I was trying to think of things that I have learned that will come in handy in the future and the following came to mind after a long, long drive of prayer and just thinking.
Leading change in a church context is leading change amidst two beautiful but sometimes volatile things; tradition and volunteers. Change happens in every ministry, in every life, in every context of a church. Not simply at a ‘leadership level’, whatever that is. Here are the 4 things I have really had to just get ‘ok’ with.
1. Get ready to go at about half the pace you want to.
To have a vision is to live in constant frustration. That’s not being overly negative, it just is. It fact, it is the side effect of passion. When you’re really passionate about something you’re usually aching to see it happen sooner rather than later. We want what we want, now.
The problem is though, your vision whatever it is, is going to also need the passion of others around you for it to work. Even if it is genuinely a community based vision (which it should be) and not simply your own ideas, there is always going to be an element in the community who will drag their feet. Steve Chalke, hit the nail on the head when he said; “the journey with others is slower than the journey alone.”
It practical terms that means nothing less than this, if you are loosing your most faithful and deep people, it is because you are trying to go your speed, not God’s speed. Yet the journey can only be made in-tact when it’s done in God’s speed.
2. Get ready to be told by about 25% that you’re going too fast.
Maybe this is the more obvious of the next two so I’ll address it first. I don’t think we need yet another article on how resistant churches can be in the midst of change. Let’s just do the maths; Church has been around for 2000 years not including our Old Testament Jewish heritage. You’re leading change in a high tradition atmosphere. Let’s just own the fact and get on with it.
Many folks assume that the best option is to simply plant churches because new churches have no traditions yet because they are only months old. Yeah, right up until someone hears about the exciting new Church down the road and leaves their Church to come to that one, bringing with them all of their own ideas and traditions. Yay. That’s not even starting with the various secular traditions that come in to the church at literally the speed of sound.
So, you’ll always have that blessed quarter who don’t want change, no matter how inconsistent their arguments are. Remarks like: “you’re too busy to visit people these days,” “I don’t need a card to be safe with kids,” “Or lovely sermon pastor, but here’s some advice,” come from deeply nervous people. They are worried. The only way to quell their fears is not to brutally disagree with them, but recognise that it comes from a place of fear and en-courage them.
Jesus made people nervous because he was changing the status quo without their permission.
3. Get ready to be told by 25% of folks that you are not going fast enough.
Then you’ve got your fans. Then you’ve got the 25% who totally get what you are trying to do. Totally understand the need for change. They are the ones that are always encouraging you not with the usual, “well done,” “or great sermon,” but something far deeper like “we really need to hear that right now.”
These people are the toughest of all because they are your ‘mates’. That is, it is so easy to fall into approval addiction with them because you’re terrified of letting them down and also terrified of losing them. It’s possible to value folks so much that you begin to care more about what they think than what Jesus thinks. None of this is their fault of course, it’s something you have to watch out for.
Yet such an opportunity exists here to become a leader of leaders, a word of wisdom in the ear of the entrepreneur; (a type of person that churches by and large desperately need). There are times where you’ll have to tell them to ‘slow down’ or say ‘we need to be patient here’ when all you want to do is position them strategically in the congregation so that your will will be done. But the second you do that, you’re no longer pastoring because you’re no longer trusting GOD.
You loose your spiritual anointing and authority to lead. Just like Saul did.
Sometimes you have to rebuke your ‘mates’, your ‘fans’, and when you do, the golden rule I’ve found is this: at the very least, make sure they know why you can’t just go 100 miles an hour. This opens the door to a deeper understanding of Jesus.
Jesus had to rebuke Peter because Peter in his ‘fandom’ of Jesus wanted him to get on with it and ride in as a conquering hero.
4. Finally, get ready to have the remaining 50% just ‘let it happen’ right up until there’s a blowup.
Well sort of. Most people don’t really give feedback until they really get super annoyed at something. In fact most of the time, the only feedback you get from people is you no longer see them!
Generally speaking, if you want feedback you need to be proactive. Rising issues will not conveniently parade themselves in front of you before they become detrimental to unity. Moreover, proactive is not the same as active. I’ve lost count of times in a church context I have seen issues arise, folks swing into action to deal with the issue and the entire process named as ‘proactive’.
No, that’s just active.
Totally better than nothing, but not proactive. To be proactive is to to be deliberate in prevention. It’s taking time out to look a the ministry or the team you have and ask the question: where are the possible conflict points here? I’ll tell you one right now for a kickoff: leader vs follower.
I’ve found that one of the best things to do it quite literally ask people ‘under’ my leadership this question: “is there anything I’m doing that is driving you nuts?” I try to ask that to everyone, every 6 months. It gives them permission to ‘release the valve’ and share feedback I may not want to hear before it becomes a serious friction point. Some of the best and most constructive feedback I have received has come from this question.
It is simply recognising that wherever there is a power differential, there’s an approach-ability differential and thus you’ve got to make the extra effort not only to be approachable but to approach them, before there’s a problem.
Around 50% of people just tend to sit back and let decisions get made until it adversely affects them. Part of pastoral care therefore is to be, yes, proactive in finding out what they really think before they reach the level of telling you about it. Because then it will be to late.
There you have it, that’s the experience so far, if it changes I’ll let you know.