Bringing Change Without Being Shown the Door!

Recently I watched Thom Rainer’s webcast (CEO of Lifeway & a church consultant) on the reasons pastors get moved out (or made to move out) from the church they had been serving. One of the big reasons was because the pastor had led change too rapidly. Another reason, although not among Rainer’s big four, is because the pastor had led change too slowly.

It is not surprising that when too much change is made too quickly there will be resistance. If these are leaders or influential members the pastor can expect a pushback. It may even cost him his job. Change is a necessity. All churches must continually make changes if they are to progress (read my blog “Change or Plateau”, 9 Jan 2018), but pastors need to be wise on how fast and how much change to introduce without incurring pushback; and instead, get a buy-in.

I like what Rainer said about a leader: He is someone who is leading sufficiently out front, but not so far out that he is mistaken to be the enemy and gets shot in the rear!

On the other hand, if a pastor doesn’t make any changes, or ever so painfully slowly, it will, inevitably hinder the development and growth of the church. The church may even fall into decline. Members who want to see the church go on an upward advance will leave and look for another church that they can channel their passion. For others in the church, a mix of lethargy and dissatisfaction will set in. In the United States, the pastor may be asked to leave because of his poor leadership. In Malaysia, from my observation, I don’t think this often happens.

Bringing change, especially in the context of a church, is one of those things which is not going to please everyone. Whether too fast or too slow it will have its detractors. Is there such a thing as the right pace? Yes, but it is not a one-size-fits-all. For one church, a certain kind of change may be too fast, while for another church it may be too slow. Too fast, too slow or just right depends on a number of factors:

  • How much is the church used to change?
  • What is the magnitude of the change on the “Change Richter-scale” for the church?
  • How much credibility does the pastor have with the church to initiate change?
  • How much is the leadership team with the pastor and with this particular change?

On top of the above the pastor still needs to bring change wisely so that the change will not cause a fallout in the church but will bring about the desired results. In order to do this the pastor must be able to:

  • Get a buy-in from the whole leadership team and other influential people.
  • Communicate to the church early and frequently on the why, what, where, who, when & how.
  • Listen to feedback from other leaders and church members.
  • Cultivate a culture of change in the church.

I learnt all this from the school of hard-knocks. I have pastored two churches, and in both churches I introduced changes. In one I successfully brought about changes that enabled the church to move forward. In the other I wasn’t so successful, and was shown the door. The former was ready for change; the latter was not. If I had known then what I know now maybe things might have been a little different in the latter church. 🙂

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