In 1979 many people of my generation tuned in to listen to a speech given by then President Jimmy Carter. At the time America was facing a major energy and economic crisis, and Carter's approval rating was down to 25% which was even lower than Richard Nixon's during the Watergate crisis. For a week before the speech Carter met with various political advisers and other leaders. The plan was that his speech was to inform the American public of what he had learned and his plans for leading them out of their current crisis. Instead, much of his speech was directed at the American people for their lack of confidence in America. Refusing to admit his failures as a leader, he blamed the American people. The speech became known as the "malaise speech." Although his approval rating did improve during the next few days, it dropped again as President Carter was unable to provide the leadership the American public expected of their leaders. The following year Ronald Reagan defeated Carter's attempt to win a second term by offering America a vision that was optimistic and promised to restore our nation back to health and vitality.
Today, America faces serious challenges around the world. I started to list some of them and found that doing so took up too much space in the post. Terrorism, economic issues, immigration reform are just the tip of the iceberg, and it has grown increasingly obvious that our current administration and the legislature have no clue how to effectively deal with any of them. A Gallup Poll in June 2014 found that only 29 percent of Americans had confidence in President Obama's leadership and only 7 percent had confidence in Congress. Voters demonstrated their crisis of confidence in the mid-term elections by replacing a number of incumbents in Congress. Leading up to the mid-term elections President Obama said in a speech that his policies were on the ballot during that election, and it appears that the majority of voters were clear about what they thought of his policies and his leadership.
This blog is not about politics as much as I enjoy the subject. It is about church leadership, and especially leadership in smaller churches so what can we learn from these two political examples? One, it's not easy to lead when people lack confidence in your leadership. President Obama can continue to provide leadership through Executive Orders, but these orders are coming under fire from federal judges and even the Supreme Court. It's likely that many of them will be overturned as unconstitutional. Pastors do not have the power of Executive Orders, at least not in most small churches I know. Even if they did, that is not leadership.
This means that if people lack confidence in your leadership, you must find a way to regain that trust. You do not do that by blaming them for their lack of confidence. You do it by finding out how you lost their confidence and looking for ways to regain it. You begin to rebuild relationships and you learn to work with people with whom you disagree. After Carter's speech he demanded resignation letters from each member of his cabinet and accepted several of them from those who disagreed with him the most. Obama has chosen to ignore Congress and do whatever he pleases without their input and support. Neither tactic will work in the long run. A true leader is a servant leader, and this means that the leader must find ways to work with a broad range of people including those with whom you have disagreements.
To regain confidence in your leadership don't point out problems without having some idea of how you are going to deal with them. You don't have to have a completed plan for solving the problem, but you must have at least some steps you are going to take as you begin to address it. Stating that we have an energy crisis and suggesting that we address it by everyone wearing sweaters in the winter as Carter did in one speech is not leadership, it's admitting that as a leader I don't have a clue for solving this problem.
Sometimes there is no way to regain people's confidence in your leadership. As a pastor you may need to resign and seek a new place of ministry, but before you go to your next assignment make sure you determine what led to that lack of trust people had in your leadership. Not all the criticism that was directed towards you was valid, but some of it probably was. You have to decide what failures did occur in your leadership and ensure that you don't make those again. You may want to use a outside ministry developmental agency to help you process what went wrong.
In my opinion, neither of the presidencies mentioned in this post were positive for our nation. However, after President Carter left office he has been involved in a number of very positive endeavors including his work with Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center's efforts to promote peace and reduce conflict around the world, and a number of diplomatic efforts he has done at the request of most of the presidents who followed him. President Carter has enjoyed a very productive and effective life as a leader since leaving office. Of course, President Obama is still in office for two more years. It will be interesting to see the role he will assume after leaving office. Intelligent and charismatic, he, too, is likely to do well after leaving office.
If you have a pastorate that does not end well because people lost confidence in your leadership, that does not mean that your next ministry won't be much better. Again, find out what went wrong, correct the problems, and go into your next phase of ministry with a better understanding of how to serve the people as a servant leader.