Church Leadership and Critical Decision Making

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I once heard a story about a neurosurgeon who was engaged in a complex, multi-hour surgery.  The patient’s life was at stake.   Although hours into the operation and weary from the long procedure, the surgeon remained focused on the smallest details.   At one point with a crisp and commanding voice, the surgeon said to the attending nurses:

“What I am about to do is critical.  We must go slowly.”

When you are at critical juncture in the life of your congregation, be thoughtful and deliberate about your leadership style.  Do not rush.  If you do, you may lose support along the way.  Do the people in the pews fully understand the proposal you are suggesting?  Have you listened to the members of your church to hear and appreciate their criticisms and concerns?  Have you thought about other possible solutions that may be better or more innovative?

Like a surgeon, good leaders focus on the details involved in the decision-making process.  They take action, but their actions are intentional and purposeful. 

In this way, good leaders understand the balance needed to navigate major decisions.  There is, of course, as much danger in moving too slowly as there is in moving too fast.  In church leadership, complacency can be deadly.  Imagine, if at that critical moment in the surgical procedure, the doctor stopped the operation.  What would have been the outcome?  The patient’s life would certainly have been jeopardized.  Note that the surgeon’s instruction to his staff was not to stop the operation but instead to proceed carefully and cautiously.

Avoiding and overlooking necessary conversations, can kill a congregation’s momentum and stifle enthusiasm.  Moving too quickly, however, can be just as detrimental.  So, at critical decision points in the life of your church, go slowly, be deliberate, and examine the pace of your leadership style.


Thad Austin is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, a PhD candidate at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and William and Edie Enright Fellow at The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving. Thad also serves as Editor of the Church Leader Collective for Seedbed. Thad served as Executive Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In his free time, Thad loves to travel (41 countries and all 50 states, thus far), hike (has hiked the 1,100 miles between Pennsylvania and Georgia), sail, and spend time with friends.