What the Brexit Vote Can Teach Church Leaders

July 02, 2016

What the Brexit Vote Can Teach Church Leaders

Last week Britain voted to leave the EU. I have to admit I was shocked by the results. I could not imagine a country like Britain wanting to turn back the progress of time and reset the clock. I’ve followed the referendum with special interest – we have a son who lives there – so we are especially concerned for what it will mean for him.

It also served as a great leadership lesson for anyone attempting to steer in a particular direction. I know I am showing my bias here, believing that the exit of England from the EU to be a major mistake, but I am hopeful that the country over time will make the best of what is in the short term a huge step backwards.

In light of the outcome, here are some takeaways I believe serve as critical lessons whenever faced with a major decision that can have far-reaching implications. Now, most of us likely won't face a decision of such global magnitude – but we do face major decisions that have long-term implications for churches, ministries, denominations, and para-church organizations.

Deal with the fear shared by the majority

    The one fear that was commonly shared in the referendum was immigration. When David Cameron was elected he promised to hold the influx of immigrants to 100,000 a year. Last year the number was 330,000.

    Over three times what Britons were demanding, especially in a climate where the refugee crisis is stressing the majority of EU nations to the breaking point. Fear will always be a factor in elections, and often, the one who manages the fear best, or with the most confidence, appears to win the day.

    Find a percentage that values the true majority

      Nothing usually appeases a person whose on the losing side of a vote, but it is a little easier to take when they realize they stand against the majority. Not to say that the majority is always right, but one things for sure, a functional tie is one of the worst possible outcomes when it comes to a vote of this magnitude. That is essentially the result of Brexit. A functional tie with the slight advantage going to the leave side (52% Leave - 48% Stay).

      Imagine that half of the populace is being forced into a decision they wanted no part of. That is a sure recipe for disunity and a fractured nation. I even read one article by a family who could no longer discuss the vote at the dinner table because of the fight and division it caused them. Why wasn't the criteria a percentage above seventy-five? At least something that showed a clear voice for one side or the other.

      But to move an entire nation in a direction different from its current path needed a greater push from the populace than a mere 52%. One of the more difficult realities for leaders is to seek what's best for the church overall, not what serves the interests of a few, but what advances the kingdom for the betterment of all.

      Weigh the votes, don’t just count them

        One of the more disturbing realities of the vote is the demographic outcome. The younger crowd overwhelmingly wanted to stay, while older Britons pushed for leaving. The sad reality is the youth have to live with the results for much longer than the ones who actually wanted it.

        Every decision we make falls into two basic categories – it maintains the status-quo or it helps to shape the future. The more our decisions satisfy the way things are, the farther away from progress we move. Nothing damages advancement more than a mindset that longs for the way things used to be, or is based on fear of what could be lost.

        The Brexit vote at its core played to a spirit of autonomy and protectionism, values that go against a spirit of shared values and collective strengths. Something that appears to be at the heart of what youth who voted to stay were hoping for. We may not have referendums in the church, but we do have the ability to weigh what people are saying, especially in light of our mission and values.

        Have an out strategy

          Not surprising is the number of people who are now back-pedalling. A petition with signatures in the millions has been making the rounds and it's no wonder.  Google released results shortly after the vote showing a spike in searches for "What is the EU?"

          The present climate following the vote is one of uncertainty. Both within the UK and for the multi-nation bloc that makes up the European Union. The vote has now raised the courage of other fringe groups in other EU nations who are vying for autonomy. That says nothing to the uncertainty felt by North Americans. The business of dismembering the ties connecting England has begun.

          The degree of confusion and uncertainty about the future must be daunting and likely one of the greatest tests for those whose shoulders this will fall on. If there is one potential casualty that bears the greatest toll on the spirit of the British people its this matter of an uncertain future.

          Yes, I do believe the nation will be fine, and yes, they will be able to manage the future in time, but my concern is why did it need to be blown up to this degree in the first place. There are plenty of lessons here for not only church leaders, but leaders of every stripe, whether in the non-profit sector or the marketplace. May we learn these lessons well.

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