It’s all getting a bit tense

We have all probably watched one of those films where the clock is ticking and the hero’s chances of saving the world are slowly diminishing.

When the only person able to make the difference in the situation turns out to be the villain. When the stakes are rising and the chances of success look slim. We often thrive on tension by way of entertainment, using it as a means of winding down and relaxing but this is often a stark contrast to how many approach leadership and especially Christian leadership.

The notion of tension, conflicting opinions or differing view points, are often perceived as something negative that need to be overcome. It can often be assumed that our role as leaders is to eradicate tension, keeping a so-called “steady ship”. Some even measure success on their ability to avoid testing situations or their ability to overcome them as quickly as possible.

The reality is, tensions exist in every organisation including the church. We face tensions such as:

  • Numerical Growth v Discipleship and Maturity
  • Flexible and Responsive v Organised and Structured
  • Tradition and Ritual v Innovation and Relevance

In all of these tensions the removal of either side would not enhance the church or organisation but would rather diminish its potential. Tension could be defined as a state of being stretched but quite often this leaves leaders in an uncomfortable place. Not many Christian leaders relish or desire living in this state for too long and our natural response is to do all we can to remove tensions or ignore them.

There are a number of dangers in this approach to Christian leadership.

Bury Your Head

Avoiding tension can be a way of ignoring or not facing up to key issues that are affecting the life of your church or organisation. It is important to be aware that this only delays a situation rather than deal with it. It is often in the moments of stretch and opposition that we grow and move forward.

Problem to Solve

Some view tension as a problem to be quickly solved. The danger with this approach is that it creates a new barrier to progress. Releasing the butterfly too quickly from the cocoon will only limit it’s strength and ability to fly. In the same way building a team of people around you who only ever agree with you doesn’t allow for challenge, refining of ideas, and new discoveries.

Tension Equals Lack of Unity

It can be perceived by leaders, that tension within a team can signal a lack of unity. One question to ask is, how would people perceive us if they realised we didn’t always agree? We can fall into the trap of managing meetings in such a way to avoid varying opinions to being expressed. The reality is that a team is stronger for exploring issues from a range of view points and exploring all the options. Rather than tension undermining unity it enables quality decision making. A healthy team should not side step or remove tension but rather recognise it as necessary for productivity.

Andy Stanley, suggests there is a difference between tensions which need to be managed and problems that need to be solved. He helpfully encourages leaders to ask a simple question. Does the problem keep resurfacing? If it does then this is something that needs to be embraced rather than overcome.

There are some key ways any leader can manage tension in an organisation:

Leverage Tension

Remember that a variety of view points can lead to healthy robust decision making. As a leader, be careful to listen to all sides of a discussion before making a decision. Embracing opposing viewpoints can lead you into new territory than you might not otherwise have discovered.

Healthy Tension

Ensure than tension within meeting, teams and organisations are managed in a way that respects all the people involved. There is a difference between holding an issue in tension and relationships becoming tense. It is important to build trust in a team by listening and not arriving at conclusions too quickly. Trust can be built by valuing both sides.

“As a leader, one of the most valuable things you can do for your organization is differentiate between tensions your organization will always need to manage vs. problems that need to be solved.”

Andy Stanley


Valuing the stretch or tension within your church or organisation can really help you move forward.

Question: How do you deal with tension in your team? Leave a comment below.

The past few years have left the country divided, but we can all do something, urges Dave Newton
Director of Training Dave Newton suggests it’s time to stop debating the meaning behind a much-used title
The Coaching Academy will help you to turn your leadership from focusing on self into developing others as an intentional long-term strategy. Registration is now open.
We need to play the long game in growing the next generation of church leaders, says Mark Ryan
With expert teaching and practical, applied learning, Regents Theological College could be the place for you to prepare for Christian ministry.

Additional Reading >

If you want to find out more about what is on offer from Elim Training, please get in touch.      01684 588947

a ChurchInsight siteCopyrightT&CsPrivacyCookiesRegistered Charity 251549 (England & Wales) SC037754 (Scotland)