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Dorothean Charisma:
Strategy For Congregational Renewal

Thomas F. Fischer

Number 341
 
By far the most effective strategy for congregational renewal has to be "Dorothy."
 
Dorothy is seventy-eight year old widow. She’s been a Christian all her life and very loyal to her denomination. A leader in the denominational youth organizations in the 1940’s, Dorothy loves her Lord, her church and the Lord’s ministry.
 
Dorothy is no "ordinary" seasoned citizen. Though retired, she’s far from slowing down, kicking up the feet, and enjoying the sunset of life by watching all the younger generations do the ministry.
 
No, Dorothy is a lean, mean grace-dominated ministry machine. Once that Gospel light starts sparking everyone around knows they’ll be feeling some "G" forces soon.
 
Dorothy: A Profile Of Leadership
When Dorothy first visited my church she appeared nice, traditional and proper. This impression, though correct, was quickly augmented at my first visit in her home that same week.
 
In our first meeting, Dorothy was direct, forthright, opinionated and obviously very smart. To say that she "loves" the Lord’s Church is an understatement. She is unashamedly as passionate for the ministry of Jesus Christ as anyone I have ever seen in my ministry.
 
Dorothy: First Impressions
 
Admittedly, first impressions can sometimes leave a sense of fear and uncertainly about certain individuals. I wasn’t used to feeling "G"’s on initial visitor follow-up visits. All the while I was wondering, "Who is this person?" "Is she for real?" "Is she just going to be a fly-by-night ‘flash-in-the-pan’?" "Is the just all talk and no work?" Worst yet I thought, "What if she’s an antagonist?"
 
In spite of my fears I recognized that the church needed renewal. As part of this renewal I had made a commitment to encourage all visitors for service. I pledged to allow, permit and encourage everyone to "make a positive difference in the church as the Lord had gifted."
 
After having received several very good new member leaders, Dorothy was my biggest test. Will I back down from this commitment? Or will I take the chance and follow-through on my commitment to God, the congregation, and the new members.
 
This vacilation was aggravated by Dorothy’s resistance to a six-week new member orientation required for all new members. "I’ve been in this denomination for all my life and you’re telling me I have to go through anorientation?" she protested. "Yes," I replied as I explained how it would help her to get to know the people, the ministry and help ease her transition into the congregation.
 
Dorothy: Three Years Later
 
 Dorothy did finally agree to go through new member orientation. She became a member—a very, very valuable one. Since she joined this congregation nearly three years ago, this aspiring octagenarian has simply been the single-most gifted and energizing factor to bring renewal, lift and enthusiasm to this congregation.
 
Dorothy: A Profile In Leadership
 
The remarkable blessings she has brought by God’s grace to this congregation center around her finely-tuned gift of leadership. Specifically, she brings to this congregation so many of those qualities of leadership required for congregational renewal. These qualities include:
 
* Passion For Jesus Christ: She doesn’t wear Jesus "on her sleeve" in some sort of "religious" manner. Like so many faithful in the church, her faith is more than skin deep. It goes right to the core of her very heart, mind and soul. Like so many faithful in the church, this depth of faith engenders a positive, passionate response. This is evident in a way suited for her gifts, her interests, her demeanor, and her passion.
 
* Passionate Love For People: Several times in the three years since she joined she has someone into her home—or going to the home—to assist someone who is dying. Whether it takes days, months or longer makes no difference. Dorothy will be there.
 
* Self-Starting: Dorothy is at the forefront of finding needs and filling them. No one needs to tell Dorothy the needs. She has the remarkable insight few laity—and few clergy—have. She takes the initiative to find the needs.
 
* Delegating: Dorothy never, I repeat, NEVER works alone. Even if she has to hunt you down to help her, Dorothy will get you—sooner or later. Interestingly enough, even the most initially resistant learn to love to help.
 
* Refuses "No": Too many churches follow a "don’t ask, don’t tell" way of doing things. Dorothy has changed all that. Her recruitment. method is "Don’t ask, just tell them and they’ll do it."
 
* Visionary: Dorothy sees the church from a perspective few ever can even imagine. She has a preferred vision for the church, knows the preferred vision, preaches the preferred vision repeatedly, and takes the forefront to ensure that that vision maintains prominence in the ministry.
 
* Perseverance: Whatever Dorothy starts, Dorothy finishes…and finishes well. She has faced opposition. Dorothy doesn’t whine. She gets things done.
 
* Non-Anxious In Conflict: Due to her strong faith, her maturity, her giftedness and her keen sense of her unique role in the congregation, she handles the opposition in a very tactful, caring—but very direct manner. Even when opinionated and passionate, people understand that she has no fear of whether they agree with her or not. In that sense
In spite of this directness—or because of it—there is something very irresistibly likeable about her. She can tell you to go to eternal destruction and make you happy for having done so.
 
* Loyal: When Dorothy makes a commitment, the world starts to shake. She commits herself to any worthy cause…and multiple causes in and outside the church.
 
* Supportive Of Pastor: Dorothy is supportive of the pastor and leaders. That does not mean that she won’t express some rather direct opinions regarding various activity—or perceived inactivity—or her feelings as to how things should be. Whatever is said, however, can be trusted. She hides nothing, She’s not a saboteur or back-stabbing passive aggressive. She’s on your side—so hang on.
 
* Cosmopolite: Dorothy’s has a passionate interest in God’s people in and out of the church. Having a wide variety of churched friends, she is very aware of what is going on locally, regionally and nationally in most mainline denominations. Since she often has questions or comments in these areas she frequently shares them with her pastor.
 
* Sense of Urgency: Whatever is done should be done quickly. Though borne partly from impatiences, the sense of urgency comes from her passionate conviction that the sooner one does what is needed in the present, the sooner and more effectively the challenges which God has for us in the future can be addressed, met and fulfilled.
 
* A Doer: Dorothy is not a theoretician, consultant or academician. She’s a doer. If asked how she’s so effective as a leader, she will humbly say she’s really not. All she wants is to get what needs to be done in this church done. It is this pragmatic bent which is the outgrowth of her simple, direct, passionate desire to build the Lord’s Church.
 
* Reaches Out To Opposition Forces: Dorothy doesn’t know what the word "Antagonist" means. Neither does she want to know. Such labels only work against her, the ministry and the cause of Jesus Christ. No, she doesn’t turn a blind eye to their negativism. Not at all. But she always seems to find a little "niche" of opportunity for everyone—even the most rancid, abrasive and anti-church people—to come on board.
 
* Extraverted: There’s one thing Dorothy is not: shy. She can speak well in public, in private and handle many different kinds of situation with ease—never letting up one iota on her characteristic passionate, direct manner.
 
* Contemplative: Few would probably know it but Dorothy does think deeply. She takes time to meditate, to spend time with God. She’s an avid reader and draws great strength from her private contemplative time.
 
* Witness: I don’t believe she’s every been formally trained for witnessing…but she always is. Whether relatives, friends, neighbors or members, Dorothy is concerned first, that they believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin and, second, that they remain strong in that faith.
 
* Personal: Dorothy directs her time to visiting the sick, taking tapes, flowers, and congregational publications to those who are shut-in, hospitalized, or just in need of a visit.
 
* Team Player: Staff members, including myself, are not threatened by Dorothy. Though we know what she is doing, we don’t know everything she does. Nor do we need to. She can be trusted—and is trusted—implicitly. Whenever there’s something which would entail change, restructuring or innovation Dorothy always comes forward to share it—up front—no holds barred.
 
Charisma: A Inside Look
 
There are many other special things about Dorothy. Dorothy is not some sort passive seasoned citizen. Her congregational nicknames, based on her first and last initials, are "Dust Buster," "Daring Believer," and just plain "DB." These names indicate the love, the respect and admiration that pastor, leaders and congregational members have for her.
 
Of all the other things which could be listed about Dorothy, perhaps the most remarkable is her charisma. Her charisma has piqued my interest frankly, because I’m quite covetous. I want to know what seems to make it work so well in an otherwise passive and historically schismatic congregation. I think I found it.
 
The nature of charisma is that is has, as John Maxwell said, "Confidence that convinces." In any people endeavor, the greatest challenge is to give people convincing confidence over their fear.
 
Charisma is one of the most effective means by which leaders convince others that fear is not a problem. Fear cannot, in any organization, be totally eliminated. Charisma provides a specific means of fear management via projection.
 
Fear incites various forms of denial. Projection is one of the best defense mechanisms fearful people use. It is often seen in the church in the form of scapegoating, blaming, or otherwise displacing all the responsibility for failure on others—especially the leaders.
 
Since people are so accustomed to jettisoning their fears through projection, the simplest, least anxious and most effective way to deal with those fears is to project them onto someone else. In organizations, this "someone else" is, by definition and default, the organization's leader. From this perspective, then, the leader’s key task is to "catch" this fearful anxiety and channel it into constructive energies.
 
What Charismatic Leaders Do
 
What charismatic leaders do is convince anxious individuals that they can handle the fear. When trusted a special level of intimacy develops by which individual and group fears become displaced and projected on a leader. Charismatic leaders non-anxiously seek out and absorb that fear. Often what sets the charismatic leader from other leaders is that charismatic leaders thrive and convert this projected anxiety to fuel a greater sense of confidence.
 
The bigger the challenge, the more impossible the task, the greater the anxiety, the more "fuel" the charismatic leader has to lead the challenge or task to successful completion. Of course, it could also be argued that if these fears are projected onto the charismatic leader, that these fears will be combined to the leaders existing fears in such a way as to seek resolution of the leaders’ and followers fears via success.
 
When Charisma Is Absent
 
Those who lack charisma may have the opposite experience. Though fear is projected on them—as on any leader—the projected fear precipitates anxiety, uncertainty and uncontrolled, unconstructive levels of reactivity. Unable to deal with the anxiety, the anxious leader re-projects the fear back on to the followers.
 
When there is no charisma present, the fears just keep permeating and continually paralyzing an organization. As this anxiety "ping-pong"'s through the system, the anxiousness increases hurting both leaders and followers alike.
 
Dorothean Charisma

The most significant thing that Dorothy’s apparent charisma demonstrates is how charisma really is one of the most important keys to congregational renewal…even passive, conflicted plateaued, and traumatized congregations.
 
Consultants of various kinds often suggest specific strategies for congregational renewal. Vision statements, organizational plans and objectives, staffing, congregational and community evaluation are some of the things which are often suggested.
 
Industrial/Organizational Psychologists and other so-called organizational "shrinks"—secular and religious—also give their view relative to leadership styles. In "The Paranoid Corporation," authors Cohen and Cohen define and delineate five types of organizational dysfunction. These are applied to the church in Ministry Health article #315 "Intervention In Dysfunctional Organizations."
 
What is most interesting, however, is that each of these leadership interventions require a commonality of leadership style--Dorothean leadership style.
 
 
Is Dorothy In Your Church?
 
Perhaps the most important application is this. "Can you be a 'Dorothy'"? Certainly, "Dorothy's" are far and few between. That is, after all, what makes them so valuable. Yet "Dorothy's" do not have a monopoly on "charisma." In fact, many of the behaviors and attitudes which "Dorothy's" evince can be modeled and implemented by virtually anyone in the church...including pastors.
 
Can you be a "Dorothy"?  If not, can you begin implementing elements of "Dorothean Charisma" in your leadership? And, perhaps most challenging, if God has given you a "Dorothy," do you have the courage to let the "Dorothy's" among you lead as God has called them?
 
Viva la Dorothy!
 
Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:58 PM