How do church leaders help people deal with challenges? Horticulturalists found that trees planted in more-receptive peat and then staked to prevent wind stress tend to grow their roots within the peat rather than extend them into the ground. In fact, trees do better when planted in regular soil without stakes to help them stand up. They are forced to deal with moderate wind stress and actually develop stronger root systems and trunks. (Palms Won’t Grow Here and Other Myths, David A. Francko, Timber Press, 2003, p. 18). In the same way, people also grow stronger when faced with moderate stress.
Part of your job at church is to frame the challenges at hand for those you lead. As changes occur in the church and the world, you can present them as opportunities for growth and for new possibility. You can stimulate people to put out new shoots of growth, new roots into the new soil where you find yourself planted.
Trees may need to be staked in a high wind area, and people may need some extra support under high stress, but even in extreme conditions people can be remarkably resilient. If you overaccomodate our people, as individuals, or as a group, you do them no favor. You can cripple your followers by carrying the burden for them, by coddling them, by saying over too long a period of time, “I know this is a hard time for them.” Whether a key individual is facing a personal crisis, or the whole church is encountering a time of transition, you have to keep the big picture in mind. This doesn’t mean you never cut someone a little slack, but you have to do it thoughtfully and with a clear sense of limits. Otherwise the most needy set the agenda for us and everyone around them.
One difference between people and trees is that trees don’t whine and complain. You have to expect discontent and reactivity at times of change. You can probably predict who will most likely react when you propose something new. I have to remind myself that any change causes reactivity, and my job is to keep moving forward.
Seeing the whole picture means you can imagine the growth that becomes possible when people respond to the challenge. You can see them as they might be, and imagine the possibilities for our organization, thriving in the new environment.
And when you see increased signs of strength and groundedness in the people around you, you can know that your whole institution is strengthened, and will be better able to withstand the next storm when it comes.