Few individuals are eager to lead in a polarized time. Yet leaders today cannot escape this reality, particularly during an election season. How might congregational leaders navigate the minefields of polarization while safeguarding both their members and their own integrity? The following five suggestions can contribute to successful leadership in polarized contexts.
Christian Nationalism is a significant force in American civic life, yet “Christianity” and “Christian Nationalism” are two very different species. The former is a religious movement and the latter is a political one. Yet because many Christians (almost all of them white) have imbibed the tenets of Christian Nationalism, Christian leaders must contend with its presence.
Many phrases commonly used to describe the coronavirus pandemic have revolutionary overtones. Covid-19 is the “great disruptor,” the “medical disaster,” and the “economic catastrophe.” Writers assert that Covid-19 “will change the workplace forever,” arguing that its effects are both “global” and “enduring.” Reporting on the wave of unrest sparked by police killings of unarmed African Americans carries similar tones. Reporters describe the scope of the unrest as “unprecedented,” while the level of polarization in the country is “historic.”
Congregations around the world have made a dramatic pivot in recent weeks—from regular face-to-face gatherings to entirely online services and meetings via Facebook Live, Zoom, and other platforms. The transformation that decades of proliferating social media and streaming platforms failed to achieve was accomplished by the coronavirus pandemic in just a month.
But what has it been like on the receiving end?
Last week, Susan Beaumont wrote compellingly about when NOT to do strategic planning. As she correctly observed, “a hasty or poorly formed strategic plan is a waste of time and resources. A well-formed plan that isn’t executed is also a waste.” I would add that in times of crisis or high-level conflict, action or intervention is a better choice than strategic planning.
So when is strategic planning the right choice?
Meaning-making and belonging are core human needs. For parents and others who care about children’s future, another urgent need is to pass along our values to the young. While not every congregation excels at meeting all three of these needs, nearly every congregation tries. How can congregations respond to those needs both for their members and for those who are now looking elsewhere?
Whether the bully is the clergy leader or a lay member, it is essential that members intervene.