I’ve heard some great stories about leading from the side from people who are helping their congregations be more of what it can be. Some have shared success stories, others have expressed frustration.
Somewhat in the middle is the story of Wilma, a lay leader in a small congregation in the southwestern US.
Her congregation has lots of anxieties about the future and many members are laying the blame for this on their pastor. Wilma is confident the pastor is not the source of their problems—first of all because the problems existed before the pastor arrived, and secondly because the pastor is actually pretty good at what she does.
When the previous pastor left Wilma was hopeful like others that the new pastor would turn their congregation around. Instead she found that the several members didn’t even give the new pastor a chance—every little thing she did differently than the previous pastor was jumped on as a reason she was not the right one. Wilma realized that she had a role in leading from the side, that she has the power to refuse to engage in pastor-bashing.
To start, her main response was to simply correct factual inaccuracies in other’s blame-talk. “No, that was true before our pastor got here” and “Actually our deficit is the same as last year’s”. But what turned out to be the most significant role for Wilma was one she did not expect.
Wilma had been keeping the congregation’s blog on the website with the previous pastor—he sent her a line or two of scripture from the coming week’s sermon plan, and some comments on the meaning, and she organized those into a blog style posting each week. The new pastor did not provide this background information, and Wilma thought she would stop writing.
But then she realized that she could look up the lectionary readings herself! She began to think about the message of each reading for her congregation and wrote an article each week. At the start it was hit or miss, but as she worked at it she found that she could relate the text to their issues and anxieties. The blog posts are not judgments but rather things she notices.
And some people are noticing! The congregation reads the blog, as does the pastor. Some of the talk has subsided, and the pastor’s sermons have changed as well.
To be clear, this is not a dramatic success story. There are still people trying to remove the new pastor, still people who want to avoid change, still people who are gossiping and bad-mouthing their leadership. Wilma still has to be ever alert at meetings, standing up for what is right and refusing to engage in parking lot complaining.
The success is in knowing that she is behaving in a way that she is proud of, that she is standing up for right without judging, and that she is helping the system to become healthier, one person at a time. She is leading from the side.
Do you have a story, successful or not, about leading from the side?
I’d love to hear from you! You can write your own blog entry for possible posting, or tell us your story and I may be able to write it up for you. Send me an email from the contact page to share your side-ways leadership story.