People are complaining because they only have two choices, Clinton or Trump. It’s the same number of choices as we always have. Yet even lifelong republicans and democrats are praying for a viable independent, who has legitimate credentials and the skills needed to form a winning coalition. For several decades now, the United States Congress has been descending into a similar state of polarization. Polarized institutions die. They fail to solve current problems. They are too marked by conflict to plan for the future.
The lesson is clear, those who view their local church as a family system will work hard to avoid a similar fate. Polarization benefits no one. First the Tea Party, and now Donald Trump, have utilized extremism to rally their base. Polarized systems, however, always demand that their hero go one or two steps further than reason will support. In time, all demagogues are swept away by their own untenable positions.
The lessons for church leaders: Don’t feed your competitive urges. Don’t humiliate your enemies. And always cultivate moderates, even if they vote against you. Even if they torpedo your pet project. Love those buggers who lack your vision. For, a polarized church system is very hard to fix. It usually requires the removal of the current pastor and the hiring of a trained interim.
A healthy, non-polarized, church is like a tree. There are three types of people active in the leadership of such a system:
There are the Roots — these are people who have been in the congregation for some time. Whenever the congregation does strategic planning, these rooted souls bring a sense of history and deep intuition about the DNA of the congregation. They also understand the surrounding neighborhood and the real needs of the community. They bring to the table a knowledge of what has worked in the past and who you should to ask to head up new projects.
There are the nuts and branches — these are people who are new to the church, and in the case of the nuts (which describes any new pastor or staff member), are untested. In time, they may leave. They bring to the table experience and ideas from other churches and organizations. They may also have special training. They bring to the table sense of what has worked elsewhere.
Lastly, there are the people who have had some experience in both this local church and other organizations. These people are usually moderates. If given a chance they will maintain communication between the branches and the roots. They make up the trunk of the tree.
If anything good happens in the church, the leaves and nuts will take the credit because it surely was their idea. The roots are rightfully offended. Sometimes, the roots get so polarized that they stop supporting anything that comes down from above. Many a nut of a pastor has responded to this by chopping the trunk in half and quoting Revelations 3:16, the part about spitting the lukewarm pew sitters out. The moderates, however, fulfill a very important role. They keep the sap flowing between the roots and the branches. Strategic planning requires bringing the moderates to the table, for even if the nuts have great ideas, they lack the ability to accomplish anything without the rest of the tree.
Next week: Part 3 - Church System Lessons from Trump: Learning from History