Here on the blog I’ve been summarizing some ideas from a book I read recently called, Back From the Dead: The Book of Congregational Growth, by Gerald Keucher. In chapter four, “Packing Your Toolkit,” Keucher highlights some points about attitude, style, and spirit leaders need to bring with them in order to lead a congregation in a turnaround situation.
As far as I can tell, when he says “style,” he is not referring to fashion.
In other words, Keucher is saying here that an effective leader must articulate a strong vision in a compelling way. This leadership quality, of course, is not limited to dire situations. However, in turnaround leadership positions, he claims, this personality trait in a leader is critical.
Congregations that have declined significantly, particularly those who navigate the present with images of the past hanging over their heads, are prone to be “too distracted, sad, and angry to be able to articulate a constructive vision.” Conflict is rife in these situations, too. It’s rare that anyone in a congregation in crisis can see past the mess of the present, in other words.
Again, Keucher has strong words about leadership…he says that congregations don’t get to the point of near-death without a legacy of poor leadership, so changing that pattern is a critical leadership strategy. He writes: “If you cannot see some new possibilities in the situation, and if you do not have a couple of ideas about ways those possibilities can be explored, you are probably not the one who can lead a turnaround.”
It seems to me that this is a pretty steep expectation for a leader; effort toward turning a parish around with principle responsibility falling on the pastor’s shoulders is a heavy burden to bear. It’s here that Keucher’s Episcopal context and my own reference of congregational polity start to experience some tension (or maybe it’s just a biased opinion from this pastor that perhaps all the responsibility for renewal should not fall on the pastor).
Regardless, Keucher rightly points out that leadership in these situations is a punishing task. Vocational satisfaction and clergy health are critical, he claims, and suggests if denominational resources are unavailable, clergy should try to find support among other clergy in similar situations. “Keep your eyes and ears open for new ideas as you share experiences with these other clergy…. You’ll need a steady supply of ideas to try because a good many of them won’t stick.”
Most of all, the quality of believing what seems impossible can actually come to be is the personality trait Keucher claims is necessary and even critical for leadership in turnaround situations.
I don’t think it’s coincidental that this quality of believing what seems impossible at first glance is part of the life of faith overall, isn’t it? In the words of Hebrews, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…”.