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Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What

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Anxious times call for steady leadership. When tensions emerge in a congregation, its leaders cannot be as anxious as the people they serve. To remain effective, congregational leaders must control their own uneasiness. This takes self-awareness and confidence to manage relationships and influence behaviors. Knowing how to deal with anxiety and how to work throug complex challenges can lead a congregation to new insights, growth, and vitality. Anxious times hold not only the potential for loss but also for creation, important lernings, and changes that will strengthen the congregation. With this new book, internationally respected consultant Peter Steinke goes deeper into the requirements of effective congregational leadership. Born from the wisdom of Steinke's distinguished career, this new volume will both enlighten and embolden leaders. Steinke inspires courage in leaders to maintain the course, unearth secrets, resist sabotage, withstand fury, and overcome timidity or doubts. His insights, illustrations, and provocations will carry leaders through rough times, provide clarity during confusing times, and uplift them in joyous times.

200 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2006

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Peter L. Steinke

16 books4 followers

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5 stars
171 (42%)
4 stars
145 (36%)
3 stars
74 (18%)
2 stars
8 (1%)
1 star
3 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 55 reviews
Profile Image for Jared Wilson.
Author 55 books771 followers
July 23, 2020
More gospel and less therapy-speak would have helped, but this is still an excellent read and a book I'd recommend to almost any pastor about calm, confident leadership in the midst of conflict, confusion, or chaos. Really good stuff here on understanding conflict dynamics, emotionality, etc. in congregations. For every story he told, I could think of real-life examples I either faced as a pastor or am aware of in the pastorates of others I know.
Profile Image for Demetrius Rogers.
415 reviews66 followers
November 30, 2022
This book represents a Christian distillation of the thought of Murray Bowen (1913-1990) and Edwin Friedman (1932-1996).

Peter Steinke says in his preface, "Leaders today cannot be as anxious as the people they serve." Now that doesn't mean that leaders are just supposed to suck it up and rise above their anxiety, but to face their anxiety and manage it. That's the number one job of a leader, says Steinke, Friedman, and Bowen. To differentiate, to stay separate from the anxious system. Seems like a form of selfish autonomy, but that's not what they're saying at all. The other half of the equation is "staying connected to people with opposing viewpoints," and the only way to to do that well is to differentiate. Some great principles here for avoiding reactive cycles and learning to take thoughtful positions within an anxious system. Steinke, Freidman, and Bowen provides a great vein of thought for leaders of family systems (congregations). Not a long book, but I skipped around parts at the end because of seeming filler or repetition.
54 reviews
June 24, 2020
An extremely helpful book. Applies the concepts of Edwin Friedman’s work (see “failure of nerve”) to a congregational leadership setting. Invaluable tool for pastors / elders.
Profile Image for Kevin.
63 reviews2 followers
January 5, 2021
I was anticipating this to be more about external opposition or circumstantial anxiety. It deals more with internal conflicts. Though it wasn't what I expected, it was very good.
Profile Image for Dan Scott.
38 reviews7 followers
November 30, 2015
A Handbook for Leaders Facing Conflict

As a pastor who has led churches through times of serious congregational conflicts, I wish every pastor, elder, deacon and bishop would read this book. It is full real wisdom and insight into the realities of Christian leadership.
Profile Image for Byron Fike.
Author 2 books4 followers
May 25, 2015
Steinke has a great deal of experience in working with anxious churches and he uses that experience to help the thoughtful church leader understand the dynamics behind church conflicts.
Profile Image for Joel Wentz.
998 reviews61 followers
December 25, 2021
This is an extremely clear, accessible and helpful overview of family systems concepts as they apply to church leadership. Steinke also does some interesting and intriguing things with linguistics and scripture, though these are more like helpful insights than core aspects of the book. For those looking for a breakdown of concepts from people like Murray Bowen or Edwin Friedman, but not sure how they interface with distinctive Christian theology or frameworks, then Steinke has provided a perfect gift.

As someone who's already done a decent amount of reading in the area of family systems, I still found this to be a very helpful presentation of it in explicitly Christian terms, and will be keeping it as a resource.
Profile Image for Devin Morris.
38 reviews
October 29, 2020
Wow! My first Steinke book. I immediately ordered two others (Uproar and A Door Set Open). I love his use of illustrations, examples from churches he has worked alongside, personal experience, and bullet point lists that capture his thoughts at the end of each chapter.
This is a great resource for congregational leadership and dealing with groups as emotional systems. Edwin Friedman was Steinke’s mentor and it comes out in his writings. Every chapter was beneficial and I encourage church leaders to read, absorb it, and live it.
Profile Image for Jed Walker.
89 reviews7 followers
September 22, 2022
Great insights and wisdom while primarily framed through a scientific lens. Perhaps this is the result of his mentor Friedman, but his analysis is excellent if often less relational than you might expect.

He did weave biblical stories to illustrate his points and his heart for people comes through, but this is certainly more academic than practical in its tone. And yet I would definitely recommend this to pastors and leaders as it gives tremendous insights for leadership during our era of extreme anxiety.
Profile Image for Laura.
139 reviews5 followers
June 7, 2019
A practical and easily read application of Bowen’s Systems Theory within a church context. Concrete and tangible examples help to illustrate the way a psychological theory can be enacted to build healthy communities. Often simple and elementary, but promotes accessibility for leadership and lay person.
49 reviews1 follower
February 11, 2019
A helpful discussion of the role of healthy leadership in dealing with anxiety and conflict in the church. Leans heavily on Bowenian family systems theory (anxiety, differentiation, biological metaphors and triangles).
5 reviews5 followers
April 29, 2019
Excellent examples

Bowen Theory is reflected throughout the book giving excellent examples of congregations in real life scenarios. Resolutions and the processes to them are discussed as well. Thought provoking for leaders
Profile Image for Zachary Adams.
36 reviews1 follower
April 4, 2020
Steinke combines aspects from science (psychology, biology, neuroscience, etc.) with leadership and ministry in a powerful way. It’s refreshing to have an approach on this topic that appreciates an interdisciplinary approach. Definitely recommend! Especially in a post-COVID-19 world.
131 reviews
November 9, 2020
An excellent work bringing clarity to the navigation of our current challenges (Covid-19, a divisive election season, racial struggles). I found the closing chapter on narcissism to be very insightful and eye opening.
Profile Image for Tom Greentree.
Author 1 book7 followers
March 6, 2019
A whole new way of seeing and understanding congregational relationships and our leadership in it. I look forward to reading more of Steinke.
Profile Image for Tim Littleford.
240 reviews2 followers
February 6, 2023
I've read enough Steinke to be bored by how often he repeats the same points and illustrations. If you're new to him, it's a good place to start.
Profile Image for Tony Meyer.
1 review
January 17, 2017
Excellent book about church leadership written in a wonderfully accessible format. The "bonus chapter" at the end about narcissism entitled "People of the Charm" was excellent.
Profile Image for John Lucy.
Author 3 books22 followers
March 7, 2017
Solid book but derivative from other sources. In addition to being derivative, the examples and cases are less than convincing.

Still, if you find it in your hands and you don't have any other resource for guiding you through anxious times in the church, might as well read it.
Profile Image for JJ W..
942 reviews57 followers
April 20, 2015
This is probably a 3.5 star book, but alas...

There's so much talk in the jacket notes about how awesome and revered Steinke is, which I find kind of funny because basically he's just really good at funnelling other people's information. (And, I have to admit, I totally judge him for citing Wikipedia in this. I was a teacher, okay--that knee-jerk response will never fade.) I really appreciated the clarity of Steinke's analogies to explain the concepts he wanted to get across, though I'm not sure why many of them were so heavily biological when he himself has no formal training in the sciences. I also expected there to be more reference to Bowen's theories since this is supposed to be an overview of them; I felt like they were outlined once and then Bowen wasn't much mentioned again.

It was interesting to see how denominational structure would and wouldn't help in difficulties between congregations and their leaders (this is coming out of the ELCA tradition), and I really appreciated the wealth of examples Steinke could bring from his many years of congregational conflict resolution. I also appreciated that Steinke didn't pull punches when talking about things that aren't helpful in times of crisis and change--simply praying your heart out isn't going to work if you're still ignoring the people trying to have the conversation of healing, and Steinke doesn't shy from challenging leaders not to hide behind piety.

Not the best book ever, but certainly a good read for congregational leaders (both lay and ordained) in terms of remembering to honor oneself and the other in the seeking of solution.
September 11, 2015
The information in this book was very challenging and enlightening. Its primary focus is to encourage leaders to be controlled, decisive, and creative in the presence of contagious anxiety. A self-controlled leader can have a powerfully transformative effect on a reactive and self-preserving emotional system. The book was filled with examples and analogies so that every principle was easy to comprehend. The writing was straightforward and simple and quotes were well chosen. Every chapter expressed its message concisely. I can't remember the last book I read this fast, yet I feel like I took away a lot of helpful insights and principles.
One of my issues was the amount of repetition. Several key points Steinke wanted to make were expressed in every chapter as if they were a new concept. This is good for people who won't read it front to back, but it got a little tedious since I was. The organization of the book was also a little odd. There were three parts with three chapters each, a page of introduction to every chapter, a few pages of "personal notes," and a list of items specifically for pastors. The chapters didn't feel segregated to me though, the messages of the entire book seemed to flow throughout.
Overall, this was a helpful and accessible book which I recommend. If you are trying to understand what your congregation or other group needs from you as a leader the insights here will guide you well.
Profile Image for Sean Post.
Author 5 books5 followers
August 27, 2014
Steinke uses his wealth of experience as a consultant to craft this masterpiece. I don't use that word lightly. By far, this is one of the best leadership books I have read. The subtitle, "being calm and courageous no matter what" captures the particular angle of leadership which is discussed in this book. Steinke isn't talking about the romantic side of leadership. He is addressing the tension-filled atmosphere which characterizes the jungle of chaos all leaders inhabit.

His central idea is that a leader is a "self-differentiated person with a non-anxious presence." The book unpacks the meaning of that definition. A big part of what that means for a leader is to respond to crisis situations with principle rather than reacting out of personal anxiety or the anxiety of the group.
Profile Image for Shirley Freeman.
1,134 reviews11 followers
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May 21, 2015
I read this as part of the Vital Church Initiative and really liked it. The subtitle highlights the main theme of the book -- being calm and courageous no matter what. Steinke uses insights from science, especially biology, to describe the way a group of people tends to operate under stress. He emphasizes well-known, but often under-used, leadership qualities to encourage church leaders to lead. I found the book encouraging in spite of the fact that I'm not overly excited about anxious times. I know they are necessary for personal and corporate growth. A good read for those thinking about church leadership.
Profile Image for James Cooper.
162 reviews2 followers
December 29, 2015
This was an excellent book from start to finish. Highly recommend this book for any clergy member, lay leader, or any one who wants to be a good leader. I thoroughly liked the chapter discussing Moses and Aaron and the different leadership styles of the two and how it relates today. Clear in everything he has to say, Steinke seemed to make sense of not only Scripture, but how we interact with one another and that outcome is what leads us to form the communities/ideals/decisions we make, but at the same time we need to know ourselves and make decisions based on principle not on what we feel, nor to people please.
Profile Image for Tj Luoma.
11 reviews15 followers
February 18, 2016
A good read, and an even better re-read

This is one of those books which might often be "required reading" in seminary but which proves itself to be _mandatory_ reading in parish ministry.

There is nothing particularly complex or complicated in this book, but that doesn't mean that it can't change your entire perspective on dealing with yourself (and others) during times of conflict.

Get a copy and read it even if (or perhaps especially if) you don't feel like you "need" it right now, and then keep it around for when you do, because eventually, you will. How a leader conducts herself or himself can make all the difference.
Profile Image for Rob O'Lynn.
Author 1 book14 followers
November 3, 2015
Great follow-up to Healthy Congregations! Steinke gets a little bogged down in the neuroscience and biology that systems thinkers are known to use as the foundation for our theory, however it is a "light and momentary affliction" that is necessary to understand the full argument that Steinke presents. The big benefits here are the "A Personal Note" and "Leader's Notebook" sections at the end of each section. Here, Steinke gives practical advice related to the concepts discussed in that chapter. This is definitely one every (church) leader needs on his or her shelf!
Profile Image for The other John.
678 reviews11 followers
September 30, 2015
I serve on the church council for our congregation, so I had to read this book. I don't particularly consider myself a leader, mind you. So perhaps that's why I wasn't impressed. The book did offer some good advice, I guess. It just seemed, well, obvious: Don't panic. Think things through. Stick to your principles. Really listen to people. ... Of course, I suppose that during a crisis--in church or elsewhere--one does need to be reminded of the obvious.
Profile Image for HalKid2.
558 reviews
June 3, 2016
An interesting combination of cell biology, Bible stories, and systems dynamics -- used to highlight some of the dysfunction typical of religious communities and prescribe behaviors likely to promote strong leadership. Those already deeply involved in congregational politics will recognize some of the parishioner types described. Steinke's suggestions for leadership success aren't necessarily easy, but they sure seem promising and admirable.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 55 reviews

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