Power without accountability

In any church there will be people who prefer to have the power and influence of complaining from the sidelines, much like some parents at amateur sporting events that seem to know better than the coaches and referees what should be happening. If those onlookers who seem to know so much are asked to step into leadership as coaches or referees themselves, they give all kinds of lame reasons why they won’t.

The one reason they will likely not state honestly is that they prefer to have power and influence without being held accountable for it. So they are content to stand on the sidelines or sit in their Monday morning quarterback chairs and pronounce what was wrong or right and what could have been done better. They convince themselves they are playing and important role, when in fact they are only disruptive. But maybe they like the power of being disruptive.

Another reason is that the same character and personality flaws that cause them to criticize from a distance make them poor leaders. Some might even know that themselves.  Real leaders know how unhelpful people of such character can be on a team of leaders. So for these sideliner, leading in a way that has accountability to it is too risky for them. Messing up or failing is not fun, and few if any people enjoy it. Good leaders however strive to learn from what we call failures. Poor leaders quit and go to the balcony to chirp from there.

You might be able to tell that I get annoyed even thinking about the people that do this. Aside from real abusers and sneaky abusers, this is the group that I’ve seen do most damage in any church I’ve been in. I get annoyed because their kinds of critical words don’t help anything at all, and unfortunately they do have an effect, even if only in setting a nasty tone, or worse, in causing doubt in the leadership that is doing it’s best. And if the real leadership tries to follow up with such people, they have room to deny what they said. But they feel important because at least someone paid attention. The danger is that then we are rewarding bad behaviour by paying attention.

One way to counter this is in council taking most seriously written explanations of concern. When people write things down, and put their name on it, speaking only for themselves, they then are proving they are courageous enough to be held accountable for what they say. Even if I personally might disagree with what they write, I will always appreciate their integrity. But these ‘ghost sayings’ or  complaints that come back through the pipeline without anyone taking accountability often waste a council’s time and are disruptive in other ways, and in my opinion should be noted but ignored beyond that.

Another way to counter it is in what the Elders recently did. Give people the tools by which to properly contribute as they did with the sermon evaluation materials that were handed out.

What leaders who are actually trying to lead need to know and recognize is that if you have people who just like to complain and not be held accountable, or put it in writing with their name on it, most of the time they are people who are choosing to have manipulative and destabilizing power from the fringes. I believe they should not be taken seriously, at least not the content of what they complain about, because in my experience it is really more about the power they have in that action than about the issues they complain about. Often, if these complaints are paid attention to carefully, you will notice they are internally inconsistent as well. At the last Transition Team meeting I think I told the story of a congregational meeting years ago where someone stood and complained about the amount of money that was going to paying the pastor for mileage driven. Then, later in the same meeting stood and complained that the pastor had not made a special 20 km drive to visit the new parents when a grandchild of theirs was born, but had visited on the way back from somewhere else. When I hear that kind of thing, I realize it is actually anxiety and distrust and other deeper issues speaking, and actually addressing the question is ridiculous and a waste of time. Such people are actually indicating a deeper problem that cannot be addressed in a public setting, and which they often will not want to address personally or privately. And, what elder or pastor wants to go to people like that and say  “I experience a consistent lack of maturity in you” or “You need help” knowing that if the person does not take them seriously, their next round of complaints will be about that elder or pastor.

So, first of all because it tests my patience, secondly because I am very likely to be blunt with them about what  I see, thirdly, because it usually takes a massive time investment to get to know them to a point where they even begin to see the problem,  I avoid such people. I don’t have time for that as an STM, and my time is better invested in those who really are trying to lead in an accountable way. Unless the sideliners give me signs they want to learn to stop using manipulative power and make it legitimate, unless they start to show that they recognize the problem starts in them, and they indicate they want to begin to work on themselves– if that happens I have all kinds of time for them.

From your most recent pastor search committee, to your most recent councils, all indications are that they were made up of people who were doing their best to actually lead, and I respect that greatly. Leading in a way that accepts being held honestly accountable is hard, especially when things don’t turn out as hoped. And it is very hard to be in legitimate leadership and hear of those people on the sidelines, muttering, disagreeing, but who are ghosts and are inconsistent in their disagreement, but consistent in being disagreeable no matter what happens. So I finish by saying thank you to all those who have lead and are leading in an accountable way in the congregation, you are people of courage and integrity and backbone and faith for doing it that way.

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