I remember the moment a clergyperson said, so matter-of-factly, during a retreat: “If it weren’t for the congregation, I’d be a great leader.” We all broke into laughter. Most of us wanted to believe it. But as pleasant as the fantasy of leading without anyone else interfering may seem, we can’t lead without a context and followers. We lead imperfect people in imperfect institutions—imperfectly.
An organization director I once worked with was asked, “What do you do?” He replied, “I attend meetings.” Sadly, this was true. The “meetings and meetings-about-meetings” culture was pervasive in that director’s organization. Once while sitting in a meeting with people flown in from around the country, I started estimating the travel and staff time expenses for the people sitting around the conference table. I asked myself, “Are the results of this meeting worth the thousands of dollars it took to gather for it?” I didn’t have to wait until the end of the meeting to come to my conclusion: No.
We live in a “VUCA” world—a world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. A recent Harvard Business Review article called VUCA “a catchall for ‘Hey, it’s crazy out there!’” Religious leaders can engage these “crazy” times intentionally by cultivating practices that I’ll describe here. Though there can be no guarantees of success when dealing with volatile change and uncertainty, I offer these practices as a starter list—you’ll add your own.
“I’m a little verklempt.” When hot topics come up in congregations, we know we ought to have a conversation. But instead, like Linda Richman, Mike Myers’s character on Saturday Night Live, we get all “verklempt” and change the subject. Throwing out a random topic, in effect we say, “Talk amongst yourselves.”