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How to Survive in Faith Leadership During Times of Desperation

By June 6, 2022Leadership

I don’t know if “survive” and “desperation” are the right words to title this post but certainly leadership is harder today than it ever has been in my career. We all face so many divisive issues. Things seem to change quicker than ever before. Trust in leadership is at an all time low. 

How do we as faith leaders continue to lead in a healthy and courageous way on days like these?

I certainly do not have all the answers, and I am learning new things every day, but here are a few thoughts. 

How to survive in faith leadership during seasons of desperation:

Listen to outside voices. 

There are times when the weight of responsibility and decisions facing us appear bigger than our ability to discern the right things to do. (And some leader just said “Duh”!) 

Thankfully we are not alone in leadership – or shouldn’t be. Part of good leadership is bringing out the best from other people. We need a collection of voices speaking into our lives. Those may be inside or outside the organizations we lead. this is not a time to lead in isolation.

In especially trying seasons, I try to be even more of a collaborative leader. People on our team hear and see things I simply can’t from my perspective. Many times they are closer to the “real work” simply by position. I need their input. 

At the same time, I keep on “speed dial” a few wise voices outside of our organization. I want to be able to process decisions with people who believe in me and what we are doing, but often have a better perspective not being challenged by the same pressures I face. 

Adapt in the current context. 

Not to negate the previous suggestion of listening to outside voices, but there will often be more voices and more opinions than we will be able to incorporate into our decision-making. 

Every context and organization – yes, every church – is unique. We cannot assume that what works in one place will automatically work in another. 

It is important to learn good principles – which are often transferable – but then contextualize those principles for the culture and context in which we lead. 

Don’t assume the past will be the future. 

History may repeat itself but then again it might not. 

In times of desperation, the old cliché “build as you fly” often comes into play. The more you tie yourself to a false hope that things will return to the way they were before, the less likely you will be to discover the new insights this season provides. 

As you are rapidly adjusting plans you could be on the cusp of something brand new that will be better than anything in your past. Don’t be afraid of that. You could be the innovator others learn from someday. 

Remain realistic while you keep dreaming. 

In times of desperation you need both part realism and part fantasy. Too many leaders run to one extreme and ignore the other.

You need to be grounded in reality.  Facts and data are your friend. They will keep you grounded with a true picture of your current situation. 

Yet, some breakthroughs will come seemingly from nowhere. Don’t close the door – if even in your mind and hopes – for an unexpected miracle. Again, this is while keeping yourself weighted by reality, but don’t lose hope in the things you can’t currently see or even imagine. That’s what faith does – and again, this is written in the context of being faith leaders. 

Long-term vision but short-term plans. 

Frankly, I think this is almost becoming the “new normal”. It is difficult for me to see a day when the speed of change will ever slow from what it is now. It is going to make it very difficult to have our 5 and 10 year plans and then manage our way towards them. 

We are going to need some long-term goalposts – think vision, mission, principles – that guide us. Then we willingly adjust our plans in the short-term to meet current challenges and “market demands”. (If you will allow my business experience lingo to push through.) 

Don’t believe a false narrative. 

Henry David Thoreau is quoted as saying, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Over the years many have adopted this as a philosophy – or similar themes – to indicate the darkness and loneliness leadership often brings. Many times as leaders we wear an almost “badge of honor” if we appear to not need help. 

I have stated that survive and desperation might be too strong of words, but perhaps it is not. If you are in a near state of depression raise the white flag and get help now. Don’t be a casualty in leadership because you failed to admit when you were in over your head. 

As I’m typing this post, I’m preparing to preach from Psalm 42. Reading and reflecting on the state of mind of the Psalmist might be a good exercise for your own mental well-being. 

Get closer to the Holy Spirit‘s presence. 

Again, these are not seasons to attempt to be a solo hero in leadership. During these trying seasons we need to protect our souls and our families as much as possible.

To do that well, we need God’s indwelling presence more than ever. I think we need to remind ourselves of elementary truths of our faith – such as disciplining ourselves to daily walk in the awareness of and presence of the Spirit of God. I am personally trying to develop new personal disciplines that remind me I am not alone and help me draw from His strength – which is perfect when my strength is gone.

What you were just experienced here is part of my journaling process, speaking wisdom to myself, that turned into a blog post. It was intended for me but I hope it is helpful to you. 

As faith leaders, we are in this together. 

Check out my leadership podcast where we hopefully help limit bad decisions and discuss issues of leadership in a practical way. Plus, check out the other Lifeway Leadership Podcasts.

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Ron Edmondson

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