Following God Involves new things
Church and change are two words that do not comfortably connect. Change does not come easy, nor is it comfortable. As a result, change is often resisted. Yet change is a guaranteed part of our walk with God. Isaiah 43:19 says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing…”. Psalm 96:1 says, “Oh sing to the LORD a new song.” Lamentations 3:22-23 talk about God’s mercies being “new every morning.” Jeremiah 31:31 promised a new covenant fulfilled in Christ. Revelation 21:1 promises “a new heaven and a new earth.” Following God involves new things.
Leadership in a church setting, then, involves leading congregations through change. Leadership is a biblical concept rooted in the nature and character of God. Biblical leadership requires humility and a servant’s heart. Pastoral ministry involves leading.
Leading a church through the process of change requires four essential elements. This article will focus on the first two. First, personal preparation of the leader is essential. Insecure leaders often undermine and derail the very change process they are trying to lead. One pastor in frustration pounded his hand on the table in an elders’ meeting saying, “I have a Master’s Degree in theology and I know what I’m talking about.” His personal insecurity undermined his ability to listen and lead effectively. Because he was not emotionally prepared to listen well when people disagreed with him, he was unable to hear their concerns or to express his view without anxiety.
Too often a lack of relational health and wisdom causes leaders to react out of insecurity. It causes leaders to run over those they lead because they are not paying attention to the anxiety in the room. It causes leaders to be abusive, manipulative, reactive, and controlling. Emotionally and relationally healthy leaders, who have learned to find their significance and security in their relationship to God through Christ, are able to differentiate themselves from the anxiety, opinions, and attacks of others. They are able to find in God the ability to stay calm and non-anxious when anxiety rises in the room. And here is the incredible secret: When anxiety rises in a group, one person with the ability to remain non-anxious lowers the anxiety for everyone. We call that peace.
Jesus brought peace to every room He entered. Mary was anxious about the wine running out at a wedding. Jesus calmly told the servants to fill the kegs with water. After doing so they discovered it was wine. Martha and Mary were anxious when they sent for Jesus because Lazarus was sick. Jesus waited another two days. When He came to their house He calmly walked with them to the burial site and raised His friend from the dead. When the disciples anxiously woke Him up because they thought they were going to drown, Jesus simply told the storm to calm down and it did. Jesus’ non-anxious presence brought peace wherever He went.
The second essential element to leading change is challenging and changing mental models. Romans 12:2 instructs us that transformation comes by the renewal of our minds. Until pastors and congregations think differently about themselves and their communities change will not occur. Changing mental models happens through effective Bible teaching, patient dialogue, and experimentation. Congregations need to be convinced that the change being considered has biblical precedent without rejecting or disrespecting their history. A congregation ought never change what they believe, or their commitment to Christ and the Word.
Driving through rural communities one passes one shell of an empty church building after another. These were once thriving congregations that failed to recognize their changing communities. When the way we have always done things is the mental model we hold for “biblical Christianity” then change is absolutely rejected. We need to be able to see our communities through fresh eyes. We need to understand that change is not a rejection of all that we are or have been, but is building on the foundation of what we have done in the past. Effective change comes as we learn to develop new mental models of what biblical Christianity looks like in a new day and new culture. Change is inevitable, but it must be relational, informed, and biblical.
When we talk about leading change in congregations anxiety begins to rise. The personal preparation of the leader to grow into spiritual, emotional, and relational health is the first step in being able to effectively lead. Challenging and changing mental models of doing church is the second key element of change. Change for the sake of change is pointless, but change is often necessary.
Oak Hills Church Ministries has the privilege of training, mentoring, and equipping pastors, congregations, and congregational leaders. Oak Hills new Certificate Program in Rural Leadership and Ministry is an important new tool for helping prepare pastors and church leaders for the ministry to which God has called them. Check it out at oakhills.edu/church-ministries/rural-certificate.
Our prayer is that as pastors and congregations gain a better understanding of the change process they grow in their spiritual, emotional, and relational health. Further, our prayer is that they will be able to effective challenge and change their mental models of doing church. This will enable them to step into healthy, biblical change.
For more helpful information you can also check out the following: oakhills.edu/church-ministries
Look for the third and fourth elements of leading a church through change in the next edition of the Direction.