Leading Upstream

I recently had my annual wellness check. It included a series of tests to measure all my overall health. Going to the doctor routinely can help identify areas in my diet and exercise that may need adjusting before they become full blown problems.

In his book, Upstream, Dan Heath says, “Downstream actions react to problems once they’ve occurred. Upstream efforts aim to prevent those problems from happening.” Annual physicals are an upstream (proactive) activity.  

The Way I See It

Churches tend to be react rather than be proactive. We assemble the leadership when things go awry. We try to manage the problems, and limit the damage. Here are four tips to help you and your church plan upstream rather than downstream.

  1. Think scenarios – The best time to think about conflict in your church is when there is none. Have a leadership retreat, on-campus or off-campus, to create a plan for when conflicts arise. Think through actions that would be taken and policies that are needed to help guide you through the specific conflicts.
  1. Think systems – Ask some of the professionals in your church to think through systems (policies and procedures) that can help prevent problems. As you brainstorm about scenarios, equip all church leaders on how to respond when encountered.
  1. Think outside sources – Know when you are out of your area of expertise. For example, when dealing with sexual abuse policies, you may need to bring in outside experts to help you identify areas you are not even aware of. You may need to be educated on current laws, regulations or best practices in specific areas. Utilize outside experts to train leaders when needed. Even if it costs you financially, the alternative could be financially devastating if you are not prepared when conflict comes.
  1. Think policy/theology alignment – The role of a pastor is to lead, shepherd, and teach Biblical truth. The process of creating policies to anticipate problems can feel psychological or business-like. But how your church views church discipline, reconciliation, grace, mercy should be evident in the policies and systems you create.

Don’t be caught off guard when difficult circumstances show up. Be prepared to face it head on without it causing a major disruption by planning upstream (proactive) rather than downstream (reacting)

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