Healthy Responses for Church Leaders: What “Getting Turned Around” in Atlanta Taught Me about Church Leadership
This is the final post of this series. Find the rest of the series here.
Healthy Response #7: Focus on DIRECTION, not condition
I spent two summers as a youth intern for a church in the suburbs of Atlanta. I learned a lot during those two summers about the Atlanta-metro. For instance, did you know almost every street in Atlanta has “peach tree” in its name somewhere? I think it’s a legal requirement. Also, suburban Atlanta streets display a high degree of customization. Every time you cross a new political boundary, the name of the street will probably change on you. This is a great way to make sure there are a lot of different street names--which must be very important to someone in the Atlanta area. Additionally, peach trees aren’t the only kind of foliage in Atlanta. And I found--after assimilating to the landscape of West Texas, where you can see miles in every direction, to the landscape in Atlanta, in which every street is actually a tunnel cascading through a forest--navigation was a challenge.
All of this to say, I spent a lot of time in the Atlanta-metro “getting turned around.” “Getting turned around” is something we used to say in my family growing up. It’s a nice euphemism for “being totally and completely lost” or “going in the wrong direction.” Somehow saying, “I got turned around” alleviates some of the guilt associated with “lostness.” “Getting turned around” also somehow lessened the wounds to my North-American-Male-Ego, which believes I should always know at least three things: where I am, where I am going, and how to get there.
The truth is, most of us spend a lot more time “getting turned around” than we’d like to admit, don’t we? In our lives, in our families, in our communities, in our churches--it’s pretty easy to think that staying busy and on-the-move is the same thing as moving toward a destination. But let me tell you, time spent driving south when you’re trying to get north … is not the same thing as just going north the first time.
While driving around the Atlanta suburbs and “getting turned around,” I was always making a lot of “progress” (and burning through a lot of gasoline), but I wasn’t always headed in the right direction. If you had asked me about my condition, I could have told you exactly what I was doing, “I’m driving to Moe’s in Alpharetta to eat lunch with a student.” But that didn’t necessarily mean I was going to get there.
This week, we wrap up this series of posts. We’ve been exploring healthy responses for church leaders to different problems. In particular we’ve been asking, as leaders, on what should we focus and what should we ignore during times of conflict and crisis?
The final response: Focus on DIRECTION, not condition.
This one be tricky. “Direction” is a much more nebulous thing to discover than “condition” is--or so we think. However, if we don’t have at least some sense of direction (where we are, where we are going, and how to get there), knowing our condition will probably not be helpful. We might know our condition--I’m driving to Alpharetta!--but if we’re on the wrong highway or headed in the opposite direction, it won’t matter, will it?
Focus on direction can be difficult for leaders because we so often get swept up into the tyranny of the urgent. We want to know what we’re doing this week, this day, this moment. Focusing on direction requires that we slow down, back up, take a few deep breaths, and try to open our eyes to a wider frame of reference than the one in which we typically live. Additionally, discerning something as amorphous as “direction” requires that we patiently invite the perspectives of others and listen to them.
However, focusing on direction rather than condition will almost always lead to wiser decisions in our leadership. Is our declining contribution really a natural disaster, or just a hiccup in response to some changes made recently? Is our worship service really in such a terrible state that we need to just blow the whole thing up and rebuild it, or do we have a new team leading who need a little more time to grow? Do our new attendance patterns indicate that our people suddenly hate our church, or are we just following the national trends that demonstrate many people are traveling more on weekends and attending church less frequently?
Of course we want to pay attention to our current condition. But without discerning our direction--Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there?--the condition won’t tell you all you need to know as a leader.
When in doubt, focus on DIRECTION, not condition.