How Church Leaders Deny Reality in Turbulent Times

The great management legend, Peter Drucker, once wrote, “A time of turbulence is a dangerous time, but its greatest danger is a temptation to deny reality.” Consider that quote carefully. I find it particularly disturbing as it relates to the local church. What would cause a leader to deny reality in turbulent times. Although the reasons could be endless, let me share two ways I’ve seen the denial of reality play out in the church world:

1. A Church Denies Reality Until They Encounter Financial Turbulence – Have you ever noticed that churches can be completely content not reaching people far from God, not seeing life-change, and not seeing growth? But the moment the money starts to run out, everybody becomes very discontent. What does this say about us? Is the turbulence of money more important than the turbulence of mission? Why was the reality of mission turbulence ignored for so long? For some churches, a financially turbulent season could actually be the best thing that could ever happen to them. It might actually wake them up, and bring the church back to a mission-centered focus.

2. A Leader Denies Reality When External Opportunities Overshadow Internal Turbulence – How many times have you seen a leader become so preoccupied with the outside speaking invitations, networking opportunities, and external ego boosts that they conveniently lose the pulse on the church’s health? As a result, internal turbulence goes unchecked until its ugly head surfaces in such undeniable force that the leader has no option but to hit the brakes and look under the hood. Does the turbulence have to turn into a full-blown crisis before it gets our attention? How long can a leader deny reality as he travels the country sharing his success? Jim Collins calls this, “Hubris born of success.”

In both cases, turbulence and denial of reality peacefully co-existed until one of two things happened: either the turbulence gave the ADD leader whip lash or the turbulence touched a raw nerve in the church that could no longer be ignored. So how do you ensure the denial of reality won’t infiltrate your church or organization? Consider five things:

1. Ensure “mission measurements” are in place and data is systematically captured and reported so that you can’t say, “I didn’t know.”

2. Surround yourself with strategic thinkers and give them permission to “challenge the process.”

3. Put systems in place to capture feedback from outsiders.

4. Become an avid learner by gleaning from thought-leaders in your field via training, coaching, and resources.

5. Schedule regular times with key staff to evaluate programs and refine, reinvent, or remove strategies.

Questions: How have you seen the denial of reality during turbulent times play out in churches and organizations? What other steps can be taken to address the denial of reality?