How to Lead When You Aren’t Sure Where You’re Going

When the path forward is obvious, it is relatively easy for a leader to know what to do. We can rely on strategies that have worked well in the past. We can use existing resources and relationships to solve problems, set direction and create new opportunities. But when significant issues arise that are novel and more complex, leaders and organizations confront a crucial dilemma: How do you lead when you aren’t sure where you’re going?

Some of our uncertainty today is external to the church. Headlines remind us daily that we are in uncharted territory — and probably will be for some time. In addition to the global pandemic, our neighborhoods and cities are reckoning with social and cultural issues that affect every aspect of our lives, from healthcare to education.

The church faces internal uncertainty, too. If church members do not promptly return to in-person worship at pre-pandemic levels, what will we do to cultivate authentic community and share the responsibility of being the body of Christ? How should we disciple emerging generations when our culture often deconstructs their faith and the ways we use technology interrupt their engagement with faith?

If you’re attempting to do strategic planning, you probably need to accept the fact that it is impossible to determine what the church will need in three to five years. Susan Beaumont says that when the church is in a “liminal season,” the way forward is ambiguous, and this makes us feel disoriented.

Now more than ever, we need to clarify our purpose. Ask big questions with your leadership team:

  1. Why does the church exist?
  2. What and who has God called our particular congregation to do and be right now?

Sometimes, the best we can do is admit what we do not know about the future. Then we need to convene our people to listen deeply to the Spirit of God. The feeling of uncertainty may never completely disappear. But the more we listen for God’s genuine call, the more we can lead forward with courage and faith.

f leadership feels especially daunting to you these days, you’re not alone. Nothing in our preparation equipped any of us to reinvent the way we do ministry while trying to sustain ministry at the same time.

The words of writer Alice Walker remind us that “when we let Spirit lead us it is impossible to know where we are being led…” However, Jesus gives us the assurance that he “will be with us always, to the very end of the earth.” Even though you don’t know where you’re going, you do know who’s going with you. Sometimes that’s enough.

The Alban team and I always look forward to hearing your comments. You can reach us at alban@duke.edu. Until next time, blessings!

Prince Rivers

Author: mustardseedonline10

Kurt Jacobson is a trained interpretive consultant of Holy Cow! assessments serving churches across WI and beyond. An ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, he served Trinity Lutheran Church, Eau Claire for 28 years. In 2016 he formed Mustard Seed Consulting. Jacobson holds a BA in Business/Hospital Administra on and Organiza onal Communication from Concordia College, Moorhead, MN and a Masters of Divinity degree from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. He holds a certificate in Intentional Interim Ministry from the National Association of Lutheran Interim Pastors. He is the author of “Welcoming Grace: Words of Love for All.” In addition, the book “The State of the ELCA” by Russell Crabtree, founder of Holy Cow! includes a chapter detailing the work Kurt did in making Trinity a transformational congregation. He lives near Cumberland, WI.

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