Change is amoral. This means it is neither good nor bad in and of itself. To put it simply, good change is good and bad change is bad. But one thing is inevitable about any living thing, change is always occurring. People change, cultures change, societies change, and in my world, churches change. One might think change in churches is a bit ironic since Christian doctrine affirms that our Savior does not change. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, ESV). While we can build our lives on the unchanging nature of Christ, thankfully, He is the champion for change. The message of redemption is that He changes us from death to life. We are never the same person when we are continually growing in Christ. And when we are growing with others (in a local church), we should also expect that we are changed corporately. Not every change is deeply spiritual or theologically driven. Logistical changes, physical changes, and organizational changes are always necessary because they re-position the body of Christ to be more effective at our number one mission; making disciples (who, I might add, are people being changed by Christ).
Change, however, can often be the source of church conflict, hurt feelings, and destroyed unity. I’ve never observed a church split over the deity of Christ, the belief in the Virgin birth, or an argument over how Noah got all those animals on one boat. Almost every side to some debate or faction openly affirms love for Christ, love for others, and belief in the Bible. One would think if these exist, Christians could find grounds for reconciliation, but often this is not the case. So, if change is inevitable for growing people but it carries the potential for conflict any leader interested in being faithful has to ask the million dollar question. How do I lead change well?
Recently I shared 10 steps for leading change well with a group of pastors I pour into. Whether you’re a pastor, volunteer ministry leader, or even interested in leading change well in a classroom, business, or community I think these will help.
Step 1: Make sure you feel a real Concern or Conviction.
Just changing for the sake of change is unhealthy and unwise. It has no chance for success because it does not come from the right place. Change has to come from a place of deep belief that if the change is not made negative consequences will follow and if the change is made, people’s lives will be encouraged and improved.
Step 2: Commune with God about it.
Often the temptation is to allow our preferences, convictions, experiences, and data to dictate the change we seek to make. We plan, tweak, and plan some more until we are ready to implement. Then we pray and ask God to bless what we have done. This is a sad reversal of how we should operate. We ought to pray first, seeking God’s wisdom and discernment. We also ought to pray often during every phase of the planning and execution. In ministry, it is usually easy to spot the bad ideas and avoid them. The key, however, to leading great change is to separate the good stuff we could do and God stuff we need to do.
Step 3: Collect more information and listen to more Counsel than you think you need.
Pride takes over when we think we know exactly what we should do to lead change well. We most certainly NEVER get to this point. There is always something to learn and someone to learn from. Keep digging, reading, listening, and observing in every direction.
Step 4: Get Clarity!
Before you lead any change, you have to be able to answer these questions with clarity.
Who are we?
Who do we want to be?
Where are we?
Where do we want to go?
How are we doing?
How can we do better?
Step 5: Commit to the change and Confess it will cost you something.
Don’t even think about starting to lead change without personally committing to it. It should be a given that you are willing to do whatever you are asking of others and then above and beyond that to model sacrifice and servanthood.
Step 6: Start with Conversations.
The first actual step in implementing change is casually but intentionally bringing leaders around you into the journey through conversation. Talk about your feelings and how you’ve reached the conclusion which is driving your desire to see something change. You cannot talk about too often with too many people. I once heard it said, “if you want to change the culture, change the conversation.” This is never truer than when changes are being made.
Step 7: Communicate like a beast!
I am convinced that most of the breakdown in leading change is a result of poor communication. I would go so far as to say the single greatest common denominator of effective leaders is their ability to communicate with the people they lead. Leading change cannot be done with one informational meeting followed by the implementation of changes. Just as the leader goes on a spiritual, emotional, and mental journey to reach his/her conclusions about needed changes, he/she must give those being led the same room to listen, learn, agree, affirm, and support.
Step 8: Carry out the change.
Do it! Make the change. Do it with a plan, do it thoroughly, do it with enthusiasm, and do it well.
Step 9: Think Critically but do not Camp on Criticism.
Leading change well should not be confused with leading change perfectly. The latter does not exist. Glitches, unforeseen issues, implementation hiccups are just a part of the game. Expect them, embrace them, and address them. Think critically about adjustments to the changes that have to be made midstream but don’t let criticism, whether constructive or sinful, affect enthusiasm or belief in the big picture. Additionally, don’t think people will be let down or disappointed when you alter the changes or adjust the execution. It is often the opposite. They are more likely to trust a leader who rolls with the punches, admits areas of needed improvement, and thinks critically about his/her own work all the way moving progress forward.
Step 10: Celebrate the wins with stories, not stats.
Communication during and after the change is crucial to long term success. When changes help people, you have to tell that story! Numbers matter but people related more easily to stories. Find and tell the stories of the people who have been most blessed by the changes you have led.
Go lead change well!