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Front Stage/Back Stage

Churches have a distinct front stage and backstage.

On the front stage, pastors and church leaders, akin to actors, project an image of themselves and the church. They deliver sermons, lead worship, and engage with the congregation in public view.

However, behind the scenes, away from the eyes of the congregation, lies a different world—a world filled with team meetings, a scurry of emails, and rehearsals. This backstage activity is crucial for the smooth running of the organization and is not inherently problematic.

Yet, it is essential that the front stage correlates with what goes on behind the scenes. The public image should not be a facade that hides the true nature of the inner workings. When the front stage and backstage are in alignment, transparency and trust are fostered within the community. However, when there is a significant disconnect, it can lead to the development of toxic cultures.

Impression management, as sociologists tell us, is the process of creating and manipulating an image held by the audience. While managing impressions is a natural part of organizational life, it can become detrimental when used excessively to mask underlying issues. In such cases, the effort to maintain a  image on the front stage can overshadow the need to address problems in the backstage. This disconnect can create a toxic culture, where appearances are prioritized over both integrity and accountability.

When leaders focus too much on managing impressions, they may neglect addressing real issues, leading to a culture of secrecy, fear, and mistrust. Team members might feel pressured to conform to the ideal image, suppressing their concerns and contributing to a cycle of dysfunction. Over time, this can erode the foundation of the organization, damaging relationships and undermining the community’s trust.

Moreover, the backstage itself is a complex arena where openness and false narratives can coexist. Even within teams, there can be layers of impression management. Some individuals may strive for transparency and honesty, while others might perpetuate false narratives to maintain their status or avoid conflict. This internal dynamic adds another layer of complexity, as team members navigate the tension between authenticity and the pressure to conform to an idealized image. Such backstage politicking can further entrench toxic cultures, making it even more challenging to align the front stage with reality.

In contrast, a goodness culture thrives on openness and transparency. It encourages open conversations about what happens backstage and invites external investigation when issues are raised. Such a culture doesn't control what backstage actors say, allowing them to speak freely about their experiences and concerns.

This approach fosters an environment where problems can be addressed proactively, and everyone feels heard and valued. By promoting honesty and accountability, a goodness culture helps build a strong, resilient community that reflects genuine integrity both on the front stage and behind the scenes.


These notes were composed after reflecting on a chapter of the book ‘Somethings not Right’ by Wayne Mullen.

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