5 Ways To Lead Well Through Destabilizing Circumstances

It’s going on twenty months now that we have been leading in a destabilized culture, and therefore leading our churches as they experience and absorb the destabilizing impacts.

Business too, and life in general, though better now, is still an unstable ride.

Any time life and leadership feel destabilized, our instinct is to regain stability as quickly as possible and normalize it. 

Growing up in Southern California, I finally decided to learn to surf and spent every extra minute at the beach when I was 16 years old.

Surfing was short-lived for me, lasting only a little over one summer because it was clear to see I was never going to be very good at it. In the end, after one pretty good ride, I face-planted at high speed in a giant kelp bed, and that was pretty much the end of it.

One thing I learned while surfing is that you cannot control the waves; you can only learn to ride them or fall.

The waves are unpredictable and require a sense of balance and intuition; if you fight them, you’ll either never catch one, or you will fall as soon as you do. 

Leadership has felt that way, now more than ever.

Be careful of trying to fight the unpredictable waves of change rather than learning to ride the destabilizing feel and harness new momentum.

Have you ever tried standing on a surfboard in still water? It’s very unstable. A surfboard is only truly stable when it has momentum moving with a wave.

I think leadership has always been like this, but it’s so highly pronounced right now that we feel very destabilized. It has destabilized to the point that some leaders feel off-balance at a core level as if it might be permanent.

This destabilization, however, is only permanent if you fight it. That doesn’t mean you give in; it means you learn a new balance and trust your gut.

We desperately want to regain control, but you can’t control it; in fact, that’s how we lose momentum and fall. 

We’re going to have to learn to ride the waves. 

5 Ways To Lead Well Through Destabilizing Circumstances

1) Learn to trust your leadership intuition and instincts at a deeper level.

God has placed leadership intuition within you through the Holy Spirit. Learn to fully sense it, trust it, and act on it. 

Intuition and instinct have an important distinction. Please allow me to give a practical translation of the two words for those of us who lead.

  • Intuition – Immediate inner sense of what is right
  • Instinct – Innate pattern of response and action to a given situation (experience)
  • Intuition – You know what is right  
  • Instinct – You do what is right*
    *The emphasis here is on the action; we don’t always do the exact right thing, but the better our intuition, and more consistent our courage, the more often we are right.

The powerful combination for intuition is discernment and action!

Don’t hold back or freeze up; trust your leadership gut. More often than not, you will do the right thing.

In a time when it’s not easy to know what to do, don’t be discouraged; God will give you the wisdom to discern, intuition to know what to do, and courage to do it.

2) Embrace counterintuitive leadership thinking

To catch a wave, you must paddle out through them, in the opposite direction you want to go, against the current. Then turn around and learn your timing to ride the wave. 

This is a helpful picture of leadership that can be difficult to embrace.

For example, here’s a difficult thought to embrace, most churches have been attempting to regain stability by encouraging those who once attended to return. However, it may be time to focus on your new guests who want to attend. 

I surely get it. As a pastor, I truly want our people to return. So the thought of “moving on” is nearly unthinkable, almost as if I must stop caring about them, and I can’t do that. 

As spiritual leaders, I’m not sure we can ever fully let go of those who once attended, but the more energy we place there, how many new people are we missing who are looking for spiritual answers and want to be part of a church community? 

In a season when we are hungry for stability, there are some circumstances when a counterintuitive approach is the best approach, even if it seems to disrupt the norms.

What other examples may be right for your church?

3) Include methods that may be foreign to you.

There is more than one way to participate in a local church, but some form of engagement is essential; it’s the nature of biblical community.

Christianity was never designed to be a spectator sport. Instead, we need to “practice our faith” to live the life Jesus modeled for us. 

We are not limited in opportunities to move toward people in hopes of reaching them for Christ.

  • The online experience is here to stay, and that’s good; we can all reach many who wouldn’t yet step foot into a physical church building.
  • It was only a bit over twenty years ago that we knew very little about the coming wave of multisite; now, there are thousands of multisite churches.
  • The House Church idea isn’t new, but the house church connected to a larger body is a new variation. 

What’s the next wave for you? 

Here’s the important point: engagement is essential whatever approach you may include in addition to worship in a physical church building. 

What are you doing to engage those who listen to your message?

4) Beware of the “fatal mistake.”

If you fail, stumble or fall, get back up and try again. 

My mistake in surfing wasn’t that I fell so many times; it was that the last time I fell, I chose not to get back up and try again. I was done.

In our leadership practice, we all make mistakes, but the “fatal mistake” is when you give up and quit trying. 

It’s tough to lead now, more than ever. It’s appropriate to acknowledge that, but we can’t let it be an excuse.

Remember your calling, find joy in your work, and don’t lead alone.

Under what circumstance are you most tempted to give up? Do you have an inner circle who will not only challenge you to keep going but go with you?

The vision that God has placed in you remains valid even through difficult circumstances, and the talent He has given you still has a purpose.

5) Regain outward stability through your inward stability with God

No one likes the sense of being destabilized. When surfing, it’s a lack of balance caused by the movement of the waves that makes you wobbly and soon to be underwater.

When life presents circumstances that destabilize you and your leadership, it’s best to find true stability within yourself through Jesus.

The kind of stability that finds its foundation in Christ and is not shaken by what’s going on around you.

That doesn’t make leading today easy, I know.

You may still feel like you and your church lack stability, but genuine peace and sufficient strength can be regained if your faith becomes the foundation of your inner stability.

A great approach to spiritually-based stability and strength is to focus on the evidence of the Holy Spirit within you.

One by one, continue to cultivate the maturing of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control within you.

10 thoughts on “5 Ways To Lead Well Through Destabilizing Circumstances”

  1. Thank you as always Dan.
    The application of the wisdom you share is useful at office and home.
    I will let God be my tether cord as well!

    1. Isaac Chukpue-Padmore

      This teaching speaks to my situation. It makes me to regain courage as I provide leadership while facing difficulties with other leaders on my team. May God continue to inspire you as you motivate and inspire others.

  2. Dan, what you wrote is definitely food for thought and can go against what some may see as successful leadership. When think of what Jesus said in John 6 and the responses we notice it is clear there are those who are “along for the ride” but embracing the cost of discipleship may be something people are not willing to do. In John 6:60-60 we see what Jesus said to his disciples and in verse 66 we see what happened as a result—many left. In verses 68 and 69 we notice Jesus’s disciples knew and believed. When we see that Jesus called his disciples to a higher calling I think we need to truly know what successful leadership looks like and what that looks like in real life. I believe genuine leadership is leading people to a higher calling and by doing that there will be those who will not follow but also there will be those who will follow more closely.

    1. Thanks for your comments Gerald. Yes, I was somewhat hesitant to write a few of these thoughts, but if the readers read the whole article I trust they hear my heart. blessings!

  3. Fatal mistake: When you give up and quit trying. Wow, we have been hearing a lot about this lately Dan! Thank you for sharing your wise thoughts on perseverance and reminding us about our calling.

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