Are You Out of Breath?

This is an excerpt from The Sacred Valley, 2nd edition, by Peggy Hahn.

This updated and expanded version incorporates LEAD’s newest learning
and includes a chapter on metrics.

Most of the leaders in the church today are out of breath. Leadership in a changing world is exhausting. It involves motivating, organizing, honing, and coordinating the efforts of a wide variety of people around a shared purpose and values. But what are the purpose and values?

We are all part of a worldwide, history-wide God-story that is bigger than we can grasp. The world is changing and many congregations are shrinking every year. Life is hard to predict and there are many obstacles to any goal we might set. Sometimes it is hard to know what the “right” goals are for this place and time. It can feel like some people have all the answers and others don’t.

Sometimes we take the advice we are given or trust our guts when we are making important decisions. Yet authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their book Decisive share research that proves that our guts are full of questionable advice and so are many of our friends! If we can’t trust our guts, then who or what can we trust?

If any of this resonates with you, you are in good company. Most of the leaders in the church today are Out of Breath. The fast pace of change in our world has shifted the landscape and we cannot keep up. The church of our childhood or, in the case of the pastor, the church we were trained to serve is not bearing as much fruit as it once was.

There is deep concern among faithful leaders in this quadrant for making change without sacrificing members and for preserving what matters most. They are willing to try new things, but what? It often feels like every new thing gets a disapproval rating from the major stakeholders. Leaders are worn out and they over function just to try to stabilize the congregation. They feel like they are too busy to invest in their own faith life, leaving them spiritually empty. And nobody needs more conflict or negative attitudes.

The whole environment is eroding their confidence. To grow, Out of Breath leaders need a safe space to experiment but the current culture does not welcome their creativity. These leaders are often people who are learning to lead for the first time. The world they were trained for does not exist. Keeping up with the rapid development of new technologies and ways of thinking makes them feel like they are out of step. Even if they disagree with these new trends, they are being challenged to engage in them.

LEAD’s 4 Growth Indicators offer a way forward for leaders:

  • Listen – Out of Breath leaders need to step away from their responsibilities long enough to see God moving in a different place in the world. This time can spark new imagination for God moving in their own space. Widening their own experiences can be the beginning of visionary leadership.
  • Center – Out of Breath leaders need to reschedule their lives to include space to notice what the Holy Spirit is doing. Out of a life of deepening prayer and attentiveness we can gain confidence in our own call to lead others.
  • Explore – How we think about things can keep us stuck. Identifying our own assumptions, questioning unwritten rules, finding a pace that is life-giving, and stretching our thinking with reading, coaching, or new training can provide a wider perspective.
  • Connect – There are two primary connections that will be game changers for leaders who are Out of Breath:
    • Deepening discipleship (including physical, spiritual, and mental health)
    • Deepening relationships (increasing diversity, integrity, and transparency)

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