Neon light saying "and breathe" on a wall of green plants
Calm in the Face of Confusion
Calm in the Face of Confusion

As we step into another church year, it has been good for me to think back to what I’ve learned during my service on the Board and as Board President in two congregations. Maybe my learning can provide some ideas for other church leaders to consider. Many times your term in office will be filled with wonderfully committed congregants all pulling in the same direction toward a shared goal that is widely supported. But, then there are those other times… What then? How do you move through those “other times” with style and grace? What does it look like to demonstrate how we live our covenant and how we walk our UU values in those “other times”? Here are a few thoughts from one who has weathered some storms.

Remember, it’s not ALL about you – When you step into a leadership role in your congregation (be it Board position, chair of a committee, or running the auction) you become a symbol of leadership. People will address the role you are in; forgetting that just a few months ago you were both sitting in the same pew, or attending the same meeting as congregants. They will speak to you as Board member or committee chair and bring with them their past experience with leaders at work and leaders at church. If their past experiences have been good and satisfying, they will approach you with confidence and hope. If not, they may approach you with anger or fear that you are getting ready to allow something, or do something, harmful to them personally or to your shared congregation. Please do not take it personally.

And yet, sometimes it IS about you – So you want to remain open to that possibility. You may receive feedback about something you are doing (for instance, the way you are managing the meeting, or the way you contribute to discussions during the meeting). Be open to the possibility that you might be doing something that is not as effective as you want it to be. It can be very helpful to ask the person offering the input for specific examples of what they are seeing. Ask if they can offer specific suggestions about what you could do differently. After thanking them for taking the time to offer their input, allow yourself time to process the feedback. This may be an opportunity for you to try new behaviors, to practice new approaches in a supportive environment. Hopefully, this term of church leadership will be a time of learning and growth for you. So, try to stay open to the possibilities when they arise.

Remember, you only have control over yourself – So focus on that. What are you doing? What are you displaying? How are you living your covenant in this moment? Often your best response is to move into deep listening. Listen to the words, listen through the words to the emotion behind them. Can you convey with your face, your body language, your gestures that you are listening carefully and that you have heard what the person is saying to you? Generally, when people are wound up about something, they need to feel heard before they can listen. Can you be the calm presence that allows them to be heard? That will be such a gift to your congregation.

Slow down – Allow yourself time to listen and reflect. Allow yourself time to consult with other leaders. Leave time for a new idea to appear. And remember that it takes time to guide an organization in a new direction; whether away from fear and anger about something that has happened or toward a new vision for your RE program or a new facility. Do not be in a hurry. It will not help. 

Involve people – There’s some wisdom in the thought that anything that can be done by one person is better done by three – especially if you want engagement and follow through on a great idea.  Be intentional about inviting and engaging people you might not normally have in your own social circle. Work to ensure that new members are invited to participate and that you are seeking input from people who are different than you. Look at the diversity on your Board, your committees, and your task forces. If it would benefit you to reach out more to those who are LGBTQ, or parents, empty nesters, single people or people of color, then do it. Your invitation can mean so much to someone who may be on the fringes of your congregation.

Remember, you can’t do everything – Delegate. Don’t take on everything that shows up in your email or in an after-church conversation. You will only wear yourself out and set an unhealthy precedent for the person who follows you. You want to build capacity for leadership in your congregation. You want more people able and willing to step up. Hand off the things that you can to others who have interest and expertise.

Take care of yourself – I am eternally grateful to the congregant who introduced me to yoga during a very difficult church year. Find your source for rest and rejuvenation and fit it into your schedule. Walk in the park. Read a book. Take a nap. Watch the sunset. Meditate. Breathe. Really. Do it now. Do it this year while you are in a leadership role. When you refresh, you can bring your best self to the opportunities and challenges that leadership entails. When you refresh, you will be more open to the joys and satisfactions that leadership provides.

Finally, have a good year – Your term in leadership will end. Your roles will shift and change over the years. Over time, as new members join your congregation, most people won’t even know you were in a leadership role on the board, or on that committee. This year is only one year in the long history of your congregation. You have been selected for this position because others have observed your gifts and your strengths. You have demonstrated a willingness to learn and grow. You have demonstrated your commitment to your congregation. Bring your best self to this year, this role, and have a good year.

About the Author

  • Chris George serves on the Pacific Western Region's Healthy Congregations Team. She has served on numerous church committees as a lifetime UU and as Board President in Oklahoma City and Tacoma. She does occasional leadership development consulting now and lives with her husband and dog Beau in Tacoma, WA.

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