Church Politics Part 4: Navigating land mines while leading your church

In the last three posts I exposed some of the pitfalls of church politics. It is one thing to question, but how does one practically work through environments such as these? I hope this last post in this part of the series jumps us off into a conversation that does just that.  [Here are the links to the other posts in this series: Part 1Part 2Part 3]

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Landmines are those not-so-easily seen hazards that damage your ability to serve and lead. They are put there by real people, sometimes out of planning and sometimes out of impulse. The intention is always to protect something. A depraved human quality exists that whenever power is held, the next step is to keep it, not wield it. Power is meant to be a tool, not a drug. Our weakness for it warps our theology, distorts our ethics, and train wrecks our intimacy.

It is disconcerting to think that inside a church and along side its trusted leaders landmines exist. But, the reality is that wherever there is power you will see the darker side of human nature.  We are all susceptible to temptations to keep power. Here are some pointers to help navigate the landmines of church politics while keeping your conscience intact.

Four common landmines on the menu...

  • Kindness wrapped agenda: The best thing you can do sometimes is to be judicious about how much information you divulge about yourself or projects. Being honest does not mean giving all the information. When people demand or probe, be careful. Sometimes that nice coffee, invite over for dinner, or friendly gesture has a string attached to it. In fact, it is better to assume this. “Can I pick your brain?” Generosity is a value we all easily can have until things don’t benefit us any longer. Beware.

  • A stepping stone: When you have a platform, others desire to use it for themselves to step to the next level. That means you are stepped on, by the way. You can be adored, complimented, and as soon as the other party has siphoned your platform’s energy, they move on, leaving you nothing in return. Well, the lesson here is to be careful to guard your role, platform, or influence for the mission and vision you have committed to. When people want to use it, steer them to your vision and purpose. If it fits, then a “win win” is possible. If not, you get stepped on. There is nothing wrong in a true exchange. But, your purpose and conscience should never be in the equation.

  • Unsavory favors: There will be times when you might be asked to help a teammate out and “chips” are asked to be cashed in. The lure is that you can earn such a favor for yourself when you are in a tough pickle. Don’t bite, especially if this is not done openly. If there is anything done in leadership that cannot be posted on the wall of the church, don’t do it, speak it, or go there! It is better to deal with the pain of living out your conscience than please a person playing politics.
  • Over-sweetened flattery: While most of our attention is on “critics” some of the most dangerous people might be the our biggest fans. The inner circle that always shows up and never speaks a cross word to you might either be super nice like your mom, or there for other reasons than you. Why? None of us are that good! Who in your inner circle of fans has agendas that are not healthy? The best way to scatter those that flatter is to invite friendly critics to the table.

Have you observed, experienced, or participated in any of these landmines of church politics? Are any of these points helpful to you?