Okay, I know you're thinking it: Are you really going to tell me to lead like Donald Trump or is that title click bait?
It's not bait, folks. I'm going to tell you to lead like Trump.
With muchos caveats.
Donald Trump is not a righteous man. Obviously he isn't winning any awards for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness or self control. Don't be like him in your attitude. Don't be like him in most of your actions. Don't be selfish, ego-driven, or generally and categorically mean. Don't be a racist. Don't debase women. Etc. Ad nauseum.
Don't BE like Trump. But I would encourage you, in some ways, to LEAD like him.
After Super Tuesday and Trump's mountain of success I, like many of my friends, stood perplexed at the scale of his appeal. To me he seemed like a joke. I never considered him a viable candidate and never thought others would. Tuesday night, I realized, clearly I was missing something.
People like Donald Trump. People are voting for Donald Trump. Why are they voting for Donald Trump?
I took to the Internet seeking answers. I listened to Trump supporters, and quickly identified a few things they had in common. Surprisingly, they're things that increasingly matter to a lot of Americans. In fact, after listening to Bernie Sanders supporters and Ben Carson supporters I've realized these things seem to be driving most of America's decisions in the 2016 election.
Trump's success can be largely chalked up to his keen awareness of what Americans most want in this moment in America's history. These things are not essentially bad or good. They just are. These are the priorities of a majority of Americans.
If you happen to be leading a church in America, your church is largely made up of people who care about these things. Knowing how to respond to these needs, wants and ideals will directly determine your ability to reach the modern American landscape.
So here they are, 4 things Donald Trump knows people want and how to address those wants in the local church (quotes come from New York Times exit interviews on Super Tuesday):
1. People want you to care about what they care about.
"Mr. Trump just seems to say things that I feel right about.” //John Rupert, 75
Donald Trump, for all his craziness, talks about things that seem relevant to the daily lives of the populace. He speaks like they do, not with fancy words or pretentious vagueness, and when he talks people lean over to their friend and whisper, "I was just saying that the other day..."
The criticism you'll hear is that Trump shouldn't talk like an everyday Joe. We want a president with wisdom and discretion. Well, increasingly, that's not the case for many. People would rather feel represented than have their leader be respectable.
Within the church, this same tension arises. When I talk to church members, I repeatedly hear that members don't feel represented by leadership. They feel like preachers and (even more) elders are out of touch with what matters to the average attender.
When I talk to ministers and elders I hear responses like this:
"What they care about isn't essential to the mission of our church."
"Everybody has an opinion about how things should be run. We can't listen to everybody."
or some softer, beat-around-the-bush version of "People have no idea what's in their best interest."
Here's the thing: everybody's right--members and leaders alike. Sure, leaders can't bow to every whim of the body and yes, members often have the wrong priorities, but at the same time, a church isn't its human leadership. A church's identity lies primarily in Christ and secondarily in its composite makeup. The church is everybody and, in some significant and formative way, leaders need to address the interests and values of the people in their care.
When leaders don't, when they operate in a vacuum, valuing the ideal (or the theoretical) over the relevant, they lose influence. And once they've lost influence, the body loses the privilege of being led by wise men and women.
When a body cares about different things than the leadership does, the body begins looking for a new leader. But when leaders listen to the body and involve them as much as possible in determining how exactly the church will live out Christ's vision for them, people will stick around long enough to be shaped and led into more ideal attitudes and behaviors.
2. People want to feel safe.
“You’re letting refugees in, after what we’ve been through with 9/11? Are you kidding me? No! No, no, no. Now we have a bunch of people being killed, we’ve got ISIS cutting people’s heads off.” //Pam Fisher, 52
Fear motivates people, and they will follow almost anyone who makes them feel protected. In Trump's case, it's not so much that Trump has proven capable of protecting as much as he's keenly aware of their fears and able to articulate them. He's willing to acknowledge the uncertainty and vulnerability so many feel.
Is that fear merited? Should people feel as vulnerable as they do? These questions matter, but not as much as we think. If people are afraid of the dark, it doesn't help much to say, "The dark isn't that bad." What people want to hear is, "We're going to beat the dark!"
Trump has built a very successful presidential campaign on that very message, and THAT is the message the world wants from the church.
Thankfully it's the truth. It's a foundational part of the gospel. People in the pews want to feel victorious. They want to be brave and not afraid, sure, but more than that they want to feel delivered. They want absolute assurance that someone is coming for them. That someone has built a wall of protection around them. That someone has already conquered the things they most dread.
When we preach today, we preach to a people bound by fear. Let's remind them they're safe, that the things they're afraid of aren't worthy of fear because no force can prevail against the forces of light led by the conquering King of the universe. Let's provide environments marked by safety, places where people feel comfortable exposing their weaknesses knowing they'll be protected, and let's speak words and live lives charged with victory.
3. People want strong leaders who speak their minds.
“He’s not afraid to get in the trenches and fight for you. He’s going to be a bully, and he’s going to tell them what he thinks, and he’s going to push to get it done. He don’t care who he makes mad in the process.” //Mark Harris, 48
Nothing is more uninspiring that a wishy-washy leader. Okay, one thing: a wishy-washy leader who doesn't tell the truth. I know, Donald Trump doesn't always (or often) tell the truth, but he does seem like he's telling the truth. People respond to Donald Trump because in him they perceive authenticity and conviction.
Again, this is something that should be common in the church, but, unfortunately, isn't. Too many elderships make decisions behind closed doors without clear, honest explanation, often at the same time allowing isolated backlash against those decisions to reroute their vision. Behavior like that causes members to wonder what really matters to their leaders and to distrust their hearts.
Too many preachers speak like politicians, tiptoeing the party line even when it requires stuffing Scripture into a too-small box, manipulating the truth to make it seem more simple than it is. Other preachers tiptoe around the sensitivities of culture, trying not to be politically incorrect, controversial, or disruptive.
This is not what people want. AND, conveniently, it's not what God wants us to give them. Leaders today should be strong and honest. Kind and loving, gentle and self-controlled, not-like-Trump, of course. But also confident and unveiled, like a general in battle, dirt-smeared and be-smirked.
People want leaders who speak their minds. And once we've submitted our minds to the reign of Christ, that's exactly what we ought to do.
4. People want something different.
“More or less, it’s the statement: Listen, we’re sick and tired of what you people do. And we’re going to put somebody in there — now that it’s our choice, we’re going to put somebody in there that basically you don’t like.” //Ken Magno, 69
This is the primary message of the 2016 campaign: We don't want what is. In the democratic race, Hillary Clinton (long expected to receive this year's nomination on a silver platter) has been plagued by Bernie Sanders' strong criticism of current American policy. His followers want radical change in the White House. So do Trump's. So did supporters of Ben Carson. In fact, the majority of Americans going to the polls want nothing short of a revolution in American government.
Thing is, that's often what voters want. It's what got Barack Obama elected eight years ago.
I suspect our deep seated desire for change in the White House springs from our growing sense of dissatisfaction with a broken world. Yes, that brokenness creeps into government and people are fed up with it, but more so, people are simply sick of everything being broken. They're tired of sickness and divorce, of having to work all the time, of never having enough money to make ends meet. They're tired of people who seem out to get them, people who don't care about them, and people who use them. They're tired of their own inability to live up to the goals they have for themselves. They're tired of bad news.
They're tired of this place--not America (though that's the place they've identified). People are actually tired of living in a fallen world--as humans since the Garden always have been.
As the church, we have a message people want to hear. We have a promise that this broken world won't last forever. Our hope lies in wholeness and healing, peace, joy and love. In a promise of abundant life, beginning here and finding its completion in the days to come. The church offers something different, a community holy and set apart from a broken world. It's a place where love reigns, where forgiveness happens, where people commit to (and actually do) stay married for life, where disagreements are settled with grace and compassion, where people share what they've been given, where people find meaningful work and sacred rest. At least, that's what it should be.
The problem is, in recent years the church has taken to embracing the idea of brokenness. We say, "We're all broken. Come be broken with us." I think we perceive this message to be inclusive and welcoming. Instead, it's become the worst advertising campaign ever. People are already broken. Their friends and family are broken. They have experienced shared brokenness. They don't need the church for that. And honestly, it's not what they're looking for--not deep down.
What they need is healing. Yes, people inside our churches are broken. BUT they're healing, too. They're on their way to something better. And the brokenness isn't the defining feature of their identity in Christ. The growing wholeness is.
As Donald Trump has proven, people don't want what is. They want something better. They're sick of losing. They want to win.
Let's help them really win.