A good leader is sometimes called upon to lead others where they do not necessarily want to go. We Associate Pastors know this. We upset the apple cart when we start a new program, tweak a worship service, change the night our youth group meets, buy a different curriculum for our Sunday School classes, or something else. No matter how good or wonderful the change might be, we feel many digging in because they do not wish to follow us to these new pastures. When we feel the tension, it is easy to abandon the new path. That will ease the tension, but at what price? On a good staff, each team member may take a turn being the one ready to give up, but together we “lead on!”
Recently, I co-led a couple of breakout sessions of the School of Congregational Development of the United Methodist Church, with the lead pastor with whom I serve, Bob Kaylor. We were sharing our discipleship program – how it works, and how it was implemented – with other United Methodist pastors and clergy. It would have been easy to present all rainbows and unicorns. We met our three-year goal for participation in less than a year. Our discipleship program has quickly become part of the DNA of the congregation, and it would be hard to imagine going forward without it. But it would have been unfair to our colleagues not to include how we almost gave up on it in the first several months, because of the resistance we felt. So we talked about it, but only briefly as an aside.
When the time came for questions, this was the predominant question. I heard my colleagues saying, “I know this is important, and would like to implement it in my congregation, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be well received.”
One of the keys for us as a staff was the support we gave one another. There were times in the implementation of our discipleship program where I lost my nerve and was ready to advocate for going back to the way things were. Bob would say something like, “I think we are on the right track here. We need to keep going.” At other times he would check in with me, pretty sure we needed to pull the plug because of the resistance, when I would hold him up often pointing to positives I had seen. Other times there were leaders within the congregation who would encourage both of us.
Leadership can be tiring. There are times when we are not sure we have the strength to keep going, and want to find an easier path. At those times, we as associate pastors have a responsibility to encourage others on our staffs to keep leading, even when the going gets rough. We also need to use the staff to do the same for us.