“We’re about to be a story that you will tell other churches.”
Those words led off the voice mail trailed by that sinking feeling crashing through what was a stable, flourishing project. Having coached groups in generosity for several years, train wrecks occur more than you would think.
When leaders tackle bold vision and pursue resourcing that mission, the intensity of the game increases dramatically. Sweat, toil, risk, threats, challenges, ridicule, questions and enemies always take their positions in the life of the leader and the organization.
In a status quo, safe environment, the private world remains hidden, comfortable. In charging into the wild spiritual battles, the private world faces frontal attacks, exposing the weaknesses of the ill-prepared leaders.
In this case, the private world of the leader came to light and years of trust instantly eroded. The daring mission took a back seat while the community wrestled through the drama and dealt with the deep disappointment.
So how does an organization deal with the failure of the leader moving into a generosity initiative?
- Stop the initiative. Since givers invest from a trust basis, there is rarely a reason to continue the project since trust is breached with the primary leader.
- Communicate honestly. There are limits to communicating details for privacy sake and legal issues, but rebuilding trust begins with authentic and transparent communication. In this case, the details were reserved to guard the lives of the leader’s family. For this congregation, leadership began with a mailed letter to members and givers alerting them to the situation. The wording was clear, direct, gracious, and affirming of the mission. The letter included a call for the church to gather the coming weekend where more would be shared and the experience processed. WIthout clear, authentic communication, church people tend to fill the vacuum with speculation and rumor. Cut that baggage off early.
- Declaring that the mission remains. Yes, our leader failed. We will deal appropriately with the unfortunate situation. We remain transparent in appropriate communication. After our grief, we will continue the mission. We are interrupted, but only for a season.
- Rebuild trust. Began within hours in up-front communication in weekend worship with more depth beyond the letter. Truthful, acknowledged the pain, grief and disappointment. It takes leadership skill to allow appropriate grief and to assure that the church will be OK. God remains in charge of his church.
- Detail new safeguards to protect from future mistakes. Acknowledge that the person failed along with accountability systems. Detail how leadership has built better safety nets.
- Allow the grief and anger for a season, but do not linger in sorrow. From what I can tell, it takes a minimum of three weeks for an organization to go through the grieving process. Week four replace the grief with hope and revisiting the mission.
- Communicate hope consistently over the next 8 weeks. No need to over communicate but it is healthy to give updates.
- Communicate openly the process of restoration or change flowing from the failure. Still protecting people in the collateral damage of the failure, let people know what is going on. You will likely need to communicate differently within each tribe in your church. Leaders need and deserve more information than those on the church fringe.
- Move on. Fortunately Jesus heads the church and cannot be over-thrown even by human failure. I find that most often the leader who failed moves on from the church after the restoration process or because of not wanting to deal directly with the restoration process.
When does the generosity initiative resume? Time is your ally. Depending on the depth of the sin and the level of leadership changes, an 18-month minimum penalty box stint seems consistent.
How can we gauge the process and effectiveness of the communication? Giving is probably the best indicator. People give where their hearts have connection. Keep a close eye on the giving dashboard indicators in the season.
For this church, a solid indicator of early trust rebuilding: giving has been at high-water marks in the early stages of the story.