By Published On: June 19, 20220 Comments
Those Troubled, Trusted Leaders
You’ve probably seen it. A trusted, effective leader with a long-standing track record suddenly becomes irritable, uncomfortable with the way the ministry is going, and loaded with pent-up emotion which is unloaded in a meeting on unsuspecting members and, of course, the pastor.
No, they may not have been antagonists in the past. In fact, they may likely have been key trusted leaders who took the arrows, bore the heat, and expended unusual amounts of energy and love for the church during some difficult time of ministry. As a result of their God-blessed efforts, such individuals gained a remarkable level of respect and influence from the congregation and from the pastor as well.
What They Do
When troubled, all that can change. Their generally upbeat, encouraging ministry can sudden be buried by an avalanche of unbridled emotions, outbursts, criticisms, and uncharacteristic behaviors. Such behaviors may include..
  • Asking for an appointment with the Pastor to share a “lot of things that have been bothering them lately;”
  • Presenting their laundry list of issues of concern;
  • Disagreement with specific leaders;
  • Perfectionistic questioning of policies;
  • Disagreement with the way other leaders have done things lately;
  • Urging the research of past policies and the development of new policies to restrict authority of other groups in the congregation;
  • Expressing strong disapproval with certain actions which had been approved by the majority of others;
  • Stating that they feel as if decisions are made in spite of their wishes;
  • Expressing threats of non-support (e.g. offerings, time, service, etc) if such-and-such does not occur;
  • Indicating their intent to block or hinder various ministry proposals unless they are heard;
  • Threats of resignation;
  • Claims that once heard, they will follow the majority even if they don’t agree with it;
  • Attempts to take over the normal agenda of a meeting with their unplanned, rehearsed expressions of how it should be;
  • Direct or indirect attacks on other leaders (including the pastor), especially those newer leaders who are creating momentum;
  • Not contacting the pastor for “routine” ministry support or input (e.g. hospital visits, counsel regarding church visits, avoiding “drop in” visits to the office, reduced phone contact, etc.”);
  • A generally less “friendly” and “approachable” manner;
  • In general, a pattern of passive behaviors which, under duress, may metastasize into passive-aggressive behaviors.

Why Do They Do It?

Ultimately, no one may know quite for sure. However, such changes in leaders’ attitudes happens frequently enough that a listing of likely things which may be occurring can be made. Such things may include…

1) Diminished Power And Influence: As the level and activity of ministry grows and expands, God raises up new leaders. Within relatively short time, these new leaders with new ideas, new energies and new vitality gain credibility and influence. The presence of these new leaders brings about a shift in power, which may overshadow the power of the other leader.

2) Dashed Expectations: Feeling a shift of power away from the leader to other leaders, the person may the crashing of expectation that their abilities would always be valued at a very high level. This is especially true if they had a key role in a very critical time of ministry.

3) Feelings Of Being Used: “What was it all for?” as a troubled leader may reflects on all they have done. After all that, now the pastor and others are treating me as if I wasn’t valuable. Their moment of glory, they may feel, was only a passing token recognition of their efforts.

4) Jealousy: Though it may not be expressed directly, the frustration expressed resembles that of a scorned lover. Something important has been taken from them, and they want it back.

Though this may be expressed in several ways, perhaps one of the most common ways are to compare their own accomplishments favorably to others, minimize others accomplishments or the question the need for others’ efforts, to develop distrust of newly-arisen leaders, to point to many areas which are, in their view, out of control, to give many reasons why such-and-such ministry program won’t, can’t and shouldn’t work (over their dead body).

5) Feeling “Lost” Or “Out Of The Loop”: Since the ministry and leadership base are expanding, the individual may not physically be able to be involved in or monitor the ministry activities as in previous times. Indeed, some of these things may occur without their knowledge and consent. As a result they may feel out of the loop or lost in the power structure.

6) Rejection: As pastors urge the development of new leaders and give encouragement and direction to other leaders, the pastor’s time and energies previously devoted to this troubled leader becomes divided among others.

7) Sense of Worthlessness: In crisis, these troubled leaders may have enjoyed very close, frequent contact with the pastor. Indeed, during the crisis such leaders may have been the pastors’ confidant. Having recovered from the crisis, they may feel a lessened sense of worth since the Pastor no longer relies so heavily on their regular support as Moses needed Aaron since the church’s recovery has provided a broader base of supportive leadership.

8) Burn-out: Sometimes after the explosion of extraordinary energies over a long period of time, energy levels naturally drop. One’s mental, physical and spiritual energies simply need a recharge. Sooner or later, the “Elijah Syndrome” will strike–especially after those critical watershed events in ministry. Individuals will ask, “What was it all for?” as they lie under their “broom tree.”

9) Interpersonal Conflict: When troubled leaders emerge, sometimes its in response to their recognition of personality clashes, agenda differences, or other incompatibility factors. Frustrated by the conflict, troubled leaders may seek less appropriate ways to express the frustrations generated by personal differences with the pastor or other leaders.

10) Pastor-Leader Relationship Transformation: As discussed in the Ministry Health article #14,  “The Five Types Of Coping Relationships,” Pastors may resource certain leaders to help uphold them during crisis. During crisis, this invaluable relationship can energize pastor, the troubled leader, and be a critical base of restoring and/or reforming ministry direction. Having passed the crisis, the need for the valued relationship subsides as the pastor gradually recovers from the anxious stress shift mode.

11) Coping Mechanism Failure: A helpful cliché for minister is to recognize that the “Issue Is Not The Issue” (cf. Ministry Health article 20). Often individuals will project anger and frustrations from their personal, spiritual, family, or professional lives in the church. Feeling out of control, a lack of respect, or a feeling of decisions being crammed down their throats in other areas of their life will be expressed in the church. Sometimes such out-of-the-norm behavior is a sign of coping mechanism failure.

12)  Limitations of Giftedness: One of the remarkable but frustrating dynamics of the Spirit’s endowment of gifts to the faithful is that the giftedness of one individual lays the foundation for the giftedness of others.

Unfortunately, those who lay the foundations may not have the gifts necessary to build on their own foundation. To see others build on, change, enhance and get recognition for their efforts is difficult, especially when others’ efforts make the troubled leaders’ efforts obsolete via improvements, enhancement or greater effectiveness.

13) Weakened Physical Health: Though last in this listing, this factor is probably a part of more anxiety in trusted leaders than we might imagine. Whether it’s a cold that just won’t shake off, a feeling that they’re on the verge of being sick but not quite being sick, or en route to a not-yet-known medical diagnosis, a weakened body can and does affect the mind. Mental health issues also need to be considered.

14) Weakened Mental Health: Whatever their origin, depression, anxiety and other related disorders can be like having a “cold” or “flu” in your mind. When affected by even slight or moderate changes in mental health, even the most patient of leaders can become uncharacteristically “edgy” or suddenly “loose their cool.’

Sometimes these changes occur when subtle–but significant–changes in basic brain chemistry, especially Seratonin levels, occur. Those in the colder, cloudier winter climates (e.g. Michigan, Washington, et al) may also notice that leaders may become more “edgy.” Some might even notice that there are more anxious times or conflicts specifically during the months of February, March and into early April. Known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or “SAD”, it is not a factor than should be casually overlooked. SAD may sometimes just be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

15) Spiritual Immaturity: Michigan District-LCMS Vice President Erwin Kostizen once advised that one of the most helpful insights in dealing with troubled leaders is to recognize that sometimes leaders are not always motivated by the cross.

Instead, motivated by attention and worldly recognition, some leaders become troubled when not getting enough attention and recognition from the pastor. Comfort, convenience and control needs often seem to overshadow any truly spiritual motivations. Leaders may be free of vices, but still not be moved by the cross. As one wise sage said, “After you rid of your vices, rid yourself of your virtues.”

One Critical Factor

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for troubled leaders to do is to “let go” Surely, to have to “Let Go” is for most of us, a very, very hard thing to do. It is especially difficult when one has to give up something which they have enjoyed…sometimes too much. Yet, letting go is one of the essential spiritual disciplines every Christian must learn.
Letting go is a grieving process. It’s one of the hardest lessons to have to learn. Learning the necessary lessons can be  extraordinarily painful process… even for the most spiritual and capable Christian leaders. Often, it is most difficult for these capable leaders because the key to their effectiveness is a tenacious, energetic hanging on tight to the outcomes of their efforts. To see their efforts go out of control can be a great fall for some.
Often, the inexplicable outburst of emotions are an indicator of grief. One of my favorite sayings is, “Grief is a funny thing” It is. Grief is the mother of all kinds of regretted behaviors. Though they can cause pain and damage, grief responses must, like all behaviors, be subject to forgiveness.

What Not To Do

1) Don’t Ignore Them: Provide appropriate suggestions for ways to constructively vent their feelings and address their concerns. Ignoring them just adds to the perceived validity of their complaints.

2) Don’t Triangulate: As tempting as it is to play peacemaker between troubled leaders and other leaders, don’t get caught in the middle. Counsel and encourage and help them to identify issues and interests, but encourage them to speak to each other, perhaps in the safety of others whom they trust.

3) Don’t Become Judgmental. It may be tempting to consider yourself or other leaders “more spiritual.” Resist that temptation. After all, the log you may be seeing may be the one in your own eye. Making non-spiritual issues spiritual simply adds fuel to the fire. Remember this principle: The most sure mark of an unspiritual person is that they think they are more spiritual than others or others are less spiritual than they. Don’t fall into that hypocritical trap!

4) Don’t Give Unfair Attributions. It is so tempting to label troubled leaders as “trouble makers”, “antagonists,” “loose cannons,” etc. Don’t give in to such unbecoming and sinful behavior.

5) Don’t Ignore The Situation: To just let things go on and deny that it requires attention simply is to decide to let it get worst. Denial merely allows the anxiety greater freedom to permeate the organization.

6) Don’t Over-React: Watch your own stress responses. The last thing the troubled leader needs is extra baggage of your inappropriate reactions. Demonstrate in your verbals and non-verbals a sense of confidence coolness, support, and churchmanship.

7) Don’t Be In A Hurry: Emotional issues generally take time to resolve. The troubled leader has likely held back in his objections and concerns for a long time. It may also take time to release them as well. If the troubled leader knows that his concerns are being addressed, a patient and measured response will demonstrate that you are concerned. It also sends the important message that you will not say “how high” every time he asks you to jump.

8) Don’t Let Your Proper Boundaries And Scriptural Ministry Principles Be Violated. No matter what the threat or how valued the leader, to give up ones own self on the altar of sacrifice is too large a price. As pastor, doing so also sacrifices the appropriate presence of the Office of the Ministry. Be flexible where possible, but don’t sell your soul just to avoid a resignation. If you do, you’ll lose the respect of other leaders and then you may have multiple resignations on your hands!

9) Don’t Make Promises You May Regret; Whatever is discussed with the troubled leader as a possible reconciliation plan, do not give immediate assurances to present it to other leaders. Instead, indicate to the troubled leader that you want to have yourself and him take a few days to consider what has been agreed. Set a definite time for review of at least 48-72 hours.

10) Avoid Impulsiveness: There’s a time for everything. The greatest churchman is one who exercises leadership in a moderate, self-controlled manner. Always leave the door open for further consideration.

11) Don’t Their Reaction Personally: The real truth is  that you’re probably not the problem. Don’t let stress and the threat of rejection, loss of control, or other “knives” of the soul cut and destroy your sense of self-esteem. Resignations can happen. When they do, pray that God will give renewal to the troubled leader.

12) Don’t Unfairly Penalize Them: Continue to extend the grace and love of Jesus Christ so that they can always see the possibilities for confession and absolution, Law and Gospel, grace and renewal in their lives. Don’t withhold sacraments, ban them from meetings, or other such punitive sorts of measures.

What To Do

1) Anticipate The Emergence Of Troubled Leaders. It’s a “normal” thing…especially at the beginning of new phases of ministry (e.g. after schism, the arrival of a new minister, etc). Since the body of Christ is a living organism, constantly changing and being conformed and built as Christ determines, it will go through various stages of development. Each stage will require and release certain gifts. God will raise up the needs for His church needed for each stage of development. Part of this raising up is to also re-designate and re-position existing leaders into other roles.

2) Administratively Prepare For Troubled Leaders: Since troubled leaders are part of the life of a church, it is important to have various administrative mechanisms in place. Such things might include procedures for receiving  those sometimes steamy resignation letters (e.g. to whom they are given, with whom will they be shared, how will they be recognized, etc), clear procedures for replacing leaders, consideration of time limitations on number of terms served, procedures for grievances, etc.

3) Hold High The Biblical “Body” Theology: The Church is the Body of Christ. The more one can teach, emphasize, and repeat this doctrine found in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the greater the opportunity for affirmation each member can have. Since the Church is a “body” this means that God will use each part as He has need. At no time does He not have need of any of the parts. He simply calls each part to be willing to be used according to His will, not ours..

4) Be Pastoral And Available. What troubled leaders need most is pastoral ministry. Their troubling time is a spiritual crisis for them, a crisis not helped by the feeling of rejection or censure by other leaders. Give quality time to these troubled leaders identify their specific issues. They may need a listening ear–your listening ear–especially as other leaders respond to their troubled responses. Perhaps they might really enjoy being invited to complimentary lunch with pastor.

5) Be Patient. Over-reacting and over-zealous, panic-driven behaviors are almost never helpful. Be patient. Patiently dealing with troubled leaders gives opportunity for God to raise up others leaders minister to the troubled leader. Be patient and urge patience among your leaders, especially those who might be the target of the troubled leader’s energies.

As you patiently watch, God will work powerfully in your troubled situation to show you  spiritual leaders able to carry out a ministry of reconciliation in very powerful ways. (Yes, and they can probably even do it better than you can). Don’t be in a rush. Let a measured, trusting response predominate your every interaction with them. Give them time.

6) Give Them A Voice. Nothing soothes like knowing that other people are really listening to what you are saying. Troubled leaders need to know they are heard…and heard by people who care and are in a position to respond to their expressed concerns.

Use careful discretion to determine the nature and means by which their concerns can be communicated constructively. Since troubled leaders often keep things inside and then blow up, encourage them to regularly speak up as a means to encourage healthier communication–and more constructive approaches to disagreement–among the leaders.

7) Don’t Deal With “Content” Issues. Requests for changes in policy, personnel, re-evaluation of practices, wanting to have others be disciplined by another group for “violations,” or to have evaluation procedures enacted may all be examples of content issues. These are not the issue. Often they are traps designed–intentionally or unintentionally–to give opportunity magnify the issues later on.

To address and “fix” these issues not only eats up valued time and momentum, but also may feed the troubled leader with ammunition for greater criticism against other leaders including the pastor. Since content issues are not the issue, treating them as if they were the issue will only perpetuate and exacerbate the real problem.

8) Deal With The Real Problem. When listening to them, a major goal is not just to list their issues but to discover what the Harvard Negotiation Project called their “interests.” Try to find the issue that is driving the surface issues. “Content” issues are not the real issues. They merely cover the real underlying interests.

When the content issue is to follow policies or make new policies, the interest may really be need for control. Threats to withhold may point to an interest of needing to feel as if they have a voice in decision making. Other examples of other underlying interests may be things like loss of appreciation, loss of respect, etc. To discover them takes an empathetic ear, patience, and a skill to recognize and draw them out of the individual.

9) Help Them Discover New Ministry Opportunities. As troubled leaders may characteristically have a track record of energetic and faithful involvement and ownership in ministry, try to encourage and steer them to a new area of ministry in which they can make a real difference. Whether or not they accept your guidance and suggestions, as least they and others will recognize your pastoral concern for the individual.

10) Celebrate Your Leaders. Whenever possible, use generous doses of genuine recognition of leader efforts. Recall and celebrate the troubled leader’s past and present efforts and remind them of how their important and critical these efforts made a difference in the church.

It is important that other newer leaders hear the praise. It will help legitimatize the troubled leaders’ efforts to the troubled leaders and to other leaders. Luncheon invitations (on the house), personal letters, certificates of recognition for their leadership, and public recognition in worship are just some ways that celebration can be practiced.

11) Offer And Attend Training Opportunities For Conflict Management. These are essential not just for you, but for your leaders, too. The more leaders you have “on board” who understand conflict dynamics, the greater the chance that troubled leaders can be dealt with at lower levels of conflict. These training’s may also help troubled leaders identify themselves before they get troubled.

12) Pray For Your Leaders. Pastors may tend to take leaders for granted. If it is true that “You only hurt those you love,” pray most for those key leaders who may someday be troubled leaders. Pray that God would continue to work a vision of renewal and vigor for the their service to Jesus Christ.

The First Step
Call the troubled leader and take them out for lunch, breakfast, dinner or whatever setting is appropriate. Even an evening soda and dessert in a restaurant can suffice. Give them quality time.
Don’t rush it. Listen to the troubled leader, encourage him or her, and genuinely project to the troubled leader the great expectations and dreams God has for them and your personal convictions of their inestimable value in ministry.
Enumerate and celebrate the positive differences they have made in the church. It doesn’t cost much.  It’s worth a try…and the earlier the better! Even if they’ve been disagreeable, help them to relax, hear their concerns, renew their trust in you and the ministry, and encourage them to move forward with you as an essential team member.
Your Second-Greatest Defense
Perhaps the most important thing a congregation needs to deal with the troubled leader is a clear mission and vision statement and a well-defined congregationally-adopted ministry plan. When leaders understand the direction of ministry, they will be directed to compare their actions and efforts to the overall ministry plan.
Creating and setting into motion a ministry plan is the starting point for a new, exciting chapter of ministry. It is also the precipitating event which may bring troubled leaders to the forefront. Ironically, sometimes the leaders you thought would be the ones to lead the charge into this new era of ministry will be the ones who become troubled leaders.
Your Greatest Defense
The greatest defense is to conduct a God-pleasing principled, mission-driven, biblically-focused ministry which relies on the power of His Word. God does not promise to bless a ministry without these key essentials. Lift high the cross. Look to it as your immovable guide through every ministry challenge. Use it as your greatest source of strength.
Thomas F. Fischer

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