By Carey Nieuwhof
A classic mistake when leading change is to attack the person who frustrated you. That person who bothered you. That person who sent you an angry email. That person who stood up at a church business meeting and embarrassed you in front of your congregation.
But an important leadership principle we must follow in our churches is to attack a problem, not a person. One of the best ways to do that is to, metaphorically speaking, put your arm around that person. See their perspective and view the problem together.
We see this example in Scripture through the life of David. David had opportunities to take Saul’s life and become king over Israel, as he had been anointed to do years earlier. Instead of acting out of frustration publicly, David practiced both humility and restraint. He took his frustrations to God. Check out Psalm 109 to see David’s prayer.
How to Attack Problems
If you don’t turn to God with your frustration with people, you’re going to turn on people. So how do you attack problems instead? Here are two key action points.
1. Empathize with your opponents.
When people got upset about changing the style of music or about the direction of our church, I learned to respond relationally. Instead of sending an email, call the person. Doing so humanizes the situation and reminds you that the writer of the angry email is a person.
Additionally, show them empathy. Statements like, “If I were you, I’d be upset about changing the style of music too” go a long way. Then you also have the opportunity to redirect them to your mission. “But look at the number of young adults and young families our church is now reaching with the gospel because of this change.” The key is to respond relationally.
2. Wait a day.
Don’t send an immediate response. Nothing good happens when you’re angry. We may better control our emotions as we get older, but we never outgrow our emotional responses.
Wait a day. I’ve learned to pray about it and sleep over it. Then, most of the time, you feel differently about it the next day.
So how do you attack problems and not people? Take your frustrations to God, show your opponents empathy, and wait a day in response. Do these things and you’ll grow in your leadership capacity while leading change.
Check out Carey’s exclusive Ministry Grid leadership courses here.