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Ministry Application...

Leading Congregational Studies scholar Peter L. Steinke says that there are eleven main ways that anxiety in a congregation, or any emotional system, impacts the behavior of individuals. (1) It decreases our capacity to learn. (2-4) It replaces curiosity with a need for answers and certainty, causing us to fortify what we already think, and keeping us from interacting well with each other. (5-6) Causes our brains to stop listening and processing new information; reducing us to binary reasoning. (8) This leads to the desire for a single quick and easy fix. When these “silver bullets” fail to work it leads to (9) a sense of hopelessness. (10-11) This hopelessness causes a total loss of creativity and the inability to be flexible in our interactions with each other.[1] In his 1963 book on effective propaganda J. A. C. Brown explains that you, the propagandist, should seek to keep your target audience in a state of anxiety as it leads to a narrowing field of vision where there can only be one accepted solution; he calls this “tunnel vision.[2]”

-Tunnel Vision -versus- Clear Vision-

If a congregation has slipped into a place of anxiety, one of the roles of the leadership is to direct them out of it. When communities internalize the narrative that their best days are behind them, it is the role of good leadership to help them tell a new story about themselves. Congregations that are directed by their desire to survive need to be guided towards a future where they can thrive. I propose that the first step to overcoming congregational anxiety is to redirect that energy towards hope and a future through the process of developing and implementing a clear vision for the future, a mission plan for how to get there, and core values that will govern the journey.

[1] Steinke, Peter L, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2006, 8-9.

[2] Brown, J. A. C., Techniques of Persuasion, from Propaganda to Brainwashing, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1963, 9.

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