3 Step Process To Overcome Divided Church Leadership

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”   

Abraham Lincoln

When you think in terms of leadership, this is a great truth that is relevant to the church.

When churches or senior leadership teams within the church are not aligned, and in many cases openly divided:

  • They can’t stand unified.
  • They can’t move forward.
  • They can’t fully honor God.

It’s sad to see church leaders divided. Sometimes it’s literally a room of angry people raising their voices and demanding their way. Others are more sophisticated, holding quiet meetings in secret, and pressing personal agendas forward. Both are just as dangerous and break God’s heart.

Like you, I love the church. I’m dedicated to its present and future success. I’m encouraged and grateful when I see the power of unity among church leaders who seek to work together for the common good.

What about the churches and leadership teams that aren’t fighting but still lack strategic unity?

Some teams are trying to work together but can’t agree, and are therefore spinning their wheels and going nowhere.

For the most part, these church teams maintain a good spirit but still lack unity in direction and strategy. It’s a more pleasant environment to work and serve, but the results are equally ineffective.

From a flat out fight to exhausting wheel-spinning, how do we break through from discord to unity?

3 Steps to Overcome Division and Move Toward Unity:

1) Humility

We often lift up virtues such as strength, confidence and courage and these are good leadership traits. But what are the balancing attributes that help keep us spiritually grounded? I’m referring to traits such as kindness, brokenness and chief among this list, humility.

Pride crushes unity on church teams. It’s impossible to achieve and maintain a unified direction if and when our will rises up and seeks to go its own way.

Humility is the antidote to pride and sets the pace for a unified team.  

Humility is not about your place on the org chart; it reflects the disposition of your heart. You can be the CEO and be humble or full of pride. You can be among those with the least formal status or authority in the organization and also be humble or prideful.

Humble leaders live for others more than they live for themselves. Humble doesn’t mean insecure. Don’t confuse the two. Humility is an attractive virtue; insecurity is not. Humility is directly connected to strength, and insecurity is tied to fear and our weaknesses. I recently wrote an entire post on this subject. You can read it here.

The willingness to own that your idea is not the only idea, someone may have a better solution and whatever is best for the church is best, is a significant step toward unity.

2) Alignment

In the spiritual realm, there must be something you will bow to for humility to take root. For us who are Christian leaders, we bow to God. We submit to His will. Once we learn to do that, then the question is how do you apply that here on earth? What is the role of submission as a team moves toward unity?

Surprisingly, alignment can be a divisive word, depending on the seat you occupy. If you are in favor of the direction and strategy, alignment seems like a good thing. If you are not in favor, then alignment can feel like “Do what you’re told and don’t cause problems.”

In both cases, there are two things more significant in play. First; the vision, and second; what’s best for the church to help you realize the vision.

Your team can’t win unless each person acknowledges that there is something bigger than they are in play, and agree that it’s worth following.

What pulls your team together in alignment?

1) Trust at a heart level.
It starts here. Spend enough time together to know each other. It’s essential that you like and trust each other or alignment will be forced at best.

If you’ve not taken an Enneagram assessment, try it and read the book, The Road Back To You, by Ian Cron and Suzzane Stabile. Do this as a group.

2) Agreement to put the vision first.
Set aside any personal agenda and land a crystal clear vision that you all agree on. Then agree to put that vision before all else.

Set aside any personal agenda and land a crystal clear vision that you all agree on. Then agree to put that vision before all else.

3) Investment in genuine collaboration.
You can’t skip collaboration if you want to achieve productive alignment. Collaboration consists of two parts. Quality input on the front end and honest feedback on the back end.

You can’t skip collaboration if you want to achieve productive alignment. Collaboration consists of two parts. Quality input on the front end and honest feedback on the back end.

3) Communication

Married couples in conflict will often say, “We just can’t seem to talk to each other without it ending up in an argument.

Frustration based on separate agendas, poor listening skills, plus the force of human will causes communication to break down. Unfortunately, communication is the very avenue needed to gain the necessary unity of heart and spirit for the marriage to work.

Your church leadership team functions much in the same way.

How do you develop the communication necessary to succeed in achieving unity?

1) Establish a safe environment.
Safe doesn’t mean sterile. I’ve already mentioned trust. Get real and honest in your conversations. Practice having tough conversations. Don’t leverage penalties for being candid, and maturity must be a hallmark of every meeting.

2) Stop all “hallway and lobby” chatter.
This is in no way an attempt to stifle “water cooler” conversations that have been in play since Moses drew up the first org chart. But it’s critical that you stop all conversations related to the subject of your alignment until that alignment has been achieved. Honor the group and the process by keeping the discussion in the group.

3) Follow up and measure progress.
Nothing will keep the integrity of your progress true like measurement against the written goals you have established. Unity is great, but unity and stuck is only a little better than divided but amiable.

(1) Tony Pettinato, “Lincoln: ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’” June 16, 2017

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