Over the past year and a half, I have been knee-deep in Peter G. Northouse’s book, Leadership: Theory and Practice. One of the chapters of this book deals with what Northouse calls a ‘contingency theory’ behind great organizational leadership. He states that “effective leadership is often contingent on matching a leader’s style to the right setting.” Regardless of an individual’s personal character traits, acquired skills, competencies, and career experience, Northouse states that it is a leader’s style as well as an organization’s setting or current situation that are the most important factors to effective leadership.
To be quite honest, this perspective on leadership was difficult for me to embrace fully at first. Most leaders (including myself) have a tendency to believe that with the proper training, experience, and character, they will have the ability to lead and change any situation or culture set before them, no matter the setting or degree of difficulty. But there are times when despite our best efforts, we can find ourselves sometimes unable to lead effectively in workplace cultures steeped in organizational tradition or where chaos has become an acceptable norm.
So what happens when you discover that you are the leader that needs to be moved? What do you do when you realize you might lead better in a different setting and your seat at the table now needs to be vacated?
It’s important to focus less on the table we want to sit at and more on the room God has us in.
Your church or your place of employment may not be a room God wants you to up and quit or move from just because your seat within it has now changed.
As ministry leaders, it is vitally important that we demonstrate to others that while change is always constant, God’s promises still remain. With the understanding that a three-stranded cord is not easily broken (Ecclesiates 4:12), the following are three people I have always inquired with to help me discern whether or not it was either time to make a change to my seat (position in ministry), or make a change to my room (place of ministry):
While the first person on this list seems like a given, I am always amazed at how many leaders will choose to ‘vent out’ to their spouses, co-workers, or ministry colleagues before ever taking the time to ‘vent up’ to God first. His Word still stands as the greatest collection of examples ever recorded of leaders who either stayed somewhere too long or left something too early.
I often advise leaders to find a story within the Scriptures to identify and compare their current situations with, rather than searching for an actual ‘audible’ from God to help them. More often than not, the voice of God can sound a lot like our own if we’re not careful.
For those who are married, a spouse can be the greatest source of clarity and wisdom available. Despite how much we try to protect our most innermost thoughts and feelings from those we work with, our spouse has the opportunity to see us at our most vulnerable, which is usually at home. They are the first to hear about something great that happened at church as well as the first when something did not. And the more the latter has occurred, they will have a better perspective on whether it is a negative culture or whether it is actually a person. As the common idiom goes: People don’t leave organizations, they leave people.
Your Pastor Or Immediate Supervisor
The last person I recommend checking in with before making any definitive decisions about your ministry place or position is your current Pastor or immediate supervisor you currently report to. Notice that I didn’t say a previous Pastor or supervisor you worked with. I am talking about the one you have currently.
Why is that important? Simply because all of us have been guilty one time or another of sharing the ‘highlight reel’ of our ministry problems with those on the outside, instead of enduring the pain of having to face and discuss them with those on the inside, frame by frame.
You would be surprised of the headaches that could be avoided by leaders if they would simply take the initiative to address how they feel early on with those they report up to, instead of waiting for the gap between what they felt and what actually is true to widen and be rendered uncrossable. As Proverbs 18:2 so eloquently warns us, “Fools have no interest in understanding, they only want to air their opinions.” Speaking with your leadership is one of the best ways to gain that understanding.
As mentioned earlier, change is constant. There are times when it can become impossible for a leader to stay where they currently are in ministry. However, if there still remains any measure of doubt as to whether to leave or to stay, staying may have a lasting reward.