STUCK AND FEARFUL OF CHANGE IN YOUR CHURCH
By Dr. Jeff Hessinger
Change can be hard and uncomfortable. Perhaps you have heard the saying: No one really likes change except for a baby with a wet diaper. The challenges we face in many if not most of our churches is a group of church members don’t want to see changes in the church. They are satisfied with meeting on Sunday for worship and making no effort to create plans to help the church reach new people in the community with the gospel and grow. Some are concerned or afraid that the changes necessary for the church to be attractive to new people would be drastic and create too much discomfort for existing members.
Those resistant to change and satisfied with where they are often give a spiritual reply when asked about reaching new people, the say, “we are happy with what we got, besides, Jesus said, ‘where two or more are gathered there He is’ (Matthew 18:20). They obviously fail to read the preceding paragraph since the verse is in context of restoring a sinning brother and prayer. The verse is not describing a church growth principle.
Feeling stuck in a church that is not attempting to reach people is hard. Everything is mundane, boring and expected. Creating change to pull out of the religious nosedive is not for the faint at heart! After some study, prayer, and visiting many churches I have some thoughts about this issue.
I think many people in our pews who resist change are fearful of the unfamiliar. Churches get stuck because we think about the good ol’ days! We remember the past and have such good memories of how God worked in the lives of people we care about. We feel like we will dishonor those who went before us if we plan to make the church relevant in the generation in which we live. Therefore, some become like a watchman on the wall resisting change to honor the past. As leaders we are afraid that it is too risky to change because of the pushback we will get and we don’t want to create disharmony and tension. So we allow our church to become like a family chapel, remember the verse Matthew 18:20, “Where two or more are gathered...”? We keep our religious comforts and preferences and pretend one day we will be a thriving growing church. After all maybe the good ol’ days may return and if they do we will be ready for them.
Allow me to provide some suggestions to help you create healthy change that will produce trust and good will in your leadership.
- Trust yourself as a leader. You love God, the Word, the church, and the people. Be prayerful and at the same time don’t under estimate your abilities and skills to lead. Be reasonable, do what makes sense as you lead your congregation on the faith journey. Don’t be overwhelmed with all the changes you see that need to take place. Pick some winnable changes so you can earn more trust and develop confidence in what God is leading you to do.
- You need to get out of your office. If you’re a bi-vocational pastor, I don’t mean that to be harsh. Look for some training events and conferences you can attend. Get yourself into a position where your leadership abilities are growing. By attending peer learning groups, workshops, etc. you will find you are not alone on the stuck/change journey. You will find most of us are trying to grow and become better leaders. Besides, when you take the journey to create healthy change in your church with others it will be less lonely and you’ll get some great feedback from others seeking to grow and create change. I also suggest you find a mentor or coach to guide you.
- See the open door. You are not stuck! You can do something. You are not in a hopeless situation where you are painted into a corner.... get going...start moving forward.
- Back off from all the ministry junk. So much stuff screams for your attention as a leader. Just because a need has a voice and is seeking your attention does not mean every need is equally valuable and must have your undivided attention. Don’t get stuck in the minutia of ministry. Remember you are a Kingdom leader; you are on mission for God. Trade the junk for important work that is valuable to leading your congregation to be effective. Be willing to trade the good stuff for the best. Don’t get stuck doing busy work, regardless of the expectations, save that work for others and you do Kingdom work.
- Be a courageous leader. Fear can be very real in the life of a leader. Fear will be the anchor that holds you back from getting the church unstuck. People love to follow courageous people, they want to be a part of something significant that is bigger than themselves, meaningful, and has Kingdom significance. Your courage will define your tomorrow. So get focused on the mission you are leading your church to carry out. It will be that mission that fuels your courage. Remember, courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is leading others on mission into the face of fear.
- Embrace your critics. Every leader has critics. Sometimes those who act so critical, gossip and seek to be hurtful need to have your undivided attention. Many times they just want to know that their leader has heard their concerns and perspective on the changes being made. So on one hand a leader needs to hear from the critic. Yet on the other hand, some churches have whinny- hinnies that are carnal minded, driven by their preferences and love undermining necessary changes and good leadership by stirring up tension in the congregation so they get the attention they crave. These people are the sandpaper in your life. They rub against you, cause irritations along with frustrations. Learn how to lead difficult people; some can be won over, others not so easily. Often critics are a pawn in the hands of the enemy being used to get your attention off what God has called you to do. As a leader walk with God so you can walk victoriously.
- Be wise with the old guard. You would think the church patriarchs and matriarchs would be some of the godliest people in the congregation. You would want to assume that they would be the pastor’s best allies as he leads the church into its best days of ministry in the 21st Century. It would be amazing if they led the charge, shielded the pastor as he leads, and supported his Kingdom effort. Unfortunately, the ones who could be the most influential people in the church for the sake of the good are the ones who are loose-lipped, arrogant, and most destructive of godly biblical leadership. On the other hand remember, many of the seniors in our churches love Jesus and have prayed in earnest for their church to become relevant in their older age so they can see their grandchildren and great grandchildren reached with the gospel, become spiritually mature, and step into significant ministry roles to lead the church into her greatest days of Kingdom work. Senior adults are needed financial supports of God’s work and faithful prayer warriors. Many and probably most of the senior adults in our churches are a tremendous blessing. May their tribe increase.
- Hang in there the money will come. You are thinking if I create change, upset the status quo and make people mad they will withhold their tithe. They may, and shame on them! Hang in there! Money follows vision and wise courageous leadership. As you lead the church to make good healthy changes the people will come, late adopters will believe in you. The members will see God’s hand on the church and your leadership. They will invite friends, family, and neighbors. Just don’t be the church that waits too long to change. Change for the sake of a last ditch effort lacks resources and people to help lead the charge.
To get your church unstuck it will take energy. Change always takes energy, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy.... but it is well worth the effort. Moving the “rusted and busted” church off dead center to create momentum will require your best effort. Lead wisely, do what makes sense, and love your people.
One more thing.... COMMUNICATE...COMMUNICATE...COMMUNICATE!!! Use the communication tools you have to communicate where you desire to lead. Make personal visits to leaders to discuss what you believe God is leading you to do. Use these major church influencers as a sounding board for your vision and how you want to go about creating change. Let them speak into the direction you believe God is leading you, seek wisdom. Build the coalition of the willing who will buy into your vision. These important influencers will help others see what you see for the future. Use the churches committees/ministry teams, business meetings, etc. to communicate the changes you believe necessary. I have a leadership principle and saying, “Do your work in the sunshine”. It builds credibility and guides me to walk wisely and take others on the journey with me. Be open and transparent, nothing secretive, do what’s right, be clear, and be loving.