How Church Leaders Can Effectively Lead Through Today’s Divisive Political Climate

The Church is truly magnificent even with its flaws, and transformational when it’s at its best.

I admit it; I love the church. It’s the most fascinating, complex, and ever-changing organization and community of human beings who follow Jesus and those who come searching with questions.

I love that everyone is welcome, and there is no charge.

Some days the Church can be frustrating, but most days, it’s fulfilling – pretty much like real life. 

If you are in leadership, you’ve experienced some fine lines that can become land mines if you don’t know where you are stepping, and you can find yourself in trouble fast.  

Rarely is anything about life, the afterlife, and human beings a clear-cut black and white issue, it’s nuanced and often challenging to define.

The gospel message of Jesus as Savior is clear, but there are so many interpretations of what to do with it, how to live it, and tough questions of faith and doubt that if we are honest, no one has all the answers.

The mission of the Church is not a lightweight or surface endeavor.

When you add the complexity of current culture, church trends, and people’s opinions, leadership becomes very challenging.

It’s easy for church leaders to lose their way when caught in the endless nuances of making the church work, so much so that our time can be drained away from tending to the primary purpose of the message of Jesus.

We can get lost between the fine lines and grey zones when leading.

If we drift too far from the purpose, it can seem like we’re walking in a field of land mines hesitant to take the next step because we might blow something up. (Or be blown up.) That can make you hesitant to take the next step. Even hesitant to lead at all.

We can never remove the challenges of real issues, but acknowledging and understanding them more fully helps us know where and when to take the next step, what to say, and how to move forward.

It’s not an option to stop moving forward out of fear, but as a leader, it’s essential to know what you think and keep your values clear to navigate the complexity of church leadership today.

5 fine lines that can become land mines:

(You could add more, but the point is not the fine lines themselves, it’s how to lead in their reality.)

  • Political arena: The fine line is typically found between saying too much and saying too little. And then, of course, saying the wrong thing which often results in division over unity.
  • Gender conversations: The fine line of most ministry decisions related to gender will land a pronouncement of hater or compromise.
  • Financial stewardship: The fine line is often between too much risk or too conservative, but either way, few things bring greater tension than how financial resources are directed.
  • Global conservation: The fine line involves the big question of what or how much responsibility the church has for saving the planet that God created. The views are wide and varied.
  • Diversity: The fine line is often between what needs proactive energy and what should be natural and organic. The outcomes can range from beautiful to heartbreaking.

Here’s the tension, we don’t get to side-step these issues, yet if we allow it, they will consume and take over the central mission of the church – helping people become followers of Jesus.

I wish there were some grand simple answer, but there isn’t one.

However, the best first step is to be clear and confident about why your church exists.

Every organization that does goodwill takes heat, you might as well take heat for the central purpose that your church exists.

These fine lines are real and legit conversations; they are part of real life, but what role and how large a part should they play in your church?

How do you lead with grace and gumption amid difficult issues?

4 axioms to help you lead through the fine lines:

1) Understanding over Arrogance

It’s a good idea to admit upfront that none of us have all the answers. There is usually more than one way to accomplish the mission. That’s what makes this so complicated.

You’ll discover that the larger your church gets, not even all your staff will fully agree on every issue.

The best way to lead in complex waters is to have a genuine conversation rather than combative confrontations.

Nothing is gained by drawing a hard line in the sand. The only place “a line” becomes the issue is when you get to the gospel message of Jesus. But candidly, rarely is that the battle.

Understanding isn’t a license for endless debate with those outside the church, or for progress to be lost in committee with those inside the church. Focus is required. (see point 4.)

But seeking to understand will strengthen your wisdom, discernment, and subsequent action.

2) Unity over Division

The New Testament makes the power and purpose of unity clear (See Ephesians 4 for a good start). In contrast, division is a chief tool of the enemy.

Unity does not suggest a compromise of values or biblical truth. Still, it does include a willingness to surrender our individual rights for the good of the body of Christ and how we best serve others together.

Bluntly stated, we don’t have to get our way to lead the way. But it does require unity of spirit and strategy.

Unity within the church is highly attractive and inviting to those outside the church.

3) Love over Pride

Love and pride contradict each other.

I’ve been guilty of pride over love. Under pressure and out of time (not an excuse just reality), I have lost patience or bowed up and declared my decision on a matter. Fortunately, that’s rare for me, but it’s never a good choice.

Love takes a longer and more patient route. Love values people and their perspective. As leaders, we have a responsibility to know what we believe is right, but how we go about it matters. 

There are situations where you are out of time, and there is real pressure; that’s a leadership reality, but if you ever feel love losing and pride winning, it’s time to stop and regroup.

There is a better approach.

4) Focused over Scattered

In the same way that no one church can do every ministry, no one church (or leader) can or should embrace every issue.   

You can’t win every battle, make every wrong right, solve every problem, or make everyone happy. But we are all responsible for doing something. And that something is focused on the message and person of Jesus.

What are you called to do?

This is the gutsy part of leadership — making decisions and taking action.

My aim in this post is to communicate that whatever your decision, understanding, unity, love, and focus (on the mission) will represent you and serve Jesus well.

6 thoughts on “How Church Leaders Can Effectively Lead Through Today’s Divisive Political Climate”

  1. Hey Dan, thanks for your faithfulness on this. As a church staff we talk about it a lot.
    We are considering doing a series of round table discussions on hot topics such as gender and abortion but are obviously hesitant and would need to really plan well. I’m wondering if 12 Stone has ever done events like this or you’ve seen how other churches have hosted events like this well?

    1. We haven’t hosted roundtable discussion on topics like these because each person has such a different starting point, context and frame of reference. I don’t think I know a church that has. We go more one to one.

      Your purpose will be extremely important — knowing what you want to accomplish. Example, training key leaders through open discussion? Or, another example, a “town hall” open forum just answering people’s general questions. If the latter is more the direction, the outcome you desire is so important, meaning what do you hope to gain from the discussion? How will that benefit the individual and how will it benefit the church? If you do this, let me know how it went. Thanks Daniel.

  2. Thank You Dan. The mystic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote about these issues from a Christ perspective. Complexity Consciousness & Creative Union. Our population growth demands recognition, not necessarily acceptance, of our individual, community, regional, national and world differences. No one way is the right way. Therefore being and growing our consciousness extends our awareness and appreciation that we will have differences. Creative Union recognizes and embraces our similarities. Our uniqueness, our genius within, emerges into an energy of self-less LOVE. As GOD’s LOVE are the actions of self-emptying, all embracing, unilateral, unmerited, unconditional LOVE.
    I am drawn often to IS 55:1-8

    1. Joe, I love and appreciate the depth and passion in your comments. Thank you.
      I pray God’s best for you in 2020!

  3. Thanks for addressing this issue well for church leaders. It’s hard but necessary to keep away from being drawn into political posturing these days, because it so often replaces the energy of staying true to our godly mission. Those four axioms should help.
    Sharon Drury

    1. Hi Sharon, good to hear from you. I hope you and Keith are doing well. Thanks for your comments and insight.
      I pray God’s best for you both in 2020!

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