Reactive mood

November 5, 2010

Congregations in crisis present a huge challenge to leaders, notes Peter Steinke, a veteran congregational consultant (see his article "Buckle up"). He emphasizes that change and the prospect of more change—even when it is planned—makes congregations anxious. Members can be expected to react out of emotion and fear. They will look for leaders to blame, and they will attach themselves to landmarks of what they imagine was a more glorious past.

Voters' mood in this recent election season had much in common with that of the anxious congregations Steinke describes. The reasons for that anxiety are real: high unemployment, a sluggish economy, home foreclosures and sagging home values, a sense of a diminished economic future. But as in Steinke's scenario, much of the political response to the crisis has been reactive, fearful and off the mark.

Many voters, we were told, were recoiling against a dramatic expansion in federal government. They looked at the government bailouts of banks, Wall Street and the auto industry, at the $800 billion economic stimulus package and at new regulations for health care, and they decided that government spending was out of control and had done nothing for them. The extremists of the Tea Party held up the Constitution and contended that if we only returned to the small-government vision of the 18th century, we would find a path back to prosperity.

The truth is far different. The bailout of the banks forestalled a worldwide depression and in the end will cost the government little and may even turn a profit. Most economists think the stimulus package created or saved 3 million jobs and should, if anything, have been bigger. Reforming health care is necessary if there is to be any hope of managing health costs.

The glory of American politics is that voters get to "throw the rascals out"—whether or not they understand who the rascals are or the nature of the crisis the nation is in. Very little could have done by any government during this worldwide economic slowdown to address the high unemployment, except more government stimulus, which is what voters say they don't want.

The paradox of current politics is that voters like Democratic programs such as Medicare, Social Security, expanded health care and even environmental protection, but they also like the Republican strategy of low taxes and its rhetoric of smaller government.

What is most disturbing about this ideological standoff is that it makes it impossible to address many of the truly pressing issues facing government—such as how to pay for Medicare and Social Security, how to bring order and fairness to immigration law and how to counter climate change.

Perhaps, to learn from Steinke's reflections on leaders and congregations, our political task as leaders or simply as citizens is to maintain a nonanxious presence, to keep reminding our neighbors of troublesome truths, and to keep the conversation focused on the goals that, in the end, we may share.

Comments

Anxiety

This is so true. I'm currently in a church in which we are conducting a pastoral search. Because I'm not a naturally pessimistic person who puts an inordinate amount of faith (or rather adulation) in spiritual leaders, I've been surprised at how anxious and negative people are. People feel that not having a pastor is the worst thing, some seem fearful of what the future holds and many are trying to revert back to "landmarks of what they imagine was a more glorious past." As a leader, it's a hard environment in which to govern. Without that pastoral leadership, people fight leaders and resist change even if it means that the church fails to live out its mission because the congregation is not willing to go forth into the future. While maintaining that nonanxious presence you're still bound to lose people as we live in a consumer society and the Church is no different. If you don't live up to my standards, why I'll just go down the street to another church that is offering a product line that is to my liking. Ultimately, leaders have to focus on the goals and the future and not give in to the naysayers no matter how hard it may be. Leaders have to realize that things may very well get worse before they get better, but ultimately, we have to stay true to what we feel God has called us to. Oddly enough, I find myself empathizing with the job of the president; trying to usher in change and deal with pressing issues amongst a nation of resisters and detractors.

Issues are the issue

I agree with your assessment in general terms- certainly two years is precious little time in which to see marked improvement from new policies. But my observations of both congregations and politics tells me that ISSUES are often the issue! That us to say, different groups value different things; care about different issues. That's why there are different groups in the first place. Your list of 'pressing issues' included, "how to pay for Medicare and Social Security, how to bring order and fairness to immigration law and how to counter climate change." Most conservatives would only agree that your first issue is pressing. The other two far less so, and they would quickly add abortion and gay marriage to their list of 'pressing' issues. Different groups simply fail to care about or own or even really HEAR each others' issues. For instance, I have observed that many black pastors, though they may be evangelical and conservative, don't want to see any law passed to ban abortion- much to the consternation of their white evangelical colleagues who are openly pro-life. I believe the reason for this is that for decades white evangelical pastors have downplayed the issue of poverty- an issue very important to the black community. So the two groups fail to understand one another and often fail to work together for any of their MANY commin goals! Because we care about different things, and because we won't embrace one anothers' causes, we remain divided- and puzzled at one anothers' (perceived) ignorance! Jesus said that if we loved our enemies (opposite political parties included), things would tend to go His way! I believe love begins with listening. So let's listen, really listen to each other, even those crazy 'others' across the aisle, amen?

Issues are the Issues

I agree with your assessment in general terms- certainly two years is precious little time in which to see marked improvement from new policies. But my observations of both congregations and politics tells me that ISSUES are often the issue! That us to say, different groups value different things; care about different issues. That's why there are different groups in the first place. Your list of 'pressing issues' included, "how to pay for Medicare and Social Security, how to bring order and fairness to immigration law and how to counter climate change." Most conservatives would only agree that your first issue is pressing. The other two far less so, and they would quickly add abortion and gay marriage to their list of 'pressing' issues. Different groups simply fail to care about or own or even really HEAR each others' issues. For instance, I have observed that many black pastors, though they may be evangelical and conservative, don't want to see any law passed to ban abortion- much to the consternation of their white evangelical colleagues who are openly pro-life. I believe the reason for this is that for decades white evangelical pastors have downplayed the issue of poverty- an issue very important to the black community. So the two groups fail to understand one another and often fail to work together for any of their MANY commin goals! Because we care about different things, and because we won't embrace one anothers' causes, we remain divided- and puzzled at one anothers' (perceived) ignorance! Jesus said that if we loved our enemies (opposite political parties included), things would tend to go His way! I believe love begins with listening. So let's listen, really listen to each other, even those crazy 'others' across the aisle, amen?