Blog Post by

Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard Presbytery Leader

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. John 9:1-4

I once worked for a bad boss in an anxious organization. We were under deadlines and he would take up to a week to return an email. He was often out of the office when I was pressured and needed his permission before I could act. Of course, he didn’t answer his cell phone either! Projects were late, pressure increased, and going to work became a nightmare.

As I blamed him for everything that went wrong, I asked myself, “How am I and the rest of the team contributing to this problem?”

It is easy to blame the one in charge (or the least vulnerable person in the office), but we often fail to ask how we contribute and maintain the anxious dysfunctional system that exists around us. Scapegoating is a sign that a system is anxious.

A leader in an anxious system is tempted to emotionally react and not patiently respond to problems and crises. My boss reacted by hiding and being secretive. In Uproar: Calm Leadership for Anxious Times, Peter Steinke lists other common reactions by leaders in a system with chronic anxiety:

  1. emotional reactivity replaces careful thought
  2. the herding instinct is strong (circle the wagons, strength in numbers, groupthink)
  3. blame displacement (finding a scapegoat)
  4. wanting a quick fix (for the reduction of unpleasant anxiety)
  5. weakened leadership (failure to take a stand and disappoint some segment of the system)
  6. secrecy
  7. invasiveness (boundary violations).

We are living in difficult times for the life of the church. Congregations are bombarded with moral and ethical issues, divided along political lines, struggling to balance budgets, pressured to gain membership, and maintain older buildings. For congregations searching for pastors, they find the pipeline to be dripping and not flowing as fewer and fewer young and geographically mobile people are entering seminary. It is easy to see why congregations and other non-profits would be anxious.

Our presbytery is an anxious system as well. As the presbytery leader, I try to be thoughtful, a patient listener, and clear in my thinking. But there are times I react and take an immature route. I am constantly reminded how being in a web of anxiety causes leaders to take one of the seven choices listed above.

My prayer is that the various ministry contexts in which our pastors and leaders serve develop a mature long-term approach to its challenges, and our pastors and leaders learn to respond with maturity, thoughtfulness, and gravity to the crises they face.

Rev. Craig M. Howard



  • Posted May 21, 2019 5:28 pm
    Charles Pfeifer

    Once again Craig, Thanks

  • Posted May 21, 2019 7:15 pm
    Michelle Smith

    Thanks, this was meaningful.

  • Posted May 22, 2019 10:07 am
    Patrick Gruber

    “Scapegoating is a sign that a system is anxious.” – Amen!

  • Posted May 24, 2019 8:17 am
    Jeffrey Snell

    As leaders in the church, we must practice patience, love and humility. We don’t have all the answers. Some of the best answers come from the people we are leading.

    • Posted May 24, 2019 10:33 am
      Craig Howard

      Well said Jeff. The caution is that our Christian responses can lead to a false and temporary calming in an anxious system. After we address the problem and relieve the pain, Steinke writes, “But leaders need to ask themselves, did the pain become a teacher? Did it provoke any new awareness?Did clarity develop to inform decision making? Were necessary changes implemented? If nothing is learned, if nothing changes, if important action is not taken, if new safeguards are not set in place, and if a sense of mission is not revived, the battle will return, maybe with different people over different issues, but not with different functioning. Essentially, the suffering will have yielded no benefit.”
      Steinke, Peter L.. Uproar (p. 116). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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