Strategic Leadership for a Change: Facing our Losses, Finding our Future

Kenneth McFayden, who teaches at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, proceeds to explore the implications of this persistent movement of yearning and resistance as it unfolds in local congregations. He is particularly attentive to the traps awaiting leaders who fail to recognize the subtlety of this pattern and the reasons for it. It is easy for leaders, and the congregations they serve, to confuse yearning to change with readiness for change. In the trenches of leadership, it is even more difficult to remember that resistance is often the signal that deep, transformational change is on the threshold. Working with resistance, and not simply against it, is necessary for effective leaders to guide congregations beyond the present.

What sets this book apart from the plethora of books on leadership is its skillful integration of the work of British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, with Bible texts, theological reflection and other key figures in leadership studies, notably Heifetz and Linsky. Bowlby, whose work is long forgotten in this country, focused on loss and attachment theory, particularly experienced by children and adolescents. Recognizing and accurately naming loss is critical, especially attending to the rituals of grief that need to accompany it. Alongside authentic grief is the necessary skill of learning to reattach to a new object. This reattachment is crucial if loss is not to overwhelm the present and restrict healthy future development.

McFayden, whose academic work has focused on Bowlby, applies these insights to the process of leading congregations that are experiencing losses, often without giving careful attention to grief or the subtle work of re-attachment to a new future. The cumulative effect of loss on a congregation is amplified by the speed of cultural change that may produce an emotional sense of being under assault. The leader must be attentive to the felt experience of loss, often unspoken and inaccurately named, while working at the threshold of reattachment. Some common objects of attachment in congregations are prestige, history, sanctuary, beloved pastor and even objects like chancel furniture. Oddly enough, these attachments, if not named openly, are the very things that, once lost, create the most resistance to change. The key to lasting change is naming loss accurately and learning how to reattach. The book includes helpful exercises for leaders and congregations to work on these issues in a variety of settings from classes to retreats.

Leaders who are wont to lead from a theological center will be pleased with the book’s concluding section on the necessity of vision that is grounded in God’s call to venture into a new land of promise.

This book is an asset for all leaders working at the borders of yearning and resistance who want to guide their congregations to embrace God’s future for them.

Roy W. Howard is pastor of Saint Mark Church in Rockville, Md., and Outlook book editor.

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