No matter what the challenges and changes a group of people might be facing, it always has a way of becoming personal. Know this: When it gets personal, it gets personal. Ask any leader who has attempted to lead his people through the various challenges of a shared journey.
Ask Moses. In Exodus 17, he led the Children of Israel to encamp at Rephidim. It seemed enough of a challenge to lead such a large group of people through a parched land toward a promised future, but add to this the absence of good drinking water and your challenge multiplies exponentially and personally. Thirst is about as personal as it gets!
The people became angry very quickly, and their anger was directed at their leader. (The same thing is happening in those areas so devastated by Sandy, the recent super storm.) Moses was certain they were about to stone him. That’s how personal it became.
I haven’t heard of a recent stoning in the American church, but there are countless actions taken against leaders in the church which are about as devastating, though less physically violent. People are remarkably selfish and sadly forgetful. It seems to matter little how far a leader has taken them when they encamp at a place where there is no water. When it gets personal, it gets personal.
Changing the familiar and challenging the status quo always seems to generate selfish, personal interests. Try moving a senior adult ladies’ class, if you don’t believe me. Homemade curtains, cushioned seats, and framed cross-stitched Bible verses on the wall say it all. It’s personal, very personal.
It doesn’t matter that the church needs this prime space for a growing Sunday School class. It makes no difference that members of this class are matriculating heavenward one-by-one and empty be-cushioned seats out number those amply filled. The arguments for reason, need, and mission are seldom persuasive. If a leader forces the issue, he will soon be crying out, “Lord, they are about to stone me!”
On a larger scale, leaders at a challenging stage of this shared journey with his people who dare to make changes that will take his people to a better future will often be criticized, condemned, and accused of various personal flaws and failures. In extreme situations, if they can’t kill the leader, they will assassinate his character. If that’s not enough, they’ll go for the spouse and children.
Leaders usually think in terms of the whole and tend to overlook the parts. Individuals in the group usually think in personal terms and tend to overlook the whole. By paying attention to the parts, a leader can wisely and effectively help his people see and embrace the whole. Sometimes, it’s a painstaking one-by-one effort.
However, if the situation breaks down and a leader faces a Moses moment, and things get “personal,” a leader must avoid returning “evil for evil.” A leader may not be successful in all his plans and proposals, but he can be successful in “keeping his head in all situations,” and, through personal prayer and private worship, allow the peace of God to guard his heart and mind.
When it gets personal, it should get personal, but in a different way.
Hal West spent 33 years as a pastor with an emphasis on creating effective change and transition in a traditional church setting. He is the President of Compass Coach and Consulting (compasscoachandconsulting.com) whose mission is to assist pastors and churches find the road to success. He has authored 3 books. His latest is The Pickled Priest and the Perishing Parish: Boomer Pastors Bouncing Back (CrossBooks Publishing, 2011)
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