(Too often when “Leadership within the ELCA” is invoked it is “code” for the Churchwide Offices in Chicago. In this post, I’m referring to pastors and lay leaders of congregations.)
The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly decisions related to human sexuality has had a dramatic role in revealing the leadership flaws of pastors and lay leaders within the ELCA. I’m not claiming moral superiority here, because I’ve made plenty of my own mistakes responding to the Churchwide Assembly actions. But there are congregational leaders who are making some very large mistakes that will have long-lasting implications.
One of the most significant flaws I’m noticing is the tendency to listen only to like-minded people. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a nation falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” I read this to suggest an abundance of counselors means people with different perspectives giving advice. There is little value in leadership which simply looks for a multitude of those who concur with their perspectives or conclusions. If I am not in relationship with those who can challenge my perspectives or add to my awareness, I’ve lost guidance.
Another flaw I notice is the tendency to become legalistic. As these leaders attempt to negotiate the minefields of conflict, there is often a close look at the congregation’s constitution and a defensive reading of it. An example I’m seeing cropping up on a number of websites: Objections to anyone from the Bishop’s office “consulting” with the congregation between the two votes required to leave the ELCA because the constitution says that a consultation with the Bishop is required. What they completely miss is that the Bishop’s Office has the authority to begin a “consultation” on other grounds, or that the Bishop’s staff is an extension of the Bishop. Defensive legalism does not serve the congregation well. Are they right? Maybe. But this is driven by fear, and that fear seems to be the result of creating an “us vs. them” relationship.
The other common leadership flaw I’m watching literally destroying some congregations is the tendency to devalue the people or perspectives that are different from the ones the leaders hold. This results in people not feeling heard or valued. When people feel as though they are not being heard, they will often resort to more attention-getting behaviors, which inevitably ratchets up the conflict. Petitions, secret meetings, and the like are the usual routes for attempting to be heard. Those are rarely helpful within the life of a congregation.
It is particularly challenging within a congregation when the leadership (rostered or lay) are creating unnecessary conflict. The defensiveness is exaggerated. The Synodical leadership and the assistance that can be provided is dismissed.
Leadership flaws are revealed in conflict.