Change is constant; nothing stays the same. By definition then, leadership is always leading through change.
So whatever the spectrum of change you’re leading in right now—the constant, everyday change on one end to the change you are driving, the vision you are pursuing, the controlled chaos you are orchestrating on the other end—you’re probably leading in the midst of change.
Church folks don’t like change. I used to scoff at that reality and then one Sunday, I showed up to our gatherings and we had new signs. I had a visceral reaction like I was giving one of my daughters away in marriage—a sort of horror of what now my baby has become. Ridiculous, I know, but it taught me a lot.
Consider these three things as you think through leading change: Jesus, you, and your leadership.
The good news in all of this is Jesus doesn’t change. The immutability and impassibility of God have always stirred me to worship and have been a sort of comfort in the midst of discomfort to me.
He doesn’t change, his love for you doesn’t change, his proximity to you doesn’t change. Jesus is the same yesterday and tomorrow. He doesn’t fly off the handle, he doesn’t have regrets, he doesn’t get caught off guard. He never changes.
You could completely bomb this change challenge that’s before you. I mean fall-on-your-face fail. And God’s love for you will not change!
But you need to change. You are in the midst of a constantly changing church or ministry, changing people. You are sometimes initiating and leading necessary changes for the sake of the church and the building of the kingdom and you are not yet awesome. You need to change.
Here's the big idea though that you may or may not agree with, but I think I'm right: I don't think God is most concerned—if we can use that language—with your success in leading change. I think he’s most concerned with changing you through the process.
As you lead through change, God changes you.
If you just view ministry change as a big task to get done and don’t realize that God is actually using it to get you done, then you’re missing something important.
8 Practical Thoughts On Leading Through Change
1. Become an expert.
When I feel like we need to make a change, I try to become an expert at whatever I’m changing. How should staffing work? What should a worship leader look like? How do you become a church planting church?
You need to be the expert.
Think through the biblical implications of what is being proposed. Think of as many objections to the proposal as you can. Think of how much it will cost and how it will be paid for. Think of who might implement it. Think of the ways that it will bring joy—or temporary sorrow.
Think theologically. Think ecclesiogically. Think philosophically. Think missionally. Think pastorally. Think contextually.
2. Consider your timing.
Sometimes a change needs to be made, but not right now. Maybe you don’t have the people yet. Maybe you don’t have the “leadership equity” with your people right now. You multiply a small group and even if you do it perfectly and its celebrated, you can’t just go and multiply again in a month. You only have so much leadership equity: how much do you have?
Some of you have a lot and you haven’t had to make major changes yet. You may be able to say to the naysayer, “Will you let me fail in this?” But some of you don’t have a lot. Not enough trust has been built yet or a recent initiative fell through.
3. Develop good practices.
What bite-sized elements of this vision/change can we get people to do before they even have to or want to “own” it? Ask yourself: "What am I going to ask people to do?" and then, "Can I find a practice step for them to take?"
4. Communicate for fluency.
This is the most important thing by far. You could be making the best decision, at the best time, with the best people involved, and if you communicate it poorly, it could cause a lot of problems that you now have to fix.
First, who needs to know? Cascade your communication slowly in concentric circles (senior leaders, other leaders/staff, volunteer leaders, influencers, group leaders, members, congregation).
Second, what are you going to communicate? Rarely are you communicating to just one type of person. So what you say has to communicate to different people.
What statistics can I find that are compelling to prove this need or this change is a must to my engineer, spreadsheet types? What scripture verses or theological realities do I have to support this so I can compel my bible guys and gals? What stories can I tell to capture the hearts of my connectors and community makers?
And then, thirdly, how should I communicate this? Should I preach a series? Write blog posts? Do a video? Write a position paper? Do I need to have a series of meetings over coffee? Do I need a town-hall meeting?
You want fluency around this change with your people.
Clarity + Repetition + Different Mediums = Fluency.
5. Breathe life into the change.
The only way to get an idea breathing on its own is to show up, in person. You can’t expect people to do something that you won’t do. I wanted us to grow in our shepherding of people, to multiply disciples and not just use them for ministry or to get things done. So, I went back to leading a group and coaching leaders for a time. You need to go first.
What needs to happen so life is breathed into this for the long haul?
But beware, while you’re breathing life into something, there is probably something you aren’t breathing into as much anymore—know that change in one area means other things will suffer or even die.
6. Include your personal narrative.
Why am I personally invested in this? People follow people, not ideas.
This could include your passion for this vision or idea, or your personal convictions. Making a change to the way you do children’s ministry? Is it something that was birthed out of thinking about your own kids? Tell them that.
7. Have measurables.
How is this measured? What determines “success”?
Figure out how to measure “output” metrics and not just “input” metrics. Capture the stories, the growth of people, the leaders developed, the life change—not just input numbers. Class attendance, participation, bucks and butts just give you things to steward, they aren’t the win.
8. Shepherd people, don’t overlook them or use them.
People are the mission. Sometimes I found myself looking over the heads of our people to some sort of goal ahead. You can’t view people as wasted time.
They need to know you are not against them, and you need to know that most people aren’t against you. Just because they ask questions or take awhile to buy in doesn’t make them consumeristic or selfish.
Every conversation is a shepherding opportunity.