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How to Navigate Church Leadership Anxiety!

Have you ever attended a church that appeared perfect on Sunday morning? But as soon as you started serving you noticed the tension between worship leaders and realized only the holy spirit can alleviate these intense emotions? Well a few years ago I experienced a situation that unveiled the possible anxious presence in the pastoral leadership circle.


I’ve observed those past moments and put it in conversation with a few family theory readings. In this blog post I am going to briefly describe the critical incident, identify the theoretical tools used to engage the individual and the family life cycle, then provide practical tips to combat the negative sides of the theoretical tool.




Critical Incident

While serving at a church I experienced the effects of a leader’s anxiety that imposed my experience. Pastor Joseph also known as PJ is a charismatic, intelligent, and creative minister. He was chosen to be my mentor while serving at an internship a few years ago. During my site orientation, he didn’t hesitate to mention that Senior Leadership was notorious for suppressing their team’s growth. As you know, there are always three sides to a story, your version, the opposing angle, and God’s all-knowing panoramic view.


As the internship continued, I became aware of PJ’s daunting attitude whenever he discussed anything about the church’s leadership team. The other interns and I were concerned because sometimes it seemed like his joy was suffocating at the hands of his ordained vocation. PJ would voice his concerns about clergy’s partiality on creative ideas and their lackadaisical approach to confronting critique by other members. He noted he was rarely given credit for his innovative projects and would probably leave the church in the next year or so.


The church drama commenced when he overstepped his boundaries and pursued an online bible study with the church’s name despite the leadership’s nonconsent. After being told to stop the bible study due to individual’s possibly confusing that activity with the church, PJ still moved forward with his idea in order to prove he was doing the church a favor. Those actions along with similar past disruptions resulted in a tough decision for the pastoral leadership to discharge him from his duties in the upcoming church calendar year.




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Theoretical tools used to engage the individual and the family life cycle

Pastor Joseph’s anxiety induced his own self-fulfilling prophecy. Anxiety causes one to triangulate. According to Steinke, anxiety searches for a host then the remaining dysfunction is transferred to a third party. This action temporarily relieves the culprit of their problem’s responsibility.


Triangulation at its core isn’t flattering because it is a manipulative tactic to ignite discussions with an unrelated member about a third party. These discussions are usually in favor of the triangulator and sometimes it doesn’t leave room for the unrelated member to understand the other party’s perspective.


The former creates an anxious presence and causes other members of the family system to adopt their perspective without understanding the full truth of the matter. Pastor Joseph has the potential to operate in a higher leadership capacity because of his willingness to seek modernization in the church’s structure but he was a chronically anxious individual. Remaining connected to him will potentially cause people to react to his impulsive conduct. The church leadership’s decision to deny his online bible study more than likely wasn’t a personal dig at him. The church was already conducting a bible study through the small groups, therefore the online project could’ve been implemented after that segment was done. PJ’s inability to work with the vision of the church displayed individualistic behavior by someone that may not have received much support and desperately desires to have his voice heard and appreciated.



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Practical tips to combat the negative sides of the theoretical tool

If confronted with a similar situation below are the top three things that can be done to initiate peace for the anxious individual without disturbing your neutrality.


Remain differentiated, do not consider fusion! According to Kelcourse, differentiation is the ability to maintain self in the face of high anxiety, just as homeostasis provides internal stability. Differentiation sets distinct boundaries by recognizing you do not have to respond or entertain someone’s highly emotional situation because you understand their situation is their personal issue and not your own. Sometimes we have the tendency to quickly alter our opinions of people based on a single conversation by someone triangulating the situation. That is called fusion and it may add more fuel to the fire when your unwarranted opinions are mixed with an emotionally unstable person. In order to maintain peace in your life, it is best to not take the situation personally and allow the individual to fight their own battle.




Offer a listening ear and ask questions. The quickest way to win an argument is to ask questions to get to the root of the issue. If you feel you are being triangulated, I challenge you to invert the definition and act as an impromptu mediator. This means you are actively encouraging the individual to practice introspection as they attempt to dump their anxiety on you. When PJ used to tell the other interns and I about how he was displeased with leadership, we would ask questions and allow him to vent. We made sure we stood clear of his issues but we provided a judgment-free space for him to talk freely.


Prayer is the key! In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul states,Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” We are commanded to divert our anxieties to the one who can handle all of our uncertainties.


The next time someone tries to place their anxiety on you make sure you remain differentiated, listen and ask more questions, and pray for them. I believe these things will help you navigate the anxiety in the church family system.


Until Next Time...


Peace & Blessings, XOXO

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