Leading Broken People

by Andy Wood on September 8, 2008

in Esteem, Leadership, Life Currency, Love, Words

A couple of weeks ago David Hayward, a pastor and gifted artist/cartoonist, posted this picture on his blog site, in a post titled “How I’m feeling about the church lately.”

(Used by permission)

(Used by permission)

I can relate.  For more than 30 years, it has been my privilege, my headache, my joy, and my nightmare to work with broken people or broken churches.  Prior to launching Turning Point Community Church in 2003, three of the four churches where I was senior pastor had experienced major divisions, open conflicts, forced termination of my predecessor, or some other kind of grief or pain.  Some had lived with the crud for so long, they’d arrived at the conclusion that this was somehow supposed to be normal.  “I’m sure it’s like this everywhere,” they’d intone.  “Oh, no it isn’t!” I’d scream inside, all the while smiling on the outside.

The brokenness isn’t limited to the organization.  David’s cartoon reminded me of something we used to proclaim loudly here.  Underneath the doorway leading into our rented facility, our church used to hang a banner that represented a passion and sense of calling for us.  Every Sunday, every worshipper at Turning Point walked under its message:

A Place to Begin Again.

I roughly estimated that for a long season, 80 percent of the people who arrived at Turning Point for the first time came here to heal.  Some came from broken marriages; others from broken lives of addictions or economic messes.  Many came bleeding from the most insidious wound of all – the church wound.

How do you lead people who are still shell-shocked from the battles they’d recently fought and lost?  How do you build an army of the aimless, or restore a sense of mission to someone who dares not dream again?  How do you offer a new kind of freedom to people who pace and act like a caged or wounded animal?  How to you offer care to people who were betrayed by the last guy to do that?

Then there are the organizations themselves?  How do you lead people who hate you for even showing up?  How do you live up to the expectations of others who see you as something of a savior from the frustrations of days gone by?  How do you lead people who love/like you, but can’t stand the other people in the room?

There are no magic formulas, and every individual or organization is different.  But here are some suggestions if you find yourself in a place of influence or authority:

Leading Broken People
You can find a biblical model for this in the book of 2 Timothy, where an aging, and soon-to-be dying Apostle writes to a burned-out, intimidated, close-to-broken disciple.  The way Paul communicated with Timothy is an extraordinary model for healing through leadership.

1.  Build them up.
Paul knew there were some things Timothy needed to hear.  So do the life-scarred people in our trust, whether in churches, organizations, or individual relationships.  They need to hear things like,

  • I care.
  • I believe in you.
  • You are gifted.
  • You’re the real deal.
  • You are not alone.
  • You don’t have to be afraid.
  • Thank you.

Yes, I’m talking about words.  Christians often love quoting that proverb that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.”  We emphasize the “death” part, but we need to harness the life-giving power of encouraging, kind words.  I try to remind people on Sundays that they may be sitting next to somebody who hasn’t had a positive thing said to them all week.

2.  Call them out.
Paul knew that he would soon die, and for his young assistant, it was put-up-or-shut-up time.  So he began to ready Timothy for his solo flight.

Wounded people sometimes want to make a shrine to victimhood.  Part of the leadership task is to know when to comfort people in their pain, and when to make them uncomfortable enough to get moving again.  Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone who has been broken is to hand them the proverbial sword and shield and tell them it’s time to get up and get moving.

3. Show the way
“You have seen my example,” Paul said to Timothy.  Broken people need that.  They need to see healing in action.  Purpose in action.  Hope in action.  Forgiveness in action.  Vision in action.  They may not always be ready to respond immediately, but they will respond much more quickly to examples than they will to instructions.

4.  Inspire them to action.
Finally, Paul delivered a stirring charge.  Passionately, purposefully, he let Tim know he was ready to die –and that Timothy was ready to live and lead.

Broken people at first don’t want to charge back to the battlefield or anywhere else, for that matter.  If and when they do, they have a hard time believing that they have anything to offer.  Like Paul did, try putting them in charge of something significant.  Perhaps not permanently – just a project or challenge or event.  The task of the leader is to inspire the confidence that says, “By God’s grace, I can do this.”

Broken people need life shepherds.  You may or may not have a formal leadership or authority role.  Regardless, you can be an instrument of healing and renewal in people who have given up.

Organizations are another story – one we’ll look at tomorrow.

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