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On leadership: Commitment to high support-high challenge

This article is by Rick Shallenberger, who serves as a U.S. regional pastor and a contributing editor for GCI-USA publications.

This is part 1 of a series on Christian leadership. For other articles in the series, click a number: 234, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Rick and Cheryl Shallenberger

In his letter this month, Greg Williams mentions CAD’s commitment to prayerfully bring to our pastors and other leaders what we in CAD refer to as high support-high challenge. Perhaps you’ve heard one of the members of the CAD team (like your regional pastor), in a context of high support, say, “Let me bring a challenge to you.”

This high support-high challenge terminology, which is becoming part of GCI’s language, began to be used in 2015 when Greg brought to the regional pastors and a few others the challenge to participate in a year-long CORE leadership training class, facilitated by GiANT Worldwide consultant Tom Nebel. Tom, an experienced church planter and consultant, has participated in a number of coaching sessions with our planters and other GCI leaders. After numerous discussions with Greg about our need to both support and challenge our pastors and other leaders more effectively, Tom suggested Greg and his team go through the CORE training together. And so we have.

One of the goals of this training is to help each of us as GCI leaders learn to liberate our pastors and other leaders by bringing them both high support and high challenge. Greg constantly reminds us of the need for both. The Support Challenge Matrix reproduced below (with GiANT Worldwide permission) shows the pitfalls of not bringing support with challenge, or of not bringing challenge with support.

We all work best in an environment where there is both high support and high challenge. Many of us have worked in environments where there was high challenge (expectations) but little support, or in environments where there was high support but little challenge. Some of us have worked in environments where there was neither support nor challenge. Let’s briefly discuss each quadrant in the chart above:

  • Abdicator: When we don’t bring challenge or support to a pastor or congregation, we are working as an abdicator—we are taking no responsibility for what needs to be done. The result is apathy. When expectations are low, results are low.
  • Protector: To bring high support, but no challenge is to imply we might not trust the person or congregation to fulfill their responsibilities. You will often find enablers in this category. An enabler might initially give you a challenge, but then feeling that the challenge is too much, accomplish it by themselves. Protectors (including enablers) are more focused on affirming you and making you feel special, than helping you be a better leader. A leader who is concerned about being liked or appreciated will give you high support but not a lot of challenge that might risk a change in the likeability factor. This orientation leads to mistrust and an atmosphere of entitlement.
  • Dominator: On the other hand, a person who gives you high challenge, but low support can come across as someone more interested in the task than the person. Many micro-managers fit into this category. A micro-manager will give you plenty of responsibility, but rather than empowering you to fill the task your way, will want everything done their way. And because you aren’t always clear what that way is, an atmosphere of fear and resentment starts to build. Instead of feeling part of a team, you might feel like a pawn, being manipulated to do the leader’s work.
  • Liberator: The goal of a good leader is to empower people to lead others. A liberating leader gives you a challenge and then asks, “How can I help you, or resource you, to do this task?” A liberator doesn’t tell you how to do the task and doesn’t want you coming back to them with all the details. They trust you to do what needs to be done using your own gifts and talents. As a result, you feel liberated and you start to look for more opportunities to serve.

This is just a brief synopsis of the meaning of the chart—your regional pastor would be more than happy to go through it with you in detail. I think you’d find it very helpful as you work to develop the teams in your congregation or ministry (and be sure to read next month’s Equipper, which will focus on team leadership).

In conclusion, let me offer you a challenge. Each of our U.S. regional pastors (and their counterparts outside the U.S.) takes their responsibility quite seriously. They spend a lot of time praying for guidance and direction, asking God to help them to be true liberators. I challenge you to spend a few minutes each day praying for your RP (or, if you are outside the U.S., for your regional or national director). Together, with Christ as our guide, led by the Spirit in leading as liberators, we’ll see more and more leaders emerge for the present and future of GCI.

One thought on “On leadership: Commitment to high support-high challenge”

  1. Very good article. I have never heard it described this way. Interesting if you desired to be a winning coach for a sports team, your ability to teach your team your style of play is in direct correlation between you challenging your team and encourage your team. In basketball you have five individuals on the floor. Your team is only as successful as your weakest person on the floor. Great coaches also know that your teams championship caliber is tied to even your bench understanding what you are trying to accomplish.

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