This is part two of a two-part series.

Change is not a project – reducing resistance is part of our call.

Change is a way of life. These days we are mostly without a clear destination. We can’t avoid it, but we can lead through it by learning to manage the resistance around us. In fact, some may even say learning to manage change is our second-most important task as leaders in the church today. (Number one will always be to make disciples, right?)

Remember Church A, from last week? The congregation with leaders looking over their shoulders at all times, waiting with fear and trepidation for a major eruption from a few (or even just one) unhappy people? Do you relate to this?

What does the future look like if a whole community is afraid to act without the consent of, or permission from, a major player who is probably not the called pastor? It happens all the time. We know this to be a deadly power system problem. It may also be a purpose problem. Or a communication problem. Notice, I am not saying this is first, a people problem. Here’s why:

Power systems are embedded in human relationships. Without a clear purpose (why does the church exist?), it is easy for responding to a few vocal people to become the mission. It usually happens without us even realizing it. Sadly, due to inertia, power often lands in the hands of a few.

But we know this is not a Biblical model for leadership, nor is it a forgone conclusion for the church. Jesus collaborated with ordinary people every step of the way!

Church A can manage leading change and overcome resistance by focusing on their purpose and power system first to keep a healthy perspective.

If you are Church A, think about which of these scenarios resonate with you:

If the powerful-personality belongs to a person (or people) who seems to run everything, yet their work bears fruit in the church because they “do it all”, we think of this as an under-functioning congregation. You can recognize this when the one person who is running a faithful preschool while at the same time leading worship and serving on every committee ends up being the person we are afraid to cross with a new idea. This person or group’s over-functioning is evidence of everyone else’s under-functioning. It sounds harsh because it is easier for us to be mad at an identified controlling personality, but in truth, the legitimate leadership of the congregation needs to step into their own roles and lead. That probably means rethinking the congregation’s decision-making systems to right-size the influencer’s leadership.

If the powerful-personality is really a bully and there is no fruit growing from their ministry, we think of this as a lack of accountability. Ask yourself why the legitimate leaders are allowing this bad behavior to go on. There has to be something in it for the church or worse, something to be avoided. Friends, there is not enough money, volunteer time, or rationale to keep a bully in power. It is time for accountability in the system so that bad behavior is not tolerated. Ignoring this is selling out on the mission of God in this congregation in order to take the path of least resistance. It is a mistake.

If the powerful-personality is really a grumpy, yet faithful member, we think of this as a communication opportunity.  Our work is to love them through the change. Hear their voice. Honor their perspective. Teach them why and what you are doing. Respect them enough to help them find their place in the future.  Then lead the change. Encourage the influencer to join you. Pray for them. Keep them in the conversation. But keep leading the change.

If the powerful-personality is you and you are grieving the past, we think of this as getting in your own way. Own your part in the struggle. Be kind to yourself and free the church to move forward. Pray for your congregation’s future. Support the change by not saying anything at all, if you can’t say something nice. Work to understand why new experiments are critical to the future of the church, why failure is your friend, and how you can be the very person needed to make a way for new things to happen.

Remember Church B? In this congregation the leadership is excited about the new goals, ready to run new experiments, and feeling free to persevere?

Caution – this is a yellow-flag!

If you are Church B:

Before you move full steam ahead with all the energy you have for God’s call to serve in new ways, stop! Ask yourself who should be honored by inviting them into the conversation. Set up intentional connections with the powers that be, not to ask permission but to ask for wisdom. Learn from those who have been in leadership before you. Listen to the voices around you so that the experiments you launch will not just fly, but soar, taking everyone with you. Welcome voices of disagreement as they will make your experiment stronger. Do the work of preparing people before you make a big move.

Sadly, people end up at a church like Church A because they don’t pay attention to bringing others with them. Sure, you can go faster alone, but we are not in a race. We are a community. I am not talking about valuing consensus (only helpful in a fight), I am talking about valuing partnership.

Pay attention to:

Purpose: Align around values and purpose. Purpose answers the question, why do we exist? Think about alignment!

Power: Collaborate with others. Maybe even the neighbors. No solo acts. Follow the way of Jesus by bringing followers with you. Think partnerships!

Pastors: Spiritual leaders need support, time to learn, permission to fail, and clear expectations that include ministry beyond the members. Make sure your pastor is taking time off and doing continuing ed. Think about healthy leadership!

People: All people matter. All ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, genders, sexualities, etc. Diversity is God’s gift to the world. The church must strive to honor God’s people. This will mean real work to help the community expand beyond its default behaviors. Think about loving like Jesus!

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Let us know how it goes. Comment here or email us at lead@waytolead.org

We are your partners as you overcome resistance and lean into this unknown future. We hope these encouragements help.

Change is not slowing down so don’t look for a break – look for the next few steps and start there. Bring people with you.

by Peggy Hahn,
Executive Director, LEAD