In 1981 my father worked in denominational leadership. He wrote a letter to a new colleague and friend warning him about the dangers of denominational leadership. He edited it a bit over the years but kept the core the same, handing it out to new colleagues from time to time. The unexpected has happened, and I am now working in denominational leadership, I’ve gone back to each point in his letter to see if I think the warnings still apply today. As with a good deal of the Wesleyan Wisdom of my Dad, I’ve found his advice to be quite timeless.
Here’s #5 in his list:
5. To get absorbed with denominational politics. Any organization or institution that selects its leaders by election is doomed to some sort of politics. Even if a person had no intention whatsoever to “politic” their actions may still be interpreted as political. Because our denomination has chosen to select its leaders by popular vote, if you are not careful, you will get caught up in the discussion of who is rising in popularity, falling, or who is the latest dark horse candidate for one job or another. You will not be able to escape some conversations like this. However, it is a serious danger to become absorbed with it. It is much better to simply do a good job and leave the politics to people who would rather play that game instead of work hard.
Perhaps this one will resonate the most. Over and over again in every stripe of religious leadership I hear people bemoan the politics of their denominations. Whenever leadership, influence & people intersect there will be politics. I agree with Dad that it is easy to get absorbed in it–especially in seasons where the votes determine the future of not only the denomination, but many people’s jobs.
I noticed at many denominational conferences that the older men love playing these games most of all. It’s almost like “March Madness” applied to their denomination. They “fill out their brackets” and talk in the hallways and bathrooms, sometimes speculating, sometimes conspiring, and always with a gleam in their eye. When asked about it directly, they say, “Oh, I don’t know what will happen and I don’t play politics, but it is interesting. By the way, have you heard: ___________.” Beware of the older man who comes to influences your vote all while claiming that they “don’t play politics.” They are like the poisoner who comes bearing two cups, asking you to drink first of their fine vintage, while they smirk.
There are two caveats I would put on my dad’s advice, however:[quote_right]Click here for the previous installments of this series on the Dangers of Denominational Work:
Part 1 – Spiritual Coolness |
Part 2 – Getting Out of Touch |
Part 3 – Thinking Department Growth = Church Growth |
Part 4 – Overestimating Your Influence [/quote_right]1) Politics is played in every place of leadership. It is not just denominations where this happens. I’ve pastored three small churches, two of which I planted, and I’ve been on staff at two very large churches. I also volunteered and did internships at churches that were 30, 300, and 3000. In each and every case I found that politics was at play. When pastors scorn the denomination as being “too political” I always want to have a conversation about the politics happening in their own staff, or in their board, or in their children’s ministry. Leadership may be influence, but neither happen without the ugly head of politics popping up.
2) Further, I’d say that if we just admit that there are political happenings in the air, we can be more authentic in our approach and and influence people more forthrightly. It is not that another person might be trying to find out how I’d vote, or help motivate me to vote his way, it is the surreptitious way it is done, and the false claims of humility that accompany them, that bother me. Much better to just be an open book, and tell others of our intentions, and our views.
I will ensure that I don’t get absorbed in the “March Madness” of denominations that shows up whenever elections are held. I will also recognize that I can’t escape politics entirely; I can only be honest about what is at play, and forthright in my opinions, trusting God to guide those voting. For we must remember that it is His Church we are leading, and a Kingdom can have but one King, and I am not he.
How about you–how do you manage the politics of your church, your denominational area, or your general denominational leadership? Or for that matter, the politics of your school, your neighborhood association, your workplace or extended family!?!?