the shape of leadership

Leading People Who Disagree With You

Five questions to consider

Kent Ingle on October 15, 2021

Church leadership can feel like a game of tug of war at times, with people pulling in different directions. There will always be contrasting opinions — on anything from the volume of the music to your preaching style.

As you strive to lead multiple parties effectively, here are five questions to consider:

1. Whom are you leading? Context is critical in leadership. Assessing the demographics of your constituents will give you a better grasp of how to lead them and how to handle conflict when it arises. Recognize that there are different age groups with varying interests, and don’t always believe the generational stereotypes.

In determining who your constituents are, be vigilant to understand their backgrounds. How long have they been a part of your congregation? What are their views of the church’s mission and vision? Understanding their perspectives can help you overcome communication barriers.

As Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:3–4, Christians are to approach every situation with humility, “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

2. What are their goals? Each faction will have specific goals and expectations. Even within those groups, there will be varying objectives. While you need to make decisions based on the church’s mission, it’s also important to build relational bridges where you can.

Your church wants to see people come to Christ. But there may be some in the congregation who are resistant to change. Perhaps they don’t want to add a service or expand the youth area because they fail to see the connection between these steps and growth through evangelism.

That’s why it’s important to have open conversations with them. You need to communicate your goals and help them understand how your decisions play into the church’s mission.

As Proverbs 18:15 says, “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” Listening to the hesitancies, fears, and intentions of others can help you lead with discernment.

3. How well are you getting your message across? Communication can make or break your leadership. The church’s vision and mission should be communicated clearly and frequently. From the moment someone steps into your church, they should know what your ministry is all about. It should be embodied in everything you do.

Leading in a pandemic has been difficult. However, it has also provided valuable lessons. One of our takeaways at Southeastern University has been the importance of communication. Whatever situation we encountered, we recognized the need to communicate frequently and clearly.

Not every individual agreed with the steps we took, but they at least knew what we were doing. And we always tried to point back to our mission to help them understand the “why” behind our decisions.

Too much communication is better than no communication.

Too much communication is better than no communication. So how well are you getting your message across? Keeping this one question in view can help avoid communication breakdowns.

4. Are you listening to every perspective? Take the time to hear from each party involved. Depending on the situation, plan to meet with them one-on-one or in a group setting. Set aside any preconceived notions of the individual or group before you hear what they have to say. You can’t truly understand your constituents if you already have presumptions about them.

At Southeastern, we hold an event called “Issues and Tissues” where our vice president for student development shares the values and culture of the university with the parents of new students. At the end, she opens the floor for questions, which gives us insights into some of the concerns and expectations parents have.

If there is a situation where there is a disagreement between parties, it’s important to talk to every person involved — and give them a chance to share their thoughts. Those individuals should feel heard, valued and appreciated by the end of the meeting. Listening to all parties will encourage open dialogue. It will also bring their concerns into the decision-making process.

Make sure multiple parties are engaged throughout the process. The last thing you want is for one side to feel neglected. Have a team of people with whom you discuss pressing issues. If you don’t have a leadership team, seek the opinions of mentors and trusted friends. They may present perspectives you had not considered.

Proverbs 18:2 says, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” To best understand a situation, you must be willing to listen to others.

5. Does everything lead back to your mission? The objective of decision making is not for one side to win. It’s about making an informed decision that points back to your overall goals and mission.

With the pandemic, our team at Southeastern recognized early on that no matter what decisions we made, there would always be someone who disagreed. That’s OK. Ultimately, every decision has to be filtered through our mission.

To respond to COVID-19, we assembled a team representing key constituencies. Although we expected these members to advocate for their interests, we also knew our decisions needed to stay in line with our core values. Every decision we make keeps our constituents in mind without veering from our mission.

Never make a decision based on fear of how another party will respond. If a conflict arises, it should never be seen as a battle. Instead, look for common ground.

Always pray before you act. Leaders can become so focused on an objective that they forget to turn to the true Source of knowledge and strength. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Instead of seeing the challenges that come with leading multiple parties, appreciate the value of different perspectives that make your church or organization what it is. There will be days of navigating through differences, but there will also be days of celebrating successes and unity.

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