I was in a meeting the other day with a diverse group of people. I wasn’t the leader, but I noticed my anxiety going up as some differences developed. In this particular setting, I found myself getting quieter and quieter, rather than saying what I thought.
Before meetings, especially ones that you think may be difficult, set some goals for yourself for the meeting. These goals have to do with your own functioning, and will differ with the nature of the meeting and your role. Possible goals include: Keep my sense of humor. Define myself as clearly as possible around the issue at hand, using only the word “I,” not “you” or “we.” Say no to further commitments in that area.
Pastoral leaders have a crucial role to play, and our voice needs to be heard in congregational life. At the same time, we may sometimes need to set a goal to talk less. As a pastor I found that being the resident expert on a whole range of issues, or at least the person who could be relied on to find the expertise we needed, was exhausting. And when I began to do it less, I noticed that other people started having more ideas. We can pay attention and assess, is this a time to lean forward or backward in my chair? Will my ideas stimulate others’ creativity or squelch it?
And of course sometimes you do need to set a goal to speak up, as I failed to do in the meeting I described. You may have silenced yourself around an important issue because we are afraid. Speaking up does not mean anxiously spouting off just to unload. Speaking up means you think through how you want to define yourself around a particular issue, and say what you think as calmly as possible, without any expectation that others will agree. Then, as a corollary, look for those who can respond “I agree” or “I disagree,” rather than slavishly following along, or getting upset or spouting off, “Pastor, you’re wrong.” Those who can agree or disagree in a calm manner are good candidates for leadership.
What are your goals for yourself for your meeting tonight?