturity, thoughtfulness, and gravity to the crises they face.
Rev. Craig M. Howard