When you begin to lead in an established role or institution, you will likely inherit both gifts and responsibilities. The gifts may include systems, structures and resources that were stewarded well by those who came before you. The new responsibilities will involve cultivating and sharing a vision that will outlast your tenure.

In addition to the gifts and responsibilities, you may also inherit problems you did not create — and perhaps a few you did not anticipate. Hopefully other leaders in the organization understand the challenges. Still, even under the best circumstances, dealing with inherited problems requires wisdom, skill and discernment.

When David became king of Israel, he inherited a divided kingdom. While there were many factors that created this political reality, none of the factors had to do with David’s leadership. Today, in our own leadership contexts, only after we assume a new role will we understand the complexity of some of the challenges through which we must lead. If we make changes too quickly, people may resent the interventions that are supposed to make things better. The adage that says “seek to understand before you seek to be understood” is important to remember.

Should you inherit complex problems in a new church leadership role, resist the urge to rush toward a solution. Start by listening. Understand what people think about the issue, what solutions have been attempted in the past and how people feel about current options. With discernment and experimentation, you can chart a better course. No church is problem-free, but inherited problems require patience. They also demand humility, because we’ll probably leave a few unresolved issues of our own for our successors.


An illustration of three hands holding onto three different segments of a pie chart. In the background are drawings of a chess piece, a stopwatch, an arrow in a target, and a line graph.

Who is responsible? Ideally, more than one person

Becoming too reliant on any single individual can challenge a system and require recalibrating for growth and adaptation to occur, writes the executive director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.

By David L. Odom

The exterior of Marion Design Co., based in an old bank in downtown Marion, Indiana, where signs in the windows name the goals of their work

Design thinking can reveal problems and re-imagine solutions

Using the principles of design thinking can push Christian leaders to listen more closely to their surrounding communities and be more creative in addressing their needs, says the co-founder of Marion Design Co.

Q&A with Wendy Puffer

The words ''What now?!'' in white script across a bright red, yellow, and blue background.

How to lead when things are falling apart

Disruption can be a good thing when it leads to needed change. But it’s hard. Here are the five stages of a healthy pivot when the structures you’ve built no longer work, writes the co-founder of RootedGood.

By Shannon Hopkins

An illustration of a woman looking up toward a tangle of lines, with three giant question marks floating above her head.

Facing wicked problems in anxious times

When we approach dauntingly complex decisions from a place of empathy and curiosity, we might discover a different solution.

By Victoria Atkinson White

Before you go…

New leaders and the organizations they serve often use the term “honeymoon period” to refer to the first several months on the job. During this period, you can do no wrong as a leader, and the organization appears to be doing everything right. As time passes, you may discover there are a few more problems than you anticipated. The finances need shoring up. The building needs maintenance. People aren’t as willing to volunteer as you thought they would be. But this is not the time for buyer’s remorse. This is the time to lead. This is the time to understand what God is calling you to do in your context.

Problems are everywhere. So even if you’re facing problems you did not create, embrace the opportunity. Perhaps God has called you for “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

You can always reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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