Blessed John Henry Newman once wrote, “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
Down below, where churches have ministries to run, people to manage, and buildings to operate, one of the most difficult, yet transformative, parts of life is learning to change. If we want our churches to thrive, we have to accept that change is necessary. I won’t lay out here what to change, but something more basic and essential, learning how to change. Here are some important things to keep in mind if you’re a leader preparing for change but not sure how to start.
- Don’t Panic, Pray
Change usually means something has to die: an old ministry, method, or idea. That’s scary. It leaves us feeling vulnerable, defensive, and even a bit hurt. That’s an opportunity to invite God into the situation. Lasting change is a matter of grace, and it begins in prayer.
- Change Means Trust
If your staff, ministry team, or even congregation doesn’t trust each other, no matter how great your ideas are, change won’t happen. Before we could start making concrete changes at Nativity, we had to do the hard, sometimes painful work of building a new staff culture founded on trust, not suspicion.
- Celebrate the Past, Embrace the Future
The recognition of change is not a condemnation of the past. It’s not usually helpful comparing or measuring the past by the present, or vice versa. Many things worked well for their season, and those deserve to be celebrated and remembered. A healthy appreciation of the past can make moving forward a more hopeful task.
- Commit to Change
Change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process that has its ups and downs. Resolve to stay through the messiness. If you don’t plan on sticking around to see change through, then it’s probably better not to even start; that will only make the mess worse for everyone else.
- Keep the Vision Central
There will be a distraction or stumbling block around every corner, all there to cause you to lose sight of the vision you are pursuing. Find ways to keep you inspired and focused on a daily basis, so that you are going in the right direction and motivated to get there.
- Maintain Balance
Leading change often requires great sacrifice of time and energy. It’s critical in those times you don’t neglect your personal well being (physical, emotional, spiritual) or those around you. Leaders are bound to make mistakes in this regard, with the best intentions, but it’s not really worth it. And frankly, it doesn’t usually help anyone anyways. Finding balance is key.
When it comes to change and keeping your balance, it’s important to keep in mind that in the end, it isn’t all about you anyway. That’s a profoundly liberating realization. The responsibility is real, but the results aren’t all on you. Winning and change happens by a team. As a church, we fall and succeed together.