Leading Change (Part 3): 4 Critical Questions You Must Ask Yourself

Leading Change (Part 3): 4 Critical Questions You Must Ask Yourself

This is the third and final post in my short series on Leading Change (Part 1 | Part 2).

Leading change in the church isn’t easy. It requires great boldness. But that boldness must be born out of brokenness. We must be broken by the gap between what could be and what is. That brokenness leads to the bold declaration that the status quo just isn’t okay anymore. We MUST change.

I told you our story of change in my last post. It was a story of pain, missteps, and a desperate desire to give up. But it is also a story of how God can use our bold resolve when it is comes from a broken heart.

That’s our story. Now let’s talk about your story.

In this last post on change, I’m going to pose some critical questions. If you want to lead your church through change, you can’t avoid these questions. You must grapple with them.

4 Critical Questions You Must Ask Yourself

1. Are you wired to be a change-agent?

Some folks aren’t, and that’s ok. In fact, it’s good. God has given us all different gifts and abilities. No gift is better or more important than another. All our gifts are to be used for the good of God’s Kingdom.

Some pastors are not wired to be change-agents in their churches. They are gifted to love and serve the people that God has placed under their care. They thrive in a pastoral care role. They are shepherds.

And that’s wonderful. My life has been impacted by a variety of shepherds. These shepherds were people who loved me and who saw something in me. They were people who encouraged me, taught me, and cared for me. You’ve never heard their names, but I will never forget them. I thank God for the shepherds He has placed in my life.

But as it pertains to our discussion, we must realize that shepherds will struggle to enact change in their churches. It goes against their giftedness.

Change-agents have more of an entrepreneurial spirit. They MUST enact change. It’s hard-wired into them.

If you are a shepherd in a church that needs to change, you must surround yourself with entrepreneurs. Otherwise you may resist change in deference to the opinions of people. And even then, it’s going to be quite difficult if you have to work against your strengths.

On the flip-side, if you are an entrepreneur, you need to surround yourself with shepherds. Otherwise you may enact change too quickly or harshly. That’s my story, exactly. If I had brought more shepherds around me, I could have saved myself and our church a lot of pain. We would have still changed, but we would have proceeded with more wisdom and compassion.

Bottom line, you have to know how God has gifted you. Then you must surround yourself with people who are strong where you are weak.

2. Is your leadership with you?

Our church has elders. Maybe your church has deacons, a leadership board, etc. Whatever the structure of the leadership, are they with you? I mean are they REALLY with you? This is critical, because you can’t bring about change by yourself. And you can’t bring about change if you’re working against other leaders.

If you’re a pastor, remember that you are not the only one who will take heat when things start changing. So will the rest of your leadership. It’s one thing to take criticism as paid staff, but when you’re a volunteer leader, it’s a whole different deal. When the heat is on, it can be tempting for volunteer leaders to start wondering why they signed up for this in the first place.

That’s where the lead pastor has to do just that: lead. You have to remind them why they signed up for this by giving them a clear and compelling vision. You have to remind them why they are taking shots from disgruntled people. It’s because you are all working together, pursuing a better, healthier vision of a church that will reach more people for Christ.

Your leaders MUST buy the vision. If not, they’ll be divided when things get tough. They need to buy so strongly into the vision that they can even encourage you when you feel like quitting, because you will.

There were a lot of days when I wanted to quit on my own vision. You know why I stuck with it? My leaders. They believed so strongly in what we were doing that they stayed strong, even when I wanted to quit.

In 1 Samuel 14, Jonathan was embarking on a dangerous mission with his young armor-bearer. Victory was not guaranteed by any means. But when Jonathan presented his plan to the young man, here’s how his armor-bearer responded: “Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” (1 Samuel 14:7)

That must be the relationship among your entire leadership team if you’re going to enact change in your church. It starts with the leaders. Don’t change a thing in your church until you know your leadership is with you, heart and soul.

If your leaders aren’t with you, don’t even attempt to enact change. You can keep working with them. You can pray with and for them. Or you can start looking for a new ministry. But whatever you do, don’t start the hard, messy work of change without a leadership that is moving forward as one.

3. What are your motives for change?

We hit on this in the earlier articles, but it bears repeating. This might be the most difficult question because it’s the most personal. Why do you want to bring change to your church? Is it evangelism or ego? Do you want to advance the gospel or to grow your platform? It’s shocking how many leaders would fall into the latter category.

Pride is the most insidious of all sin. In fact, it’s the root of all sin. Pride is a horrible motivator to do anything, especially anything in the Lord’s church.

I know this is true because I’m speaking from experience. When I began making changes in our church, my motives were not exactly pure. I wanted to make a name for myself. I wanted to be known. I wanted to work my way up the ladder.

These are horrible reasons to bring change into a body of believers. And it’s one of the reasons that the process was so difficult for us. God is never going to bless our pride. Ever.

I had to be humbled, which I wrote about earlier in the series. My heart had to be broken.

What is your motivation for change? Is it pride? Is it because you want to make your church more hip, cool, or relevant than the church down the street?

Or is it because you are heartbroken over people who don’t know Jesus?

When you sort out your motives, you’ve already done some of the most difficult work of leading change.

4. Are you ready for the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life?

I hope so, because if you implement change in a church that is largely accustomed and comfortable with the way things are, this is exactly what it will be. It will be unbelievably hard.

The church should be the most flexible group of people on the planet. Note the word “should.” This should be the reality of the church, but quite often it’s not.

The church is often the most rigid, change-resistant gathering of people you’ll ever meet. But it’s not because the church is filled with bad people. Yes, there are some bad people in the church. No question. But much more often, you’re not dealing with bad people. You’re dealing with frightened people.

Ronald Heifetz wisely said, “What people resist is not change per se, but loss.” It’s true. People aren’t afraid of change. They’re afraid of loss. They’re afraid of losing the church they’ve come to love. Maybe it’s the church where they got married. Maybe it’s the church where their kids were baptized. Maybe it’s the church where they met Jesus. They have come to love their church as it is because of what the church has meant to them. Change is often viewed as a threat to what they love.

In the late 19th century, novelist Anatole France wrote, “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves.”

This is why change makes people frightened, sad, and even angry. Because they see what they stand to lose, but they’re not sure what they stand to gain.

Michael Shermer points out that, “in order to get people to make a gamble on something, to try something new or place a bet, the potential payoff has to be about twice as what the loss would be. Another way of saying that is: Losses hurt twice as much as gain feels good.”

This is where clarity and compassion are essential. We need to remember that most of the people who resist change aren’t bad people, but simply frightened people. And as a leader, you have to show them why what they’re going to gain will be twice as good as what they stand to lose. If that sounds difficult, that’s because it is. Hence the question, are you ready for the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life?

Believe it or not, my purpose in these articles has not been to dissuade you from implementing change in your church. My purpose was simply to be honest about the process and problems of change so you can count the cost before you start.

I pray that God brings you to a place where you can lead your church through change so that your church can become the healthiest, most vibrant, most effective church that it can possibly be.

Read the Entire Leading Change Series

Leading Change (Part 1): A Lesson From Super Bowl LII

Leading Change (Part 2): When Change Isn’t Optional Anymore

Mike Edmisten has been the Senior Pastor of Connect Christian Church in Cincinnati for 12 years. He and his wife, Nicki (who is way out of his league) have two boys (13 and 10). Outside of family and ministry, Mike is passionate about Cincinnati Reds baseball and FC Cincinnati soccer. You can connect with him on Twitter @MikeEdmisten.

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