As naive as you may have been when you started out as a youth leader, you’re not anymore. You now know that if you want any budget increase to happen, you need Deacon Jameson’s support. And without Deacon Becker’s approval, you’ll get nowhere with that new curriculum. So you woo the right people, grease the wheels, so to speak, and hope for the best.
In every church, there are these routes to get things done; there are key people whom you need to get things approved. It’s called church politics. But how to deal with these?
Church politics refers to the decision making process in the church, to the leaders involved and the role they play in this process. Despite the fact of its bad reputation, there’s nothing wrong about church politics in itself. Especially in bigger churches, you need church politics. You need more or less clear routes that lead to a decision, and you need to know who is involved in this process. That’s where church politics come in. But just like anything else, church politics can be done right and wrong.
When done right, church politics will benefit the church and give glory to God’s name. When done wrong, the exact opposite will happen. And unfortunately, there have been many examples of church politics gone wrong, with horrible and sad results. But that doesn’t mean that you as a youth leader should disengage or stay away from church politics. If you want to accomplish your goals, you’ll have to get involved. You just have to learn to do church politics the right way.
Here are my five golden rules in dealing with church politics:
When dealing with church politics, always stick to the truth (‘if only because you don’t have to remember what you said,’ Mark Twain once said…). And remember that those little white lies are just as much lies as the big fat ones. Even not saying anything can become a lie. That doesn’t mean you should always share everything you know with everyone, but if you know your information can make a difference and there’s no moral reason to be silent (like a promise of confidentiality), you have to speak up. If someone asks for your opinion, give it, even if it’s negative. Speak with love, speak with compassion and empathy, but speak the truth.
Once you’ve discovered people’s weak spots, it becomes easy to manipulate them. That doesn’t mean it’s right. Never lose your integrity in church politics, for not only will you hurt others, in the end, you will hurt yourself. And once lost, integrity is very, very hard to get back. Remember that if you have to force or manipulate people to get things done, there’s probably something very wrong with either your goals or yourself.
Be very careful of going behind people’s backs. Things that have to be done secretly are often not right in some way. Everyone involved in the process should be heard. A very easy check is this: At every conversation you’re having, ask yourself how you would feel if Jesus were present. Would He feel comfortable with what you’re saying and with how you’re handling things? (And just a quick reminder: He actually IS present at all your conversations…)
Other people should be able and allowed to question you with regard to how you handle yourself in church politics. That means you should be able to be open about your role. If you feel you can’t be, that might mean something is wrong. Do you get angry when people ask why you didn’t support a decision or why you approved of a measure? Search your heart to find the reason. When your conscience is clear before God, you should have no trouble explaining yourself and your actions to others.
Don’t ever claim to be right based on knowledge or position. The church isn’t about that. Look at how the church in Jerusalem handled a big conflict: They asked the opinion of other leaders. And Paul, Barnabas and Peter gave theirs. Either of them could have claimed himself to be to go-to man, the final authority, but they didn’t. They trusted in the process, and ultimately in God, to lead them to the right conclusion.
Are you comfortable in dealing with church politics? How do you handle the temptations that come your way in this matter?