4 bold leadership moves Zumba can teach the church

March 3rd, 2016

I’m a Zumba aficionado. I admit it. I love the rhythms, the music and the fun of these classes. Zumba, in case you don’t know, is a fitness class that draws on elements of Latin dance moves such as salsa, merengue and cumbia. It also involves a fair amount of of hip rolling and shoulder shaking.

At first, I was pretty self-conscious about moving my body in these ways. (Do I look ridiculous? Are they judging me? Does the teacher think I’m a jerk?) With practice I’ve gotten more comfortable and the moves have gotten a lot easier. I’ve stopped asking those self-conscious questions.

Song lyrics aside, there are some surprising similarities between Zumba and the church. In fact, I’d like to offer four bold leadership moves Zumba can teach the church.

Leadership move #1: Dance big

To get the most from a Zumba class means dancing big: moving freely, trying new things, striking out in directions you haven’t gone before. The bolder the moves the more calories you burn, the better the workout and the more fun you have. Dancing big requires letting go of two things: self-consciousness and wondering how you look. It means trusting the process.

Dancing big is not only essential to having fun with Zumba, it’s part of emulating the Lord of the Dance. Jesus took all sorts of risks and never once did he ask: How do I look? He trusted God, trusted his disciples and trusted the process.

Here’s the catch for us: The more institutionalized an organization is, the more pressure there is to play it safe. How old is your church or organization? 40 years? 100 years? 200 years? You’re probably going to come up against some resistance as you try new moves. But Jesus and his disciples did it. They took risks within the context of Judaism which was centuries old at the time. That they did so spoke to their very high levels of faith.

Leadership move #2: Lead with your feet

Zumba instructors give very little in the way of instruction. Instead, she (or he, but I’ve never see a male Zumba instructor) leads by example. She moves and the class follows suit. Believe me, it can take a while to catch on to the moves. The trick is to watch her feet. Once you’ve got the steps down you can add arm movements, then embellishments with hips and shoulders. While the students are catching on, the instructor needs to remain focused on executing the proper steps, encouraging others, and staying in rhythm. All while refraining from judgment.

Same thing in the church. While the church leader models the moves of discipleship, others are watching. But to wait for them to have the moves down first, without your modeling it over and over will be an exercise in disappointment. Jesus demonstrated his moves for his followers. For three whole years. They caught on. That’s how he could send them out two by two to to perform miracles and announce the Kingdom.

Leadership move #3: Set the tone

Zumba instructors sets the tone and intensity of the class. The more restrained and self-conscious she is, the more restrained and self-conscious the class is. The class rarely moves past her. In fact, there’s a certain amount of peer pressure to not be more expressive than the instructor. So if she remains timid, they will too. But if she is willing to freely express herself with big bold moves, the class follows suit. If she adds embellishments, they will too.

At every area of leadership in the church, followers look to their leaders to figure out the acceptable moves. That’s true from bishops all the way to the members of the Trustees.

Jesus set the tone and standard in his way of living, and in his teaching. His followers came to expect they too would challenge authority, be bold and look for the impossible to become possible.

So, if you micromanage, displaying hesitation and caution every step of the way, others will follow suit. Let’s say you shy away from conflict and avoid issues that need to be addressed; the people you lead will get the hint to do the same. If you refrain from talking about how giving is connected to your vision, don’t count on others making the connection.

One of the pressures of being a leader is setting aside your own level of comfort for the group’s greater good. Let’s say you dance big, lead with your feet and model new moves — your followers will try to keep up with you. That means you also need to assume responsibility if the bold moves don’t pan out. Or being the one who levels with people: “Look, this might not work. But we’ve got to give it our best shot. Because if it does work, it will launch us into the kingdom of God! That’s just the kind of risk that our faith asks us to take. And if it doesn’t work, God will be with us to help us try, try again.”

Leadership move #4: Relax and have fun

The best Zumba instructor is relaxed and enjoying the process. She leads the kind of classes where mistakes aren’t catalogued and bad moves aren’t noted. It’s the kind of place people want to return to. It’s easy to leave self-criticism and self-consciousness at the door.

Why do people prefer to be at soccer fields, Zumba classes or coffee shops instead of church? A denominational leader recently told me of visiting a farmer’s market on a Sunday morning. “Everyone was happy,” he marveled! “No one was scowling or throwing darts with their eyes like some of the churches I’ve been in.”

I have been to too many churches where it’s all doom and gloom. It’s as if celebration weren’t kosher. Answered prayers are never mentioned. Testimonials are never given. Joyous songs of trials overcome are never sung. Even visitors are viewed with suspicion. No good news there, no matter what the Gospels say. If you’re not enjoying your life of faith and discipleship, why do you think others would want to follow?

Mastering Zumba takes practice and lots of it. Effective church leadership too. But you can have a lot of fun and make a real difference along the way.

Still not convinced that you can make the bold moves necessary? A good place to start kicking up your heels is through the award-winning leadership program I developed called Creating a Culture of Renewal. You learn how to dance big, lead with your feet, set the tone for renewal all while being more relaxed and having more fun than before. You might still stumble a bit, maybe confuse salsa with merengue, but we help you learn the steps that make a true difference. When that happens, you’ll start seeing positive, life-changing results in both your leadership and your ministry. We love helping people find their leadership groove and dream like Jesus.

Rebekah Simon-Peter blogs at rebekahsimonpeter.com. She is the author of The Jew Named Jesus and Green Church.

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