Anyone who believes that politics are not present in church lives in a fantasy land.
As long as people have to live in relationships with each other, there will be politics. Politics are both the complex relationships of people living in a society and the competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership. We pray for the church to be a place where everyone has grown in spiritual maturity until they have become like Christ. But we are sinners on a journey towards perfection and until we arrive there, our sinfulness will influence our relationships and make the church a complex place. Likewise, we are an opinionated people who each see faith and the mission of the church through our own lens of faith, which means we often disagree about how we should be the Church.
So until Christ’s return, when we will see clearly the path of perfection, we will have to deal with church politics. It is a reality that you as a leader in your congregation need to embrace.
Some people refer to folks who are successful at promoting and affecting change related to their interests as those who “play the game” well. I think we’d all agree it is not a fun game and in reality its not a game at all. If someone feels strongly about a particular issue, there can be a great deal of pain and potentially division created in the church. As a leader, you have a responsibility to navigate church politics with a spirit of integrity and faithfulness.
Here are five characteristics that are common to individuals who both navigate church politics well and who can lead others during times of transition or decision.
- Honesty: Learn to speak the truth in love. There is not a more unifying force than honesty, and not a more dividing force than deceitfulness. Say it even when it is hard. Speak the truth and people will listen and be held accountable.
- Integrity: Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Honor and respect others’ opinions. Listen and see their side of things and let it inform how you communicate to them even if it does not change your mind.
- Intentionally: Don’t be passive aggressive. Be clear about your position and your reasons for making a decision. Follow appropriate channels. Seek out the wisdom of others and invite them to critique your position and advise you. Be proactive.
- Directly: Don’t hold meetings in the parking lot. Confront conflict with humility. Don’t circumvent the church governing structure. Don’t ask for forgiveness; ask for permission.
- Prayerfully: Make sure that you are prayerful about each step of the process and that you are inviting others to be as well. Listen for what God may be speaking to you.
These characteristics are essential for leaders who want to create a political environment in which a church can discern God’s will and direction. Are you willing to make these characteristics a part of your political life in the church?