Are You Playing Jeopardy with Your Church?
Have you been watching the drama unfolding in the search for Alex Trebek’s replacement on the game show Jeopardy!? For a low-drama show, their blunders have captured outsized attention. The question church decision-makers need to answer is “Are you playing jeopardy with the future of your church?”
Read on to learn from both their slip ups and successes so that you don’t have to jeopardize the future of your church.
After Alex Trebek died, the show wisely planned a series of guest hosts before naming a permanent replacement. Trebek captured America’s heart for 36 seasons, leaving gigantic shoes to fill after he passed. If the producers had installed a permanent host directly after Trebek’s death, that host would have been an unintentional interim. Instead, the producers arranged for a line-up of 16 celebrities and personalities who hosted the show for one or two weeks each.
Congregations, like Jeopardy! need intentional interim leaders. Once a notable pastor, whether beloved or controversial, steps down, the church needs time to mourn, re-group, and re-orient before accepting a new leader. Churches can’t do this work without a proper period of grieving, letting go, and preparing for new directions. When churches don’t appoint an intentional interim, they often wind up with an unintentional interim. Unintentional interims jeopardize a church’s future because they disrupt momentum, discourage members with failed leadership, and delay opportunities for growth.
Vet Your Leaders
If you’ve been following the Jeopardy! news (mine shows up in my phone’s feed so I don’t have to look far) you know that Mike Richards, the show’s executive producer, was named by Sony as Alex Trebek’s successor. Sony studied tapes of Mike Richards interacting with contestants and tested his appeal with focus groups. While they were busy studying his overall appeal, they missed vetting his past. Therein lies the problem. Richards’ past was peppered with a history of discriminatory behavior against women on other shows where he was an executive producer. Then his podcast past caught up with him where he recorded tasteless, sexist jokes. All that makes Richards a no-go.
Likewise, churches need to vet their leaders—both lay and clergy. How many churches, even whole denominations, have been hurt when inappropriate leaders have proceeded to cause havoc because of undisclosed sexual or financial misconduct, or other forms of hurting the very organizations they are called to lead? We have only to think of the cover ups of the Catholic and Southern Baptist churches, amongst others, to know that leaders who prey on their followers are bad news indeed. If you are promoting unvetted leaders, you are putting the future of your church in jeopardy. Don’t do it.
Read the Culture Right
Leaders exemplify the culture. That’s why Dr. Mehmet Oz was a problem as a guest host. While he had a great personality and was good with the contestants, his medical reputation was tainted by the suspect advice he dispensed and unproven products he sold. Jeopardy! fans cried foul and asked for his removal.
Most troubles occur when a leader tries to quickly change the culture, without building enough trust or connecting the dots between past and present. In the end, Big Bang actor Mayim Bialik, a Ph.D neuroscientist, and Ken Jennings, a winning Jeopardy! champion, will take over the helm. For now. Jennings had social media gaffes as well. He may not make the final cut. Producers will not only capitalize on the show’s current culture, but expand it by having a highly educated funnywoman who also happens to be an ethnic minority.
In the church, each leader is seen—fairly or unfairly—as a representative of the congregation, of Jesus, and of Christianity as a whole. You need to not only vet the leaders, but make sure they are the kind of public representative that reflects the Gospel well. Make sure that their personal life is beyond reproach. If it’s not, get them some help bringing their personal and public lives into sync. Otherwise, you are putting the future of your church in jeopardy!
Have a specific question about how to avoid putting your congregation or ministry in jeopardy? Contact me for a free consultation.
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