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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

17 Mar '13

The art of negotiation, timing, and strategy in ministry change

Ministry attracts people with strong belief systems and convictions. Another way of saying that is that it attracts people can be very black and white, impatient and convinced that one must act - now!

It is what also gets many young leaders in trouble. Their beliefs and convictions get in the way of thinking through the ramifications of their actions. For them, it is about right or wrong. For others it feels harsh and often unnecessary. 

Ministry has politics like any other organization. Politics is not good or bad - depending on how one approaches it. It is recognizing that there are different groups in a congregation who share common perspectives that may differ from other groups and unless one can navigate those differing perspectives, you cannot lead. I would suggest that there are three skills that young leaders need to develop in order to navigate the political waters of leadership in ministry.

The art of negotiation
I have worked with many churches on reforming their outdated and noneffective governance systems. Rarely does one get all that one wants in the process because their are sacred cows embedded in the bi laws. Some of the issues may be seen as Scriptural issues, others not but they are important to someone which is why they got there in the first place.

Leadership is knowing how far and fast one can go without losing those you are leading. It is learning to negotiate differing concerns, seek common solutions while realizing that these are not usually hills to die on. Good leadership settles for what it can get at a particular time to move the ball down the field knowing that there will be another day to address other issues that need to be addressed. 

The art of timing
Even when one knows what needs to be done, knowing when to pull the trigger is just as important as knowing that the trigger needs to be pulled. I have just finished reading Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year (a great book by the way). 

One of the most critical issues Lincoln faced was that of freeing the slaves in America (Emancipation Proclamation). It was not a matter of if but a matter of when and how since both the timing and the way it was done had huge political ramifications at a time when the union was deeply divided over many issues. Lincoln took heat from many sides for not acting sooner than he did but he recognized that the when and the how were critical factors in the success of the what.

A leader can only successfully lead change at a rate that he/she will be followed. Move too fast and you lose too people and coinage. Move too slow and you lose good people who want to see ministry move forward.  Trusted counselors and boards can be immensely helpful in knowing the right timing.

The art of the strategy
When we talk about change we talk "change management." Healthy change is managed through negotiation, timing and strategy. Let me give a very practical example: I am asked from time to time by church leaders to help them move a staff member out of the church because of a bad fit, budget issues, re-organization, poor performance or some other legitimate reason. 

Letting a staff member go in ministry has consequences. Everyone has a constituency so understanding the potential response is critical, as is negotiating a win/win (where possible) with the staff member being let go. How you do it, when you do it, what you say about it and how well you treat the departing staff member all become critical factors in limiting the fall out in the church. One can do the right thing in a poor way and injure the organization.

There are two common themes here. First, there is an art to any kind of change. The art is to understand the politics and people involved, to know when to make the change and to have a strategy that minimizes negative fall out. The second common theme is that all of this takes a great deal of careful thought, patience and the ability to go where one can go and hold back when one must. Impulsive behaviors in change work very poorly. 

Young leaders grow in these areas by both success and failure. When necessary get a coach and some wisdom to minimize the dumb tax paid in the process