Honor, Disrupt, Align – The actions of a transformational leader
Today, change is no longer an option for the church, it is required to make new generations of disciples and to be engaged in meaningful mission in the community. The change that is needed is not surface or cosmetic change, but deep change, disruptive change. With deep change comes resistance.
Resistance is the measure of how passionate the leader is about ideas, new ministry, growth and change. The more a leader leans into new ideas and change, the more the leader encounters resistance.
Resistance is also the measure of a congregation’s commitment to the values, traditions and ministry of the congregation. Resistance is encountered when a leader steps out in faith with a bold idea or vision. Resistance can be clarifying and an opportunity for growth and development.
When leaders encounter resistance, they should thank God because there is passion, commitment, new possibility and an opportunity for everyone to grow and be further shaped by God.
This is the first of a three-part series about what effective transformational leaders do as they encounter resistance as they lead toward health and vitality – they honor, disrupt and align.
In the first century, the city of Athens had altars to every god. Everywhere in Athens there was a different altar. The Athenians wanted to be so sure that they did not offend any god that they even had an altar to an unknown god. When the Apostle Paul visited Athens, he didn’t come into town brandishing the Gospel with hell, fire and brimstone against their pantheistic ways but began by saying to them, I can see that you are a very religious people, having so many altars to the different gods including one that you do not even know about. Acts 17:15-34
Paul began by honoring the religiousness which opened the opportunity to preach about the resurrection of Christ Jesus. He did not agree with their pantheism, but he recognized their spirituality and honored them for it. Once the Athenians experienced Paul’s honoring their religiousness they were more willing to listen. While some sneered at his preaching, others came to believe.
Sometimes leaders begin right away with what is wrong, with what needs to be fixed. In essence, they communicate intentionally or unintentionally that what people have been doing in the past is wrong and must be changed, and that the leader can fix it. They do not honor people’s hard work, dedication, commitment, values and history.
Every leader should begin by honoring something within the life of the congregation. Lovett Weems, the Director of the Lewis Center at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. said, every new pastor should find something to honor their predecessor. He encourages pastors who are starting new appointments to honor their predecessor even if he or she was not very good, and find something to be positive about.
In my first appointment after seminary, the church and community were undergoing change. Many older, more established middle income families had moved away and poorer people were moving in. There was an older couple in the congregation, Billie and Rooker who were from the previous middle class generation of the community. Steeped in tradition, and a more formal engagement with people, it was a bit of a surprise to find them living in the community that had been through significant change. With a tight grip they held onto the past and stayed rooted, but resisted most of the change in the church and were not happy. I feared that it would become personal, that their resistance and even anger would take on a form of personal criticism of the leaders. I made it my priority to visit them a couple of times a month in their home. We would have tea and cookies and talk about the old neighborhood and about their parents. I would thank them for staying in the neighborhood when most of their friends and neighbors had left, for being longtime, faithful and generous giving members of the church. They never agreed with the changes but after I started visiting, it never became personal. They voiced their concerns in meetings and voted against things but they continued to participate and give generously. I visited them a couple of times a month for a year and then began to visit less and less until it was a couple of times a year.
When we honor past leaders, present disciples and past ministry, it lets people know that they are appreciated and respected. Some leaders seek to isolate people who have a different opinion or see them as resisters rather than recognizing that they too have some piece of truth and an experience that is important to understand and honor.
Healthy honoring goes deep, not surface comments. It recognizes the holy in others, the sincere efforts of others, and the best of others. When somebody disagrees with us, even tries to thwart a leader’s good ideas, how a leader responds either invites a person or congregation into a deeper conversation or creates deeper resistance. This requires deep listening, building on the best of others and finding common ground. It doesn’t mean that a leader never disagrees, or doesn’t tackle the harder issues. It means we begin first by honoring. The honoring never stops. It is constant throughout the leader’s ministry, not only when they first arrive.
Paul entered Athens and said, I see you are a very religious people.
John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
of Greater New Jersey