Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times

Peter Steinke’s new book,  Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, is full of wisdom and insight. You may remember that Rev. Dr. Peter Steinke studied with Rabbi Edwin Friedman, who applied emotional systems theory to congregational life.  Since then he’s written several books and worked with more than 150 congregations. Peter’s books are published by the Alban Institute and available at 

Peter writes, “The leader is always in a position to influence the emotional field. The leader’s positive influence is most dramatic at times of crisis, bewilderment, stagnancy, and new situations.”

Peter says when a congregation is in crisis, the leader needs to bring calm to the system. When members are bewildered and don’t know which way to turn or what to think, the leader can bring focus. When the church community is stagnating, the leader must challenge the congregation. And when a new situation emerges, the leader needs to help the congregation respond [respond, but not be reactive] and move through change.

 Leaders can accomplish this because while they are within the congregation’s emotional system, they can also stand apart from it to observe it. Ronald Heifetz, in his book Leadership without Easy Answers, called this “getting on the balcony.” From the perspective of the balcony, a leader can assess the congregation — the forces from outside and from within — and make decisions about how he/she can influence the action. From the balcony, a leader can decide whether the congregation needs to be challenged or if the congregation has had lots to deal with lately and just needs a chance to settle down for a while, celebrate its successes or lick its wounds before setting out on another path toward its stated vision.

Peter divides his book into three sections — the leader’s presence, the leader’s functioning, and the leader’s challenges. Reading this book will help the leader to have a deeper understanding of her/his own place in the system. I highly recommend it.


2 Responses to “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times”

  1. Josh Says:

    Thanks for the review Nancy. I have the book on by list to read during study leave. I am very much looking forward to it!

  2. nheege Says:

    Yes, Josh, it would make for an interesting book for lay leaders to read and discuss, too.

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