How to Deal with Leaders Who Question Change

Most people don’t like change. Most leaders want to challenge the status quo. Leadership is, in part, the process of helping people see the need for change, embrace the vision for change, and then implement the change.

Getting mad at people who question change does not help the process of change. Those who are truly malicious are typically small in number. When people have questions about change, it does not necessarily mean that they are questioning your leadership. It’s likely they just have questions. In fact, the only leaders who go unquestioned are despots.

Particularly in the church, there is built-in institutional resistance to change. Almost every church has this inherent resistance, especially established churches. The body may spend decades building something—a program, a worship space, or a culture. Shifting direction on a decade’s work is jarring, even if it’s the right thing. The church is often the place people cling to the familiar. The world is changing rapidly, after all. At least the church offers some solace from what feels like a whirlwind of change.

When a church leader introduces bold change, a strong reaction should be expected. Some will complain it’s too much too soon. Others will complain it’s too little too late. Others won’t care. And a few will champion the change.

Bold change almost always raises questions from people. Getting mad at people who raise the questions does nothing to help move them through the process of change. Yet a leader’s visceral reaction to these questions is often anger. I’ll admit I’m guilty! And it’s wrong, a leadership flaw, arguably sinful in many cases.

So what can you do in the moment when questions fly your way? How can a church leader quell the knee-jerk anger to questions about change?

  • Listen. Seriously, just listen. Don’t talk. Don’t say anything. Don’t explain yourself. Don’t get defensive. Let people speak to you about the change. Many times people just need the opportunity to hear themselves speak and to know you heard them.
  • Learn. Your posture and your tone can speak more loudly than your actual words. When introducing bold change, take the posture of a learner. Let’s assume you’ll make a big announcement from the podium about a large change initiative. Make a resolution to be a learner the moment you walk off the stage. And the way you’ll learn is by listening to questions about the change.
  • Smile. Remember school pictures? I never liked them. I often didn’t smile, and the low quality of the pictures reflected the intensity of my scowl. The quality of your change initiative will be directly correlated to the amount of encouragement you give people. If you think more explanations, more spreadsheets, or more structure will get people moving, then think again. Forcing people through change without encouragement signals that the change is for your benefit, not their benefit. You’ve got to love the people who are affected by the change through the change. When questions come . . . smile. Encourage. Love.

You’ll never please everyone. How many times have I heard that? How many times have I said that to others? You know upfront that change initiatives can be tough, that people will resist change. Getting mad at followers ensures only one thing: failure. I’ve never heard a leader mention how unjustified anger inspired people to embrace a change initiative. So listen. Learn. Smile. And perhaps the change initiative might just go a little more smoothly.

> Read more from Sam.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Rainer III

Sam serves as lead pastor of West Bradenton Baptist Church. He is also the president of Rainer Research, and he is the co-founder/co-owner of Rainer Publishing. His desire is to provide answers for better church health. Sam is author of the book, Obstacles in the Established Church, and the co-author of the book, Essential Church. He is an editorial advisor/contributor at Church Executive magazine. He has also served as a consulting editor at Outreach magazine. He has written over 150 articles on church health for numerous publications, and he is a frequent conference speaker. Before submitting to the call of ministry, Sam worked in a procurement consulting role for Fortune 1000 companies. Sam holds a B.S. in Finance and Marketing from the University of South Carolina, an M.A. in Missiology from Southern Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies at Dallas Baptist University.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

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Lasting Changes Require this One Thing

If you want to make changes to your church, you need to ask yourself this question:

“Am I willing to give the rest of my life to this church?”

Making a significant change in your church is at least a five-year job, if not a 10-year commitment. If you’re not willing to stay for the necessary time, don’t make the changes.

A few years ago, I was talking with a pastor about some changes he wanted to make in his church. I asked him, “How long are you willing to stay?”

“Oh, I’m willing to make a commitment for at least six months.”

Do you know what my advice to this pastor was? If that’s all the time you’re willing to stay, don’t even get started with the changes. Nothing will happen in six months. It’s a waste of time and resources.

If you get in the middle of making significant changes in your congregation and then bail, it’s like leaving a patient on the operating table. A doctor would never quit in the middle of taking out someone’s appendix. He’d get sued. It’s not much better when you quit in the middle of making significant changes in your church.

In fact, you’re just messing up someone else’s ministry. It’s the next pastor who will suffer from your lack of commitment. I’ve seen too many hot-shot pastors come to new churches and make big changes. Then, when a bigger congregation calls him somewhere new, he bolts. At that point, the church has to deal with a big mess. When the next pastor comes along, the church won’t even consider making the changes needed to grow.

If you want to make lasting changes in your church, you need to:

Make a public commitment to stay through change

Any pastor looking to make big changes in a church needs to start with a public commitment to stay throughout the process. I did this at the first Saddleback service in 1980. I told everyone that I was going to give at least 40 years of my life to the church. I wanted people to know that the church wasn’t a fly-by-night operation. If people know you’re not leaving, they are much more likely to put some skin in the game themselves and to stick with you through the changes.

Having coached pastors for decades, I’ve noticed that when the pastor leaves, the problems stay, but if the pastor stays, the problems leave.

Be patient

If your church has plateaued in recent years, it’ll take even longer to make changes. A church that hasn’t grown in size for 10 years has a problem. If you’re patient as a leader, you can turn the church around. But it won’t happen overnight. The longer your church has plateaued, the more time it’ll take to implement important changes.

Any issues your church has didn’t develop overnight. You can’t fix them overnight, either. Since you’ve already publicly committed to being at the church for the long haul, take your time.

I once asked a pilot how he turns around a big plane in the air. He told me that it takes time to make a turn in a big plane. “You can make almost a 90-degree turn in the air, and the plane can handle it, but your passengers will go crazy.” He said even a 45-degree turn is rough on passengers, but they don’t usually notice a 30-degree turn.

That’s why it’s so important that you’re willing to stay at the church for an extended period. You can make a bunch of small yet significant changes over a long period of time. People won’t even notice. It’s when you try to make the changes quickly, in a herky-jerky motion, that people get upset and may not support your plans.

Slow the pace of change and be patient; success takes time.

Just ask Hank Aaron.

On baseball’s opening day in 1954, Milwaukee Braves rookie Hank Aaron didn’t get a single hit in five trips to the plate. He could have quit that day. But five outs didn’t define Hank Aaron. He batted another 12,359 times during his career, and he eventually broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record.

It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. Your church won’t have the ministry fruitfulness you want unless you’re committed to staying the course to implement necessary changes and being patient in the process.

> Read more from Rick.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

4 Steps Toward Change All Leaders Take

I seldom address a gathering of pastors without “the” question being asked, in one form or another:

“How do you change a church?”

Whether moving from a traditional model to one that is more contemporary, a complex structure to one that is simpler, or an outdated outreach strategy to one more relevant and effective, knowing the target on the wall isn’t the problem.

It’s how to actually lead the change to hit it.

Here are the four steps to leading change in your church (I am going to assume you already know to pray.):

1. Establish a Sense of Urgency

The first step is to establish a sense of urgency. People will not even consider change unless they are impacted on an emotional level. If change is not considered necessary, leadership expert John Kotter of Harvard writes, they “will find a thousand ingenious ways to withhold cooperation.”

There must be a perceived problem, or need, that is generating a certain amount of emotional energy. For the change agent, or agents, one of the keys to this is passion: if you do not seem to care, they will not bother to care.

Note that this is more than simply articulating the logic of a particular set of actions. People must be communicated with on an emotional level. There must be a sense of urgency. The Bible reminds us that we are transformed through the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). So whatever the change may be, be sure to convey what the stakes are, and why the change is so important.

For example, why should anyone contemplate evaluating a weekend service in light of its effectiveness at communicating the truth of Christ to a lost person? If they do not perceive that lost people matter or that they are being reached quite well through current approaches, then any change that might be suggested will die at the starting gate.

Leaders who want change must communicate the importance of those who are apart from Christ and the exact state of the church’s current effectiveness in reaching them. It is up to the leader to say: “We will stand before God one day and give an account for our lives. And this generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of non-Christians. And God will ask, ‘Did you do all that you could? Did you match the intensity and fervor I brought to the cross?'”

People must be brought to the point where they view the lack of change as a tragedy; where they don’t simply embrace change but cry out for it.

2. Develop and Cast a Compelling Vision

The second step has to do with developing and casting a compelling vision. Where is this change going to take us? What will it mean for us? What difference will it make? Paint the picture for people of what the change will actually do.

Vision is nothing less than the language of leadership. It points the way, it motivates people to take the steps needed to get there, and it coordinates the actions of all involved. At its best, it paints a simple but compelling picture of a better tomorrow in ways that appeal to everyone’s interests. This has to be more than a single motivational talk. In reality, not only does vision “leak,” but it gets lost in the competing noise for attention.

Consider a business example. I once read that the total amount of communication going to the typical employee in an American company in a three-month period is 2,300,000 words or numbers. The typical communication of a change vision over the same period has been calculated at 13,400 words or numbers (the equivalent of a single 30-minute speech, coupled with a one-hour long meeting, a 600-word article in the firm’s newspaper, and a 2,000-word memo). Thus the change vision only captures .58 percent of the communication competing for the average employee’s attention.

This is akin to a gallon of information dumped into a river of dialogue.

Vision must be repeated over and over again. When you are sick of hearing it, and the core change agents with you, then you might be approaching some degree of connecting with the group at large. The point is that one message, or even one cluster of messages, simply isn’t enough. People’s grasp of the vision fades fast, and it must be continually cast. And not simply to one group, but to all groups. And in all settings: to committees, boards, ministries; during weekend services; over lunches and breakfasts; through articles, stories, facts, statistics; and one-on-one sessions. Simple, to the point, tied to the values behind the change – but over and over again.

You cannot over-communicate.

3. Implement the Change

The third step, after the vision casting eventually pays off in consensus and approval with the various groups in the church, is to begin implementing the change.

4. Give Updates on the Change

The final step is to make sure you let everyone know how the change is going. Be sure to give progress reports. The war is not won simply with implementation. The question then becomes whether or not the change should be maintained. Rick Warren has written from many years of experience that, “Vision and purpose must be restated every 26 days to keep the church moving in the right direction.”

Whether monthly is too much or too little, it must certainly be ongoing. So let people know what is happening. Talk about successes and breakthroughs. Let people see, and feel, the benefits that are flowing from the change.

As you work through these four steps, keep in mind one of the most important principles related to change a leader can learn: change takes time. There’s a saying that when it comes to change, don’t overestimate what you can do in a year, but don’t underestimate what you can do in ten.

You may have heard the old analogy about turning a ship around in a harbor. The bigger it is, the further you have to go out to sea to bring it around in a different direction. This is important, because a lack of patience has caused many church leaders to get into trouble that was all too easy to avoid. As change agents, they get in a hurry and begin implementing changes that people simply weren’t signed on to, much less emotionally prepared to experience. This leads to resistance.

But if you carefully – and patiently – work the four steps, a remarkable thing will take place.

Change.

> Read more from James.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.