I’ve been in a series of discussions on “change” this week, and it’s always such an interesting issue in ministry. Yesterday, our staff joined with several other church staffs to view some of the sessions from Catalyst on the issue of change and momentum. They were great! Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel do what they always do, speak clearly and inspire. Today, we’re going to spend some time in our staff meeting discussing and unpacking what we learned.
I love change. I really do. It energizes me, motivates me, fills me with hope, and excites me. Early in my career, I would often change things just to change things, without much forethought or process to it. This is such an undermining action. I never understood how many people did NOT like change, and I yanked them around all the time. It was not healthy. There have been tons of books written on that concept, so I won’t go into it here.
One thing I do not hear alot of discussion on in ministry is how to grid the source of the change. Here is what I mean; we will hear someone speak, like Andy or Craig. They will make a compelling argument for change. They will use scripture to show how the change they are describing is theologically correct. Often, it is. They will lay out values, methods, and review tools for people to succeed. The presentation is extremely methodical, clear, and powerful. We, then, return home with a set of notes and a lot of hope. We’re going to do it! We plan, pray, work hard, set up the system, begin to move forward, and then it falls. We assume it’s because we went too fast, too slow, didn’t communicate well, or a host of other things. The communicators will even tell us that if we fail, it’s probably because of these things, and we need to try again. We do. We work diligently, faithfully, moving forward. Yet, we hit the wall again, and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t produce the results we felt sure we were supposed to see. We’re left with a conclusion that either we are failures as change agents and leaders, or our people are unwilling to be led orchange.
But what if it’s not either of those options?
What if we simply missed the cultural pieces that underlie the whole process? Over the years, I have noticed that very few of the communicators bring their culture to bear on the process. I’m not sure if it’s because they assume we will do it ourselves, they are unaware of the uniqueness of their culture, or the are not comprehending the impact their culture has on their leadership/change process. Having worked in churches of all sizes (275 – 20,000) in surburban, metro, rural, and small town areas; I can tell you with certainty that culture plays a huge part. So does the church culture created by the leadership of the church.
Here’s what I mean. Organizations will take on the personality of their leadership, given enough time. Churches are no exception. Whoever the true leader(s) is in your church, if they are in leadership long enough, your church will reflect their values and personality over time. If your church is lead by a senior pastor, and he/she stays long enough, the people who attend the church will resonate with his/her personality, strengths, and weaknesses. Those who don’t will typically find a new church home. In your setting, it may not be the senior pastor. It might be the chair of the elder board, a finance team leader, the head of the deacons, etc. It’s not necessarily about who has what title. It’s about who has the actual influence in your community of faith.
Identify that person. Then note how long they have been in that position. The longer they are there, the greater the impact the have on the culture. This is where it gets tricky. Whoever that main influence is, they are not necessarily good or bad in and of themselves. If we like them (have similar values, personality, and preferences) we tend to see them as “good”. If we differ in values, personality, and preferences, we tend to demonize them and see them as “wrong” or “bad leaders”. That is a completely immature stance for us to take.
We need to evaluate first if that leader is leading from an authentic goal to follow Christ, and serve the church. They can disagree with you on almost every issue, and still be genuinely praying, humbly listening, and trying their best to do what is right. Understand that. Give them grace. Wrap your head around that concept. Differences in process, values, systems, or methods have nothing to do with sin, much of the time. They are just different. So, where is your leader in relation to following God’s call? Where are you? No, honestly, where are you? Are you being humble, a servant, a person of integrity and truth, working hard and following God’s call? If so, you should be more than ready to extend grace to your leader.
What needs to occur is a grace filled exploration of the strengths, weaknesses, values, and personality traits and style that your leader brings to the table. The odds are, they are not Andy Stanley or Craig Groeschel. Most pastors / church leaders are not like those guys. The Andys and Craigs of the world are a small minority. They are not more blessed, more gifted, or more right. They are just different. Your pastor may not be such a visionary. They may not enjoy the change process as much. They may not be quite so willing to take on confrontation. Your leader may be more shepherd, and less CEO. Your leader may value your autonomy as a leader, and give you much more space to operate. Your church may not embrace a culture of “bigger/newer/flashier is better”. Honestly, that’s okay. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us that “bigger/newer/flashier” is better. That is a cultural issue for us today. Not a Biblical issue. We do need to be culturally relevant. But that’s why its SO crucial to really wrestle with what is your culture? Not American culture per se. The culture of your geographic area, your church community, your staff/leadership. Just because I love “bigger/newer/flashier” (which I really, really do), doesn’t mean it’s “right” or holy.
An excellent leader like Andy or others may advocate a certain style of change, based on their values. If those values are not the values of your community, you will unnecessarily hit avoidable walls. If you assume that all good leadership is like ___________ (insert name of your favorite pastor/leader here), then you will frustrate your local leadership and yourself. If you believe there is one Biblical view on leadership, you’re in for a long life in ministry full of disappointment.
We need to be students of our culture, our communities, and ourselves. We need to lead with humble integrity, and follow with grace filled passion. Change IS necessary. But HOW you communicate, the schedule you take, the tools you use all vary depending on the culture and values of your community. Sometimes, when we hit walls, it’s because we didn’t consider these issues first, BEFORE we embark on the change process. If we will take the time to do these things first, not only will change come and momentum be built, but it will be organic and honor God in so many unforeseen ways.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and ideas.