Leading with Style

by Rick Chromey 

Every elder leads with style. 

Some elders are active leaders.  They like to be in command and want to get work done.  Some elders are passive leaders.  They prefer working from the shadows, watching and waiting until the time is right.  

Some elders lead emotively.  They work from their hearts, leading “randomly” with a focus on people.  Some elders lead cognitively.  They manage from their heads, operating more sequentially and focus upon tasks.  

Consequently, four different leadership personalities emerge (and you are one of them).

 Active / Emotive:  The Game Show Host

Game Show Host elders are inspirational leaders.  They are delightful, gregarious, daring and charismatic.  Their active nature creates energy and their emotive connections spark attention and affection.  They make decisions through hunches and measure success by applause.

But Game Show Hosts also carry liabilities.  By default, they are not planners and are often undisciplined.  They dislike details, schedules, lists, and deadlines.  Their randomness frustrates sequential leaders (Chefs and Stage Managers) and this disconnect creates conflict related to their spontaneity, riskiness, tardiness and messiness.

Active / Cognitive:  The Chef  

Chef elders are confident leaders.  They enjoy taking the lead and cooking up flavor.  They are decisive, reliable, organized and practical.  Their active nature puts legs underneath dreams and their cognitive nature creates recipes for success.  Many chefs are master communicators and visionary leaders.  They make decisions through highly-developed intuition and measure success by completing the mission.

But Chefs aren’t perfect.  They can easily become rogue or lone ranger leaders.  They can thrive in conflict and heat, which irritates the other styles.  They don’t always care about hurt feelings or disgruntled people.  Their high expectations – for others and themselves can create an environment of perfectionism and workaholism. 

Passive / Cognitive:  The Stage Manager

Integrity is the heart of a Stage Manager elders.  They don’t need the stage or spotlight to influence change.  Rather, these elders operate to the side with well-designed scripts to ensure the work is a success.  They are thoughtful, disciplined, cautious and efficient, economical leaders.  Their passive nature naturally brakes for change, especially with abruptly-conceived visions (frustrating Game Show Hosts) and disagreeable ideas (angering Chefs).  Stage Managers want every decision to be measured and reasonable.  Consequently, they make decisions on the facts and gauge success by security and rationality. 

Stage Managers are not without flaws, however.  They can stall good plans, resist positive change and by stymied by “analysis paralysis.”

Passive / Emotive:  The Counselor

The Counselor personality is an elder who leads with compassion.  These sensitive, people-focused, tender leaders are always seeking compromise, resolution and interaction.  Their passive nature makes them bristle at conflict and their emotive sensibility drives them to nurture relationships.  They are dependable, diplomatic, relaxed and patient to a fault.  They make decisions based upon consensus and measure success by general feelings of goodness, forgiveness and positivity. 

This idealism, however, can create issues for Counselors.  They can crack under pressure, avoid risks, disengage, disappear without notice, and grow frustrated with conflict.  Counselors don’t want to leave anyone out, behind, or down.

Every great and working eldership will include each of these personalities. 

We need Game Show Hosts to lighten the mood, inspire change and motivate people.  We need Chefs to craft vision, challenge assumptions and move the church forward.  We need Stage Managers to monitor change, calculate risks and create concrete plans. We need Counselors to resolve conflicts, show compassion and generate interaction. 

No one style is better than another and like the parts of the human body, every personality contributes something to the cause.  One final thought: an eldership that’s top-heavy in one style will prove dysfunctional. 

Too many Chefs spoil the broth (as every chef prefers their own agenda).  With too many Game Show Hosts, nothing will get done (since detailed plans and deadlines are necessary for success).  Too many Stage Managers will stall the organization (because every stage manager wants everything “perfectly perfect”).  Too many Counselors and there will be chaos (as consensus rule is naturally messy). 

The best eldership will feature all four styles. 

And that’s a winning combination.

Stuck in the Middle (Part 2)

by Rick Chromey 

In the early 70s, Scottish band Stealers Wheel had a radio hit titled “Stuck in the Middle With You.”  There were clowns to the left and jokers to the right but the singer was still “stuck in the middle.”
It could be Gen X’s generational theme song.
As we explored last week, Gen X (born 1961-1981) is “the Jan Brady” of American generations, growing up sandwiched between the two great American generations of the older Boomers (born 1943-1960) and the younger Millennials (born 1982-2004).  Stuck in the middle is never easy and Gen X has grown up a bit chippy and grumpy.
As elders of local churches it’s critical to understand the generational dynamic of your congregation.  As you survey your church do you see a predominant generation?  If you’re like many churches today you’re probably seeing more gray, white, blue and no hairs.  In my studies of churches in the past 35 years I’ve noticed when the average age of a church exceeds 50 that it’s a potential sign of decline.  Healthy churches mirror the contextual age of their community and unless you’re in a retirement community you need to stay below that age “watermark.”

Which brings us to another sobering generational truth:  while the fast-graying Boomers are finally retiring and the 20- and 30-something Millennials play their entitlement cards (with some success), Gen X is now getting passed over.
It’s very evident in the job market.  The Great Recession (2007-2012) hit Gen X the hardest.  The emerging digital and cyber economy shuttered middle management and ended industrial-era employment.  Many 40-something Gen Xers lost full-time jobs and never got them back while Boom elders worked past the traditional retirement age of 55.  To survive, Gen X downsized, moved, and chose bankruptcy.  Unlike the Depression generation, who eventually recovered, in a post-modern, post-industrial world Gen X can read the writing on the wall.
In the church this truth is equally evident.
The Boom generation first tasted leadership (as elders) back in the mid-1980s thanks to a leadership vacuum left by the retiring G.I. Generation. Many elders were still in their late 20s and early 30s when they assumed eldership. These young Boom leaders launched an ecclesiastical revolution, sparking the infamous “praise versus hymns” worship wars. Boomers, particularly in megachurches, reinvented Sunday morning into an “event” where PowerPoint, bands and pulpit-less communicators took center stage.
Like good middle children Gen X complied and applauded these ecclesiastical cosmetic changes, then waited in the wings for their turn.  By the 1990s, as Boomer senior ministers still held tightly to their pulpits, frustrated Gen X youth ministers launched a new “emerging church” brand that featured hipper music, better visuals and TedTalk sermons. The reason was simple: Gen Xers (unlike the Boomers) were AWOL from church and they wanted to get their peers back.

During the 2000s, a new reality emerged: the Millennials shocked everyone and left church altogether (becoming known as the “nones” for “no spiritual affiliation”). A decade later, Gen X grew restless and is now leading a new absentee cohort known as the “dones” (as in “done with church”). In many congregations Boomers are now the predominant regular attenders—aging fast and passing away.
The best solution is to reenergize Gen X, but that’s not happening.
Instead the American church is passing over Xers for the younger Millennial creating both angst and anger. Furthermore, countless older Gen X pastors, still capable and desirous, are tragically overlooked to lead as elders or hire as preachers or staff.
The Boom-led congregations want youth and Gen Xers no longer fit the mold. Meanwhile Gen X-led churches are also hiring Millennials, even over their own peers (more affordable and moldable).
Gen X is caught in a proverbial catch 22.
So what can elders do?
First, aim for balance in your leadership and church staff. If one generation is dominant, there’s room for change. Second, survey the generational attitudes of your congregation. What’s the older Boomer wanting? What’s Gen X thinking? What’s the younger Millennial seeking?
It’s also time to think differently about Gen X altogether, especially those 50-somethings who’ve been out of work for awhile. They may be your best hire. They’re experienced, willing, capable and enthusiastically affordable.
Yes, Gen X is getting long in the tooth but that doesn’t mean they’re done or can’t lead a church to its best days. Ben Merold proved that idea wrong.
The “stuck in the middle” Jan Brady generation just wants the chance.

Stuck in the Middle (Part 1)

by Rick Chromey 

Gen X is the “Jan Brady” of American generations.  For elders in the local church, this is a significant insight to understand.  How we view a generational cohort impacts the way we lead, the decisions we make and the legacy we leave.
Jan was the middle Brady Bunch sister, stuck between the popular, beautiful Marcia and the innocuous, precocious Cindy.  Jan was constantly trying to fit in, speak out and move up in the family dynamics.  She created new personas, chose compliance and voiced dissidence.  Nothing worked.
In fact, as a middle sister she was frustrated, hurt and angry.
Gen X (born 1961-1981) knows that feeling well.  We’ve grown up as a cultural “Jan Brady” between two great American generations.
As kids of the 70s and 80s, Gen X watched the Boom Generation (born 1943-1960) relish their popular status in American culture.  These post-WW2 “Spock” babies were celebrated Disney kids – donning coonskin caps and Mickey Mouse ears – who later fueled a rock ’n roll era that produced beatniks, Black Panthers, Jesus freaks and flower children.  Later, the Boomers enjoyed a 1980s Reagan economic renaissance fostering yet another moniker: yuppies (Young Urban Professionals).  They also found Jesus and seeded a megachurch movement that reimagined American Christianity.
Everything the Boomers did was big – and the shadow cast was long.

The problem is Gen Xers grew up beneath a different American psyche.  Gen X was labeled and libeled as slackers, goonies, exorcist kids and bad news bears.  Abortion and divorce tattooed this 70s and 80s generation as did their lot as children of the latchkey and daycare.  Consequently, Gen X has always nursed a cultural chip on their shoulders.  Gen X was widely defined as cynical, lazy and snarky; they’ve always felt like an outsider.  To a breakfast club generation, reality bites.
And then those innocuous Millennials came along in the 1980s.
Like precocious Cindy, this “baby on board” generation (born 1982-2004) was everything Gen X wasn’t. They were wanted, protected and venerated.  With a cultural blessing from Hollywood to the White House, the Millennials could do no wrong.  They were suckled on Disney, celebrated as “Spy Kids” and enjoyed “Home Improvement” family ties.  The church showered Millennials with the best in children’s and youth ministry programs, events, curricula and facilities.
And now older Millennials are assuming church leadership roles.
So what do these generational contexts mean to you as the leader of a church?  Actually, quite a bit.  Take a look around your eldership.
How many are over the age of 56?  These are your “Marcia” Boomers.
Do you have any elders younger than 35?  These are “Cindy” Millennials.
The rest in the middle, in their late 30s to early 50s, are the “Jan Brady” Gen Xers.
From my long observation of churches in America today, if your church is under 300 members and at least 15 years old, chances are, the majority of your elders are Boomers.  Rural churches tend to lean towards Boomer elders too.
Larger churches that were birthed pre-2000 tend to lean Boomer while emerging churches of the past decade tend to have Gen X and even Millennial elders.
All of these generational contexts are critical to how an eldership leads.
A primarily Boomer eldership will be more neo-traditional whereas a Gen X eldership will be more progressive.  The Boomer eldership views change as a necessary evil, while a Gen X eldership views change as inevitable.  Millennial elders, if they have a seat at the table, remain in the minority but they view change as constant. They are quite comfortable with fluidity and nothing is sacred.
Boomer elderships possess an optimism that engages and attracts younger Millennial leaders. To the contrary, Gen X elders carry a cynicism that drives churches to think outside older formats, including the “mega” models popularized by the Boomers.
As the Boomers age, and it’s happening quicker now, they are beginning to step down as elders. The problem is, in many American congregations, the Boomers are the only ones left. Many U.S. churches do not have a strong Gen X or Millennial population in their church and it’s created a leadership vacuum unlike anything we’ve seen in three decades.
As Bob Dylan sang, the times they are a-changin.’
He’s right.
We’ll follow this up with a Part 2, digging deeper into what it all means.