Lance Wallace: What to say when you don't know what's next

Leadership transitions pose communication challenges. Consider these three questions in developing your strategy.

Only two executives have stood at the helm of the 21-year-old Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a Moses and a Joshua.Lance Wallace

As the organization transitions to interim leadership and a search committee works to find a new executive coordinator, I’m left wondering if we are about to enter a leadership period of “judges” in which the Fellowship Community is somewhat decentralized and deconstructed and leaders with specific skill sets rise up to fill the needs of the moment.

I serve as the director of communications and marketing at CBF, and the uncertainty ahead has me pondering three questions about what our strategic messages should be.

What is the message to the faithful when the leader steps away?

Is it honest to speak definitively in the face of so many unknowns?

How do we stay focused on telling the story of God at work through Cooperative Baptist Fellowship?

Maybe you are wrestling with similar questions as you confront a transition of your own. Allow me to offer my responses to the three questions, and please, take a minute to respond with a comment below to offer yours:

First, I believe the message to the faithful during a time of transition needs to be two-fold: gratitude for the leader who is transitioning and discernment for future direction. Functional atheism should be avoided at all costs. It’s not OK to act like we and we alone are responsible for moving the Fellowship forward in the absence of Daniel Vestal. We must recognize that God is at work and discern how to follow where God is leading.

So in addition to news releases about interims and search committees, we are publishing personal blog entries from constituents that offer perspective and reassurance. We let the 2012 Task Force, whose job was to outline a plan for the Fellowship Community’s future, have center stage at our General Assembly and openly talk about life after our executive coordinator’s retirement. The more transparent the transition, the more receptive your congregation or constituency is to your message.

We are also praying together and reminding each other through our tweets, blog posts, Facebook entries and conversations that God will see us through the transition.

Second, I believe it lacks integrity to use an authoritative voice in our communications during this transition. People know there are things we don’t know. They will not trust a message that tries to gloss over that fact or divert attention from the questions. Communicating through a transition means engaging the community in conversation. We must let constituents share their hopes, fears, dreams and calling. This intentional process does create buy-in, but it is also true to our core values that encourage openness and interactivity.

Third, I believe the stories of God at work through our Fellowship are all around us, and staying focused and ready to receive those stories is a spiritual discipline. I’m not one who approaches my rather pragmatic daily tasks with a mystic’s candle and the Book of Common Prayer open on my desk. But when an e-mail pops into my inbox from one of our field personnel or a pastor calls to let me know about a new ministry giving her congregation new life, I have to pay attention. That’s God at work. I need to share that story.

Life is full of transitions. As we navigate a significant one, I hope our message is one of hope and trust. God is still at work. I can’t say that enough right now.